The terror attack on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday and the blasts and events of the following days once again reminded us that the threat posed by radical Islam is closer than it appears. Radicalisation and terrorism is not a problem faced by Sri Lanka alone. As a victim and target of Islamic terrorism, India should take precautionary measures to avoid the sort of unpleasant events that have unfolded in the neighbourhood.
The cross-country connection of radicalisation and the movement of men and material is a reality. According to reports, people inspired by radical Islam in south India visited or used the Island Nation as a breeding ground or as a transit point. Preachers from south India are said to have visited there on a regular basis to radicalise the youth. For instance, P Jainalabdeen – the leader of Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath (TNTJ), a purported part of the NTJ that plotted the attack in Sri Lanka – was deported from Sri Lanka in 2005 for hate-mongering. In 2015, he was denied a visa for fear of a backlash.
The country has also taken action against another preacher named Kovai Ayoob from Tamil Nadu on similar charges. There are also reports that Islamic preachers from various countries like Egypt are advocating Salafi ideology in Sri Lanka; some are there without valid travel documents.
According to sources, Merin Jacob (from Kochi) and Bestin Vincent (from Palakkad), who converted to Islam and later joined the Islamic State, visited Sri Lanka on multiple occasions under the pretext of a carpet business before crossing over to Afghanistan in 2015. A petition filed by Bindu Sampath, the mother of Nimisha (from Thiruvananthapuram) who converted to Islam and changed her name to Fatima, says that her daughter moved to Afghanistan via Sri Lanka along with a larger radicalised group. Moreover, Nimisha’s husband Bexen also known as Issa is the brother of the aforementioned. In a private conversation, Sampath alleged that it was due to the interference of a powerful Kerala politician that the police turned a blind eye to her daughter’s case.
Apart from the radical Islamic groups, Pakistan’s spy agency ISI also uses Sri Lanka as a hub for operations in South India. The Pakistani High Commission in Sri Lanka is the control centre of such activities. Muhamad Sakir Hussain, a Sri Lankan national arrested in 2014 at Chennai for possible subversive activities, told his investigators that he was handled from the Pakistani High Commission in Sri Lanka and his mission was to organise deadly attacks in south India. In 2012, the Tamil Nadu Police filed an FIR in a Trichy court against Amir Zubair Siddiqui, a diplomat posted at the Pakistani High Commission in Colombo for his alleged spy activities in India. In 2017, a Pakistani national came to India by boat from Sri Lanka was arrested in Ramanathapuram ahead of the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
These two crucial factors – radical Islam and Pakistani interference – are a threat to the peace and stability of the region. The focus of the radicalised elements these days appears to be the peninsular region. And the threat is live and imminent.
According to reports, Riyas Abubakar, who was arrested in Palakkad by the NIA, claimed that he was willing to act as a suicide bomber. Sources says that although he was operating silently he was a key functionary of Islamic State in Kerala with the nickname Abu Dujane. It is believed that he was radicalised in Tamil Nadu while working there. Although his house is located in an influential PFI/SDPI area, people say he was not seen associated with any organisations there.
Many people get radicalised via the internet and social media. Online preachers and handlers plays a major role in this radicalisation process. Where the handlers are involved, they teach the new recruits how to carry out jihad and also how to make the necessary weapons via online tutorials. They also guide people to certain training centres for further training. It is believed that Abdul Rasheed, a key Islamic State handler from Kerala, who is now operating somewhere in Afghanistan, plays a vital role in the recruitment and training process.
There are also agents in south India to recruit people and send them abroad. And it’s not just conversion and radicalisation. Human-trafficking involving women is a major problem associated with this. Akshara Bose from Ranni in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district is a perfect example. According to her, after her forced conversion, her husband tried to take her abroad and sell her to the Islamic State.
Radicalisation is not limited to extreme activities alone. In the past decade alone, Islamic fringe elements have been involved in creating their own pockets, where they can impose a lifestyle based on their ideals. The first step of this process is capturing administrative control of local mosques. According to sources, they are succeeding at this in many places. The ramifications of this process are fearsome. For instance, in some pockets they are not willing to even allow the simple vaccination of kids to protect them from deadly diseases. Recently, violent protests against vaccination were reported from some such pockets in the Malappuram district of Kerala.
This may lead to the reemergence of many eradicated diseases in future. The increase in numbers of radicalised youths and their reluctance to continue the study of non-Islamic curriculum (according to them) and also their reluctance to communicate with non-Muslims pose a real threat to social cohesion and harmony.
Muslim youths are increasingly becoming attracted towards radical organisations like PFI and SDPI. It curtailed the influence of traditional and outwardly non-fanatical organisations like the Muslim League.
There are also reports that even the Muslim League sought the support of these groups to secure an electoral victory. The growing financial disparity is another challenge. The involvement of people belonging to the Muslim community in financial crimes like gold smuggling, money laundering, hawala transactions, circulation of counterfeit currency and its possible use in radicalisation and subversive activities is a big challenge. The silence of the political class and media houses due to financial and vote bank considerations is another unpleasant reality that weakens the fight against the unchecked radicalisation in Kerala and south India. These phenomenon indicate a bleak future ahead.