Amid reports of 21 young Muslim men from Kerala having joined terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (IS), anger is brewing within the community against people who soft-pedal on ultraconservative, fundamentalist Wahabi preaching.
“It was waiting to happen,” a Muslim reformer from Malabar in north Kerala said, pointing to the failure of community leaders and intelligence agencies in anticipating the traction of radical outfits among the youth. “Reformers have been warning against growing radicalisation but nobody took notice.”
There are also reports the some IS sympathisers collected donations in the name of Palestinians and diverted it to Syria. Though the exact amount is not known, many businessmen in Malappuram and Kozhikkode admitted that they contributed regularly to such causes.
Channels of communication between Kerala and war-torn Syria were also active and many online sites, operating from outside the country, organised question-answer sessions for youngsters of the state. Two months ago, a Syria-based media group linked to the IS reported the migration of south Indians to the country on its website.
“Brothers from South India who migrated to Sham to help oppressed Muslims have launched Telegram channel in Malayalam language also to update the life in Syria. Spread and share to brothers from Kerala,” Ahzaab Media said in a Facebook post.
Most of the missing people used Telegram — a heavily encrypted chat app that auto-deletes messages after a set amount of time, making it difficult for intelligence agencies to track — to communicate with their family members.
Intelligence agencies and community leaders, however, failed to read the signs.
This is not the state’s first tryst with terror either. With its vast coastline and growing migrant population, Kerala has been a sitting duck. The Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) was banned in 2002, but it managed to spread its wings in the state through a number of front organisations and sleeper cells.
In 2007, SIMI organised a three-day training camp in Wagmon in Idukki district, which intelligence agencies feel resulted in the formation of the Indian Mujahideen (IM).
The family members of the ‘missing’ people blame hold the Salafi sect, which preaches Wahabism — an ultra Sunni sect that believes in Sharia law, responsible for the indoctrination of their children. The sect was founded by a former SIMI member.
Salafis live a simple, secluded life on the lines of Prophet Muhammad’s life in seventh century Arabia. They settled near Nilambur in the Muslim-dominated Malappuram district, and lived in a closed community, rearing goats for a living. Some of the ‘missing’ youngsters visited Nilambur frequently in the name of being trained in goat farming, family members claimed.
Worried by the turn of events, Kerala’s Muslim community is planning a vigorous campaign against such sects. The Muslim League and Nadvathul Mujahideen, both moderate organisations, have announced their plan to contain the menace. However, differences have cropped up in the Muslim League, which gave a clean chit to controversial spiritual leader Zakir Naik.