HT Special: Kerala school under scanner over missing people

  • Ramesh Babu, Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
  • Updated: Aug 04, 2016 11:33 IST
Faced with its links to those who disappeared, the school is battling to save its reputation and stay clear of trouble. (HT/Representative Photo)

A school in Kerala popular with NRI parents is under police scanner after it emerged that several among the 21 missing people suspected to have joined terror outfits abroad had links with the institution.

The mystery over the school’s association with the disappearances deepened further after the arrest of a woman from the Delhi airport three days ago as she was attempting to slip out of the country.

Police were stunned to find that Yasmin Ahmad, 28, hailing from Sitamarhi in Bihar, worked as an English teacher with the Peace International School in Kotakkal of Kerala’s Malappuram district for two years.

Many others among the 21 missing also had jobs with the same school and security agencies are now desperately seeking to dig deeper into the disconcerting pattern.

Yasmin was apparently motivated by Abdul Rashid, who went missing along with his wife. Rashid was the public relations officer of the Peace International School right until he vanished.

Rashid’s wife Sonia alias Aysha also worked at the same school as a teacher. Another missing couple, Bestin alias Esa, and his wife Merrin, were also employed as teachers at the school.

Faced with its links to those who disappeared, the school is battling to save its reputation and stay clear of trouble. It has disowned Rashid, but many parents have already applied for transfer certificates for their children.

“We preferred such schools because we thought our children will get a good spiritual and moral grounding. But latest developments are really disturbing,” said a parent who did not want to be identified.

Founded in 2006 by one MM Akbar, and run by Niche Group, an independent religious body aiming to propagate Islam, Peace International runs 10 schools in Kerala and one each in neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. More than 7,000 students are enrolled with the schools that have classes up to 12th standard. Akbar, who runs two conversion centres in Ponnani and Kozhikhode, is also locally known as Kerala’s Zakir Naik, the Islamic televangelist in the eye of a storm for allegedly preaching radical views.

Akbar is currently in Qatar and a police official said a questionnaire would be sent to him shortly. There is also speculation of pressure being brought upon the investigative agencies to go slow on the school, with the Muslim League – a constituent of the ruling UDF government – already pledging support to Akbar.

The school insists it is the target of a vilification campaign. “Rashid and some of the missing worked here one or two years ago. We had no association with them once they left the school. It is not proper to target a well-run professional group citing the role of old staffers,” said Mohamed Amir, a spokesman of the Niche group, said.

Police investigators say Yasmin hasn’t thrown much light on the school’s connections with the disappearances, beyond saying that she was only heeding to the call of her faith. “I wanted to live my life as a true Muslim prescribed by Quran and that is not possible here,” she reportedly told the SIT after her arrest.

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