Man from Bhatkal held for terror links; wave of arrests sounds IS alarm in south India
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Friday arrested a man from Karnataka’s Bhatkal town in connection with terror activities of a group propagating the violent ideology of the Islamic State (IS), making it the third arrest in as many days from the state, an official said.
The accused has been identified as Zufri Jawhar Damudi of Bhatkal town in Uttara Kannada district. On Wednesday, NIA arrested Ammar Abdul Rahman of Mangalore and Shankar Venkatesh Perumal of Bengaluru in connection with the case after conducting simultaneous searches in Jammu and Kashmir and Karnataka.
According to the central agency, Damudi is alleged to have created fake identities on different chat platforms to communicate with people and was involved in radicalising and recruiting youths to join the group.
With these arrests, the total number of IS sympathizers arrested from Karnataka till date has gone up to 15. In October 2019, NIA inspector general Alok Mittal announced that the central agency had arrested 127 IS sympathizers from across India between 2014 and 2019. According to the NIA list at the time, maximum 33 people have been arrested from Tamil Nadu, followed by Uttar Pradesh (19), Kerala (17), Telangana (14), Maharashtra (12) and Karnataka (8).
Since 2019, as per the information listed on NIA’s website, three IS-related cases have been reported. The first case was reported on September 19, 2020, in which four men from Karnataka were arrested. The second case was reported on March 5, 2021, in which seven people from Kerala were arrested and the third case of arrests was reported after Wednesday’s raids.
With these arrests, Kerala moved to the second spot in the list with 24 arrests while Karnataka jumped to the fourth with 15 arrests, followed by Telangana (14), as per the NIA information.
While answering a question regarding ‘reports of the presence of Islamic terrorists in southern states of India’, during the monsoon session in September 2020, the Union ministry of home affairs told parliament: “Some instances of individuals from different States, including the Southern States, having joined Islamic State (IS) have come to the notice of Central and State Security Agencies.”
NIA has registered 17 cases related to the presence of IS sympathizers in Telangana, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.
“Investigations by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) have revealed that IS is most active in Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Jammu & Kashmir,” read the MHA statement in Rajya Sabha.
B Dayananda, additional director general of police (Intelligence), Karnataka, said the numbers mentioned by the MHA are only pertaining to the cases registered by NIA. “As per the state government’s records, 30 people have been arrested for links with the Islamic State,” he said.
The state intelligence chief added that so far the arrests have been made in connection with radicalisation and evidence of contact with members of the Islamic State.
“We have come across people who have been following IS propaganda constantly and some of them have made contact with people in IS. Most of the arrests are related to this,” said the officer.
The arrest of Mehdi Masroor Biswas, an engineer who ran a pro-Islamic State Twitter handle, in 2014, has been one of the biggest catches for the Bengaluru police. In its charge sheet, the Bengaluru police claimed that Biswas would monitor the developments of ISIS on the internet and TV and assist his followers, who were willing to enter the ISIS territory. He would tweet about vulnerable sections along the border on the basis of which volunteers entered the ISIS territory, the charge sheet added.
“For enforcement agencies, radicalization is a big concern. As far as Karnataka is concerned, we have been very clear that online radicalization has to be taken seriously as lone-wolf attacks are being witnessed across the world. Certainly, more attention is needed on this front,” said a former IPS officer, who was intelligence chief during his tenure.