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The Rediff Special/ Venu Menon

A subversive agenda and mayhem on their minds

The explosion that ripped the unreserved compartment of the Madras-Alappuzha Express train at Thrissur on December 6, resulting in four deaths, has trained the spotlight on a cluster of radical Islamic groups that operate in north Kerala and are suspected to have links with extremist outfits in Tamil Nadu.

Investigations are proceeding on the assumption that the Thrissur blast was the handiwork of a TN-based organisation calling itself the Islamic Defence Force Kerala after pamphlets were recovered from the mangled bogie. Reinforcing this telltale clue is the fact that the explosion closely resembled the ones that occurred in Trichi and Erode. All three trains had originated from Madras. However, investigating agencies are wary of rushing to a conclusion about the identity of the terrorist group solely on the basis of the pamphlets.

But there is general agreement among the investigators that the Thrissur blast showed the defining features that fit the profile of the TN-based extremist groups. Also, the misspelling of Kerala as Kerela in the pamphlet indicates an element of unfamiliarity with the state.

The bomb that exploded on the Madras-Alappuzha Express symbolised a rude awakening for Kerala to the spectre of terrorist violence. Barring the sporadic outbreak of communal disturbances, the state has enjoyed a degree of calm that could well be a thing of the past. The police are apprehensive that fringe elements will now be emboldened to indulge in random acts of sabotage.

In the wake of the Thrissur blast, a succession of bomb scares have kept the police on tenterhooks, which included an anonymous caller who warned of a bomb planted in the VIP ward of the medical college hospital in Thiruvananthapuram where Chief Minister E K Nayanar is undergoing treatment for a respiratory infection.

The police have set up a special unit to probe the activities of militant groups operating in the northern districts of the state following the chief minister's expression of concern in the assembly about the flow of foreign funds to these organisations.

Among the more militant of these groups are Al-Umma and the National Democratic Front, which sprang up in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition. In police perception these organisations pursue a subversive agenda that advocates aggressive proselytisation efforts as well as retaliatory violence on the cadres of the Sangh Parivar.

Their rank and file consist of discontented elements drawn from mainstream Muslim organisations such as the Indian Union Muslim League, Indian National League and the hard-line People's Democratic Party. Young men between the age of 18 to 25 years, hailing from impoverished Muslim families in Malappuram, Thrissur and Palakkad districts, flock to these radical outfits lured by the call of religious fundamentalism.

Al-Umma and the NDF have filled the vacuum left by the mellower mainstream parties in the post-Babri era. The militant groups have weaned a substantial section of Muslim youth who once supported the PDP, the party started by Abdul Nasser Madani whose initial militancy was soon diluted by the compulsions of realpolitik. Not surprisingly, the fringe radicals like the Al-Umma and NDF have been disowned by the mainstream Muslim establishment.

Al-Umma left a trail of blood in its wake. Its activists were rounded up by police on suspicion of complicity in a spate of killings of RSS cadres in 1996. The organisation buckled under the crackdown and was virtually dismantled. The bulk of its workers regrouped under the NDF and continued to pursue their militant objectives. Though Al-Umma has been active in Kerala, its roots and base of operations like in Tamil Nadu. With Z A Ansari as its current president, the organisation has a stake in Tamil Nadu politics and, according to intelligence sources, has covert links with ruling DMK regime as well as the Pattali Makkal Katchi.

The NDF, according to the police, projects a human rights facade but pursues the hidden agenda of the Al-Umma. Its activists are suspected to be behind last year's arson attacks on cinema houses in Malappuram and the cache of pipe bombs recovered from the Kadalundi river.

The death toll on the Madras-Alappuzha Express is a sign that this underground militancy has now exploded to the surface.

Fear and loathing in Tamil Nadu

The Rediff Special

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