Taliban-style courts in God's Own Country
Ananthakrishnan G, TNN, Jul 18, 2010, 07.26am IST
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: 'Hotbed of terrorism' is not the usual label for Kerala. But intelligence gathered by disparate agencies over the last few years suggests the description may not be far off the mark. Confirmation of this came with the horrifying incident of July 4, when a college lecturer's right hand was chopped off in Moovattupuzha, a town in Eranakulam district.
The attack on T J Joseph was apparently in retaliation for setting a question paper that allegedly hurt Muslim sentiments. Police raids on offices of the Popular Front of India (PFI), whose activists are believed to be behind the attack, have exposed a well-oiled, pan-Islamist network fed by a heady mix of Wahhabism and hawala. Kerala's deep-rooted Gulf links also come in handy for the PFI.
The revelations of the last two weeks are startling. It includes al-Qaida training tapes, Taliban-style courts that dispense justice according to Shariat law, literature on conversion, explosives enough to kill dozens, and documents indicating unusual interest in the Indian Navy.
Sources say it was one of the PFI's Taliban-style 'courts' in Erattupettah in Kottayam district that decided Joseph's fate. There are 13 more across Kerala, discreetly exhorting members of the community to stay away from regular courts which are deemed "un-Islamic". The state police is now taking a fresh look at three murders in Kannur, including that of a police constable. There is some suspicion the killings were ordered by Taliban-style courts.
The policemen who seized the CDs from PFI offices later reported disgust and disbelief at videos showing brutal punishment – such as the severing of limbs – inflicted on "enemies of faith". Some shots had activists slaughtering animals, apparently to harden them. Kerala's descent to terror is not recent nor is it without political backing. For decades, both Congress and the Left have been soft on the more radical sections of the Muslim community leaving the moderates at the mercy of the extremists.
Radicalisation of the northern districts began in the 1990s. Fingerprints of the banned al-Umma, which was behind the Coimbatore bombings, were found to be all over the murder of three Hindu youth – in Malappuram, Palakkad and Thrissur – reportedly for having relations with Muslim women.
In July 1993, reformist Islamic scholar Moulavi Abdul Hassan Chekannur was abducted from his home and slaughtered allegedly by hardliners. That conspiracy is yet to be unravelled.
But perhaps the jihadi network first became really visible in Marad, a sleepy fishing hamlet in Kozhikode district. On May 2, 2003, eight Hindu fishermen were executed on the beach by a crack team, which appeared out of nowhere. It was said to be a revenge attack and the execution betrayed a chillingly high level of training. Fingers were pointed at the National Development Front (NDF), headed among others by P Koya, who was a founding member of SIMI, the banned Students Islamic Movement of India. But the trail went cold when it inexorably led to politicians.
Kerala's then A K Antony-led government as well as the Left turned down calls for a CBI investigation. A later inquiry by a judicial commission made reference to the alleged role of some leaders of the Indian Union Muslim League, a Congress ally.
The Left, which was in power when the report was tabled in the state assembly, saw political opportunity and swiftly agreed to a CBI probe. But the "independent" central probe agency expressed its unwillingness to take up the case, claiming that the passage of time – three years – meant the destruction of crucial evidence.
Police believe the NDF was never more than a front to accommodate members of the Islamic Sevak Sangh (ISS) – founded by radical cleric-turned-politician Abdul Nasser Madani – after it was proscribed. Even so, it managed to groom a dedicated cadre with jihadi leanings. In November 2006, the NDF merged with like-minded organizations – Manitha Neethi Pasarai of Tamil Nadu and the Karnataka Forum for Dignity – to form the PFI.
Barely two years later, Kerala's links with the global jihad became clear when four young Malayali men were killed in an encounter with security forces in Kashmir. They were en route to PoK for training. The incident brought some disquieting facts to light, not least the extensive recruitment of Kerala's young men for jihadi operations. Official estimates say as many as 300 young Malayalis were recruited from different parts of the state.
The state government sought to play it down, but then constituted a special inquiry by an anti-terrorism unit. Once again, the trail led to politicians of various hues and the investigation languished. It was finally handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
Bomb attacks across the country in the last decade have had a Malayali imprint. That includes the May 2008 Jaipur blasts, the serial bombings in Bangalore in July 2008 and then in Delhi in September. Yet, there has been little action on the ground.
Police officers accused of links with the organization remain free. Just recently, the Centre ordered an NIA probe into allegations that a senior IPS officer, Tomin J Thachankary, met suspected terrorists during a visit to Qatar in January this year.
The state home department has not initiated action against a former SP accused of sabotaging the arrest of SIMI activists from a camp in Alwaye near Kochi in August 2006. Though 18 hardcore activists took part in the camp, the police – allegedly under instructions from the SP – only arrested five and let off the rest. They would later mastermind the Jaipur and Bangalore blasts.
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