NIA arrests three al-Qaeda operatives after raids in Kerala’s Kochi
In a swift operation, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) raided a migrant workers’ settlement in Kochi in the early hours of Saturday and arrested three alleged al-Qaeda operatives who were planning a series of terror attacks.
The NIA said the terror module was operational for some time and they were planning a series of attacks in major cities including Delhi, Mumbai and Kochi. It said raids were carried out at the same time in Kerala and West Bengal-- six people were arrested from Murshidabad also. Kerala police chief Loknath Behra said the state police was informed and they helped the premier agency in the raid.
All three arrested in Kochi-- Murshid Hasan, Iyakub Biswas and Mosaraf Hossen-- hailed from West Bengal and they were discreetly staying as migrant workers. They were staying separately to avoid detection but they were in constant touch, NIA officials said. Some of the workers staying with them told the NIA that they never had any idea about their dubious activities but they were very religious and always hooked to their phones. But the NIA suspects that they might have got local support.
Hasan is reported to be the leader of Kerala module and they were planning lone wolf attacks and suicide bombings. They also planned to target vital installations like southern naval command and Cochin Shipyard, officials said.
Though in Kerala many Islamic State sympathisers were arrested earlier, this is the first time an al-Qaeda module has been busted. According to officers investigating the case, those arrested were radicalised by al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and they were in touch with some of them through encrypted Telegram app. Some of the workers told investigators that they were not regular at construction sites and they spent enough time on their phones. A laptop, terror leaflets and bomb-making materials were seized from their hideouts.
One of them, Murshid Hasan, was staying in the state for more than five years and another Biswas had worked in a tea shop in Idukki for eight months before shifting his base to Kochi. “They led a normal life and produced all papers before their stay. One of them was staying with his family. We are really shocked to hear their terror-related activities,” one of the locals said adding Kochi will have to be on high alert as around five lakh migrant workers are working in the city and outskirts.
Kerala police also suspect that some local people might have extended help to them. “We are keeping a close vigil on all migrant camps and employers have been instructed to keep personal details of all employees,” said a senior police officer.
In 2016, at least 21 people from the state had slipped out of the country to join the Islamic State and most of them have reportedly died in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of their widows and children are reportedly lodged in prisons in Afghanistan.