ISIS’ bid to find foothold in Tamil Nadu
Posted on May 26th, 2019

By P.K. Balachandran Courtesy Ceylon Today

Soon after multiple suicide bomb attacks took place in Sri Lanka on 21 April, Lankan Army Commander Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake told the BBC, that Zahran, the man who led the bomber brigade, had visited Bengaluru, Kerala, and Kashmir for some sort of training or to establish more links with other organisations outside the country.”

Though Lieutenant General Senanayake did not mention Tamil Nadu, it is in Tamil Nadu and not Kerala and Bengaluru that the Islamic State (IS) and extremist Wahhabism have been trying to establish themselves and have met with a modicum of success. While an overwhelming majority of Tamil Nadu Muslims are very moderate in their beliefs and practices, a few youth from the educated classes have been radicalised by IS and al-Qaeda.  

According to one source, the prior information about the Lankan blasts which the Indian Government gave to the Sri Lankan Police, had come from the Tamil Nadu Police.

Small wonder then, that India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) carried out on 21 May, ten raids in Tamil Nadu and Kerala to unearth Indian links with the Sri Lanka blasts that killed more than 253 persons.

Indian Media reported that a number of digital devices were recovered. The NIA also recovered three laptops, three hard discs, 16 mobile phones, eight SIM cards, two pen drives, five memory cards, a card reader, and two knives, apart from a large number of incriminating documents.

A group of ten persons who had formed a WhatsApp group were conspiring to procure arms and funds to wage an armed struggle and facilitate the escape of terrorists from jail.

It is reasonable to assume that Lankan terrorist Zahran would have had contact with like-minded persons in Tamil Nadu not only because the South Indian State had been having a Wahhabi-extremist fringe, but also because of the linguistic bond. Zahran’s mother tongue is Tamil and Sri Lankan moulvis and preachers have had historical links with their counterparts in Tamil Nadu.

Galle mosques’ plea

Confirming the South Indian (Tamil Nadu) link, the Galle District Muslim Mosques Trustees and their Committee Members met Lankan Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya last week and handed over a letter demanding, among other things, a ban on religious teachers from South India,” by which they meant Tamil Nadu. Wahhabism is an extreme ideology that has caused many problems across the world. Wahhabism arrived in Sri Lanka in the mid-20th century and attempted to spread with the help of petrodollars, which flowed from the Middle East. The spread of Wahhabism caused unrest not only among the Sinhalese, but also among traditional Muslims, who even attempted to chase away Wahhabists. Sometimes, this led to clashes between traditional Muslims and Wahhabists. Wahhabism has one goal and which is to the spread of extremism, we need to stop extremist preachers who come from South India,” the petition said.

Extremism in Tamil Nadu

According to Media reports, the role of IS in Tamil Nadu was unravelled in a big way in 2014. In August 2014, Police arrested Abdul Rahman and Mohammad Rizwan from Ramanathapuram District on the charge that they were distributing t-shirts with the ISIS emblem.

A photo showing 26 youth posing with the t-shirt in front of a Mosque in Thondi had surfaced on social media. While the Police were not able to find any direct link with the outfit, it however, showed that ISIS was gradually being received in the State’s Muslim youth.

The NIA found speeches of the radical Islamist thinker Abul Ala Maududi in the possession of several arrested youth. The Police had also seized compact discs which had the speeches of radical Islamists such as Anwar Al Awlaki and Abdul Raheem Green,” one report said.

In early 2014, a Muslim from Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu, Mohammad Haja Fakkruddin Usman Ali, had left for Syria through Singapore, to be part of the Islamic State. Fakkruddin’s group had posted images on social media, in which several youth were seen posing with ISIS merchandise. It was a Tamil Nadu Muslim computer engineer working in Singapore, Gul Mohamed Maracachi Maraicar, who radicalised Haja Fakurudeen Usmal Ali. Maraicar was deported to India.

Prior to leaving Singapore with his wife to join ISIS in Syria, Fakkruddin was in constant contact with members of the community in Tamil Nadu.
In November 2014, Arif Majeed of Kalyan in Maharashtra, who was deported from Turkey, revealed that there were between 50 and 80 Tamil Muslims who had made their way to Syria and Iraq and were living and fighting alongside IS.

In its 2016 charges-sheet, the NIA mentioned the role of Mohammad Naseer, a young computer engineer, who was going to Libya, but was apprehended en-route and deported to India. Naseer had done his computer engineering from the MNM College in Chennai. He was a follower of the Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath founded by P. Jainulabideen (better known as PJ). PJ had visited Sri Lanka, but his visits were thwarted twice by the Lankan Government.

However, the Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath is not a radical organisation these days. It issued a statement dissociating itself from Zahran and the Sri Lankan blasts. Since 2014, it is engaged in propagating the view that Islam abhors violence.  

In April this year, after the Easter Sunday Sri Lanka bombings, the NIA arrested Riyaz Aboobacker, a Kerala Muslim. Interrogation of Aboobacker revealed the existence of IS sleeper cells in Tamil Nadu. He confessed that he was inspired by Zahran and had planned to replicate the Lanka bombings in India.

Intelligence Bureau officials told Oneindia that the threat in Tamil Nadu comes from al-Qaeda also, through various shadow outfits in the State. One such outfit being the Base Movement.”

Terror groups in Tamil Nadu could be either underground or overground. Groups like Al-Ummah operate openly and focus largely on political hits. The blast at Coimbatore or the one outside the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) office in Karnataka in 2013 bore the signature of Al-Ummah.

IS takes to Tamil

According to Vikram Rajkumar, an analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, IS has been communicating over social media in Tamil, besides Hindi and Urdu.

Through its Media wing, Al Isabah, IS had released content in the Tamil language. A video entitled, Al Gurabha: The Chosen Few of Different Lands” released in July 2014 featured Tamil subtitles, Rajkumar notes.
In one of his speeches, IS Supremo, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had called for Tamil Muslims to join ISIS. His speech was later translated into Tamil, the researcher adds.

Role of Indian Tamil Diaspora

The Indian Tamil Diaspora has had a role in spreading extremism, says Rajkumar.

Due to a history of trade and migration by native Tamils into Southeast Asia, the local population in Tamil Nadu have built strong transnational networks with the Tamil communities concentrated in Southeast Asia.

Therefore, the potential for radical jihadist influences to spread through such networks and impact Southeast Asia’s Tamil communities, and to alter the internal stability and security of the countries there, warrants particular attention for governments,” he says.

According to The Hindu report in 2014, investigations revealed that there were ongoing efforts by Jihadis to recruit college students in Tamil Nadu’s capital, Chennai.

The ISIS’ appeal in Tamil Nadu can be attributed to its well-orchestrated social media presence and elaborate propaganda, employing technology and the use of Islamic symbols to lure its target audience.

Krishnadas Calamur, writing in The Atlantic, says that IS greatly values recruits well-versed in design and computer skills, and therefore looks for recruits from States like Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where literacy rates and educational levels are comparatively high.

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