The father of two missing youngsters from Palakkad on Sunday said they were in touch with Zakir Naik, a controversial Muslim spiritual leader from Mumbai, giving a new twist to the mystery surrounding 20 people who allegedly joined extremist Islamic outfits.
“My two sons, Yahya, 23, and Eeza, 30, took my nephew to Zakir Naik last November in a bid to convert him. They asked him to look into the eyes of the spiritual leader for some time, and later meet him in person,” K Vincent, a Christian, told a Malayalam news channel. Yahya and Eeza had earlier converted to Islam.
However, the nephew — who works in the Middle-East— wasn’t interested in joining Islam, Vincent said. Yahya and Eeza used to watch Peace TV, an Islamic television channel headed by Naik, and visit Muslim religious sites regularly.
Nearly 20 youngsters from Kerala’s Kasaragod and Palakkad districts – who had travelled to the Middle East – went missing over the past month, sparking fears that they may have joined the IS and other extremist organisations. They included five married couples, one of them accompanied by a two-year-old child.
Vincent said both Yahya and Eeza left his house after shaving off their beards, and instructing him to tell people that they had gone on a business tour to Sri Lanka. They used to travel regularly but kept their itinerary confidential.
Minutes after he had made these revelations, Vincent’s wife Elsy issued a statement that he was misquoted by the channel. But Vincent had also given a similar statement to the police, sources said, adding that they may have backtracked due to pressure from certain quarters.
As intelligence agencies intensified their investigation into the disappearances, at least six “counselling” units from the Malabar region came under their scanner. According to police, these organisations recruit potential militants by marketing religion as a quick-fix solution to the problems faced by the youth.
Going by the statements collected from parents, police suspect that Abdul Rasheed Abdullah – the manager of a leading group of schools in Kozhikode – played a key role in radicalising the youngsters. The children of many wealthy NRI families reportedly study in these institutions.