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Intel agencies move to track missing Kerala youth after Sri Lanka bombings

Intelligence agencies are trying to trace at least 150 youth from Kerala who have gone missing over the last few years.

india Updated: Apr 29, 2019 19:23 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
Kerala,Missing youth,Intelligence agencies
A Sri Lankan relative of a victim of Easter Sunday bomb blasts pays tribute at the burial site. Indian intelligence agencies are investigating if the Sri Lankan bombers had any link with radical elements in south India, and Kerala in particular.(AP)

In the wake of the National Investigation Agency’s (NIA) crackdown on sleeper cells of terror outfit Islamic State in South India following the serial bombings in Sri Lanka, intelligence agencies are collecting details of 150 youth who have gone missing from Kerala over the last few years, a senior intelligence official said.

A Salafi centre in Kozhikkode is under the scanner and agencies are collecting details of some youth who went to Yemen for religious studies in last three years, he said.

“We have information that more than 50 people have gone to Yemen for religious studies in last couple of years. Though they can’t be dubbed terrorists, possibilities of radicalization are there,” said a senior state intelligence official tracking fundamentalist outfits in north Kerala.

Since India does not have diplomatic relation with war-torn country most of them have slipped out through Iran and other middle-east countries, he said.

“Kerala’s middle-east connection is exposing some of the youngsters to outfits like the IS,” he said. There are at least 18 lakh people from Kerala employed in Gulf countries.

State police and intelligence agencies are on their toes after reports surfaced that one of the architects of Easter bombing in Lanka, Zaharain Hashim, had visited Kerala. The NIA had detained three persons for questioning on Sunday but officials said they could not establish their direct links with the National Toweeth Jamaat (NTJ), suspected to have masterminded the terror attacks in Lanka.

At least a dozen others and some Islamic religious schools are also under surveillance amid reports that some outfits from South India funded NTJ activities in Lanka.

Officials said radical activities in Lanka had impacted Kerala in the past also. An IS mastermind had recruited two groups of people from Kasargode and Kannur in 2016 and helped them to move to Syria and Afghanistan through a safe house in Colombo. Out of 21 missing from north Kerala, six have died in different places.

Parents of some of those missing from north Kerala, who reportedly joined the Islamic State three years ago said their children used to go to Sri Lanka regularly on the pretext of doing business and to attend religious classes. “My daughter Nimisha (alias Fathima) and son-in-law had visited Sri Lanka many times. When I asked about this, I was told they were planning to start carpet business,” said Bindhu Sampath, mother of Nimisha who is missing.

“After a trip to Lanka my son started growing long beard and wearing long white gowns. We were initially happy thinking that he was leading a religious life. But we were mistaken. He cut TV cables to our house saying it was un-Islamic and started questioning social gathering and other functions,” said P Abdul Rehman, father of Hafisuddin who was reportedly killed during a drone attack in Afghanistan. Like him, many parents said if the Sir Lankan connection was probed properly the recent tragedy might have been averted.

Some women who accompanied their husbands along with their little children to join the IS, are keen to come back, say relatives. They are in contact with family members through the encrypted social network ‘Telegram.’ But family members refuse to approach police fearing harassment and swear that most women were unaware of their husbands’ intentions and accompanied them after being told that they were going to the Haj pilgrimage.

The state police suspect more than 100 youth from north Kerala have gone missing from middle eastern countries where they were working and in most cases parents keep quiet fearing police harassment. Police have advised many parents to report missing cases so as to contain the scourge effectively.

“We don’t have any mechanism to check activities of those working in the Gulf. It is easy for them to slip out. Only family members can keep a track on them,” said another senior police officer in north Kerala. Most of the parents of missing 21 said they reported the issue to the police immediately to check any such further incidents and they disowned their children for bringing disrepute to the country.

But Islamic scholars say that these were isolated incidents and it is wrong to tarnish the entire community citing such unfortunate incidents. “Community elders are keeping a close watch to isolate such forces. Kerala is a progressive society and Muslims are part of it. Drawing unnecessary parallels will create a fear psychosis among community members,” said Islamic scholar Aashraf Kadakkal, also a professor at Kerala University. He cited the example of Padanna in north Kerala where nine out of 21 missing belonged to this village.

“We floated an organisation called ‘Sahora’. We meet regularly to conduct mehfils, book-reading and cultural programmes. The sleepy village is fighting hard to shake off its tag of a terror nursery. Women also participate in large numbers, a first of its sort in these parts. Not a single incident has been reported from here after the disappearance of 21 people three years ago,” said P Hashim, a native of Padanna village.

First Published: Apr 29, 2019 19:08 IST