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Kerala is a soft target for the ISIRead Part 1 Part 2 of this series.
Bharatiya Janata Party leaders allege that the Inter-Services Intelligence is training Muslim youths in Kerala and sending them to the other southern states to foment trouble.
The charge, which originated after the February 1998 Coimbatore blasts, may sound politically motivated. But the fact remains that most of the arrested in connection with the blasts have their origins in Kerala. Many ISI agents and suspects taken into custody from different parts of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu too are connected with this state.
Police officials admit that the ISI trains youths from the pre-dominantly Muslim areas of north Kerala, especially the Malappuram district.
"It is not in Jammu and Kashmir alone that the ISI is fomenting trouble. Our intelligence reports and a number of arrests that we made indicate that it has spread its influence to parts of Kerala too," says a senior police officer.
According to the Kerala home department, more than 150 people in the Malappuram and Kozhikode districts were connected with the Coimbatore blasts. The police arrested a number of them; some admitted that they had been to Jammu and Kashmir for "training".
The reports also say that Muslim organisations like the Jamaat-e-Islami, Students Islamic Movement of India and the Darjgah-Jehad-O-Shehadat have branches across Kerala.
The biggest-ever 'ISI catch' for the Kerala police was in 1998. It arrested nine persons in Kalathode, near Thrissur on February 18 for their involvement in the Coimbatore blasts. Muslim fundamentalist leader Abdul Nasser Madani was taken into custody for sheltering these agents.
Another ISI operation occurred in 1997 when bombs went off aboard the Madras-Alappuzha Express. A pamphlet found at the site said the blast was the work of the Islamic Defence Force.
'December 6th the most unforgettable day in Indian history, on which the great sinners proved themselves by their disgraceful behaviour against humanity. The Sinners against whom God has asked us to wage a war,' it said.
Last year, the police busted an eight-member gang, which was planning to assassinate Chief Minister E K Nayanar in Kannur. The agents fell into the police net while distributing counterfeit currency, believed to be supplied by the ISI, in the state's Muslim belt.
STATE BJP president C K Padmanabhan says the Nayanar government is not trying to contain the ISI activities for 'political reasons'.
"The ISI is now concentrating on the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and parts of Andhra Pradesh. But governments are not taking enough caution," he complains.
Several Islamic fundamentalist forces are active in Kerala. The police allege these outfits get huge monetary donations from the ISI and many Muslim terrorist groups across Asia. These include the banned Islamic Sevak Sangh, the National Democratic Front, the People's Democratic Party, Jamaat-e-Islami, Students Islamic Movement of India and Darjgah-Jehad-O-Shehadat.
Jihad, and through it Islamic rule, in India are the objectives of many of these groups. However, some fundamentalist leaders say the government, police and political parties are whipping up unnecessary hysteria about the ISI.
"We are working for the welfare of the Muslim community, who are persecuted by the Hindus. We are for ideology, and not for extremist action," says NDF member Nawas Ashraf. "It is ridiculous to suggest that Pakistan and the ISI are funding our organisation."
Ashraf says the NDF is registered as a human rights organisation, and that it works for "the social and economic uplift of the community."
EXPERTS say religious extremism received a boost and the ISI stepped up its activities in Kerala after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992.
"Many extremist Muslim outfits have sprung up in the state in the last eight years. Certainly some of these have definite ISI connections," says C K Mohandas, a former senior police officer who now runs a security agency in Calicut.
Mohandas's agency has managed to track down at least a dozen ISI suspects in various parts of Kozhikode and Malappuram.
"Some of them are engaged in extortion, thefts and killings. But the message is clear. Kerala is a soft target for the ISI," he adds.
In 1992, the Communist Party of India-Marxist-led E K Nayanar government had banned a number of extremist organisations, including the Islamic Sevak Sangh. After the Coimbatore blasts, the government cracked down on several minor extremist groups in north Kerala. It also permitted the Tamil Nadu police to cross its borders in search of Islamic fundamentalists.
Last year, justifying the ban on these organisations, Nayanar told the state assembly that the government has identified at least seven religious extremist groups that receive funds from Pakistan and some Gulf countries. The police estimate that at least Rs 700 million comes in from abroad as aid to these groups.
Some of the groups deal in gold too, through the Karippur airport at Kozhikode. The airport accounted for nearly a hundred tonnes of the 825 tonnes of gold that was imported last year.
"We are trying to find out where the gold goes from the Karippur airport. Our information is that it is being used to fund terrorist activities in Kerala and other southern states," says a senior police officer.
Though the government has banned many extremist groups, the police says it is very difficult to impose the ban. A number of underground outfits have changed their names overnight to escape the ban.
According to a police source, a Union home ministry team that studied ISI operations in Kerala has concluded that many ISI-aided Islamic fundamentalist groups of Tamil Nadu operate from Kerala. The study also revealed that Kerala has become a transit point for arms and explosives.
MUSLIM groups, for their part, say Hindu organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bharatiya Janata Party are blaming the ISI to politicise the issue and denigrate the minority community in the state.
"We have told the police and the government that our organisation stands for social work and political action. But we are suspect before the government because we belong to the minority community," says PDP secretary K E Abdullah.
He says bombs have been hurled at his house at least three to four times. "Does the government say that ISI agents are throwing bombs at my house?" he asks.
Muslims in Kerala constitute a vital vote bank. Therefore, political parties have been cautious about blaming the community for the extremist troubles that the state faces. Marxist leaders allege many Islamic terrorist groups found their way into Kerala because of the political patronage they received from the Indian Union of Muslim League.
The IUML leadership, however, denies the charge. "We have always opposed Muslim terrorism in the state," says one of its leaders, K P Muhammed Kutty.
Even as charges and counter charges fly, the fact remains that the government cannot simply wish away the ISI in Kerala.
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