On 30 June 2021, Shri Loknath Behera, IPS retired after his tenure as one of the longest serving Kerala State Police Chief. On the eve of his relinquishment, he candidly admitted to the fact that Kerala is fast turning into an ideal breeding ground for terrorist activities. The Police Chief expressed his concerns of rising fundamentalism amongst well educated and professionally qualified youths in Kerala. He also alluded to the fact that there were many sleeper cells operating in the state. The fact that Kerala is fast turning into another ‘paradise’ for ‘foreign funded-local operated’ terrorist activities, is probably the most open secret in God’s Own Country.
No area is infested with terrorism overnight. It takes many years and maybe even decades to create the ideal environment for terrorists to operate successfully. The most notable terrorism infected state in India, Jammu and Kashmir, also saw years of preparation before the ugly face of terrorism finally erupted in 1989. This was preceded by a systematically planned campaign that included increased radicalisation, propagating the victim card, marginalisation of other communities, targeted attacks on individuals who opposed such moves, infiltration into the state police forces and most importantly create a narrative of ‘saving the religion’.
There are people who think that terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir was mainly due to cross border support from Pakistan, and Kerala in that sense is insulated. Today in a truly interconnected world, the support received for terrorism in Kerala, is from across the globe and not just from Pakistan. Although, Kerala has still not reached the level of terrorist activities in Kashmir in 1989, the pattern cannot be missed by anyone.
More importantly, unlike Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala has the presence of both Left-Wing Extremists and religious fundamentalists turned terrorists. The state has reported close to 100 cases of terrorism till date. The state has also witnessed many small-scale explosions, including the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED). There have been 142 arrests for terrorism related activities alone. An analysis of a few past cases would put the issue in perspective.
In 2007, training for sharp shooting, making of petrol bombs and bike racing was carried out in Vagamon (near Kottayam-Idukki border). This involved 18 members of the banned SIMI outfit.
In 2008, Altaf Ahmed, Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist from Kashmir, was arrested from Kumili, Idukki in Kerala. He had also applied for passport in Kerala. Another suspected terrorist was arrested for recruitment of Kerala youths into Jammu and Kashmir terror groups. In the same year, two religiously converted youths from the state, were killed in the Line of Control (LoC), while carrying out infiltration. Kerala youths were also arrested in connection with the Bangalore serial bombing.
Professor TJ Joseph from Newman College, Thodupuzha was attacked on 04 July 2010, and his hands chopped off, by members of Popular Front of India (PFI), for alleged “blasphemy”, while preparing a question paper in the Malayalam semester examination for second year B Com students.
In 2011, there were reports of a coordination meeting between SIMI activists and the Maoists. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), in 2012, discovered a huge racket for printing Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICNs) in Kerala. During the NIA South Zone Coordination Committee Conference in Thiruvananthapuram held on 11 Aug 2012, it was reported that, “Kerala is the fountain head of Islamist terror operations in the country”.
In 2013, when Yasin Bhatkal, the notorious Indian Mujahidin (IM) terrorist was arrested, he admitted to links with Kerala based IM operatives in North Kerala. The large-scale dumping of explosives in the state was once again highlighted, when 200 Kilograms of explosives were recovered in Vellarada village near Thiruvananthapuram, in 2014.
In 2015, four youths were deported from UAE for being supporters of ISIS. It was also confirmed that 22 people including six women and three infants had exited India in batches to join ISIS. Yasmin Zaid, a radicalised school teacher was arrested in Delhi while moving to Kabul. Also, the agencies reported that the flow of Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICNs) in 2015, had increased a whopping 360 per cent compared to 2014.
Another group of 21 people including a doctor, his wife and their infant son went missing in Kasaragod and Palghat districts in 2016. This group also included other medical and engineering professionals. This year also saw low level explosions in Kollam Civil Secretariat and in Malappuram. In October 2016, the NIA neutralised an IS inspired module at Kanakamala hilltop in Kannur district. The group was planning to carry out attacks including ‘lone wolf’ attacks.
In 2017, a street in Thuruthi ward of Kasaragod municipality was named ‘Gaza’. This was close to the Padane village from where many youths had gone missing in 2016, and were later found to have joined the ISIS in Syria. This year also saw reports of at least 10 Malayali youths getting killed in Syria.
A group of five ISIS sympathisers were arrested in 2018, while trying to flee to Syria. On 16 April 2018, Kerala witnessed a rather bizarre bandh in select districts of the state, mainly in the north. An undeclared flash strike referred to as “WhatsApp Hartal” was called over social media groups, seeking justice for the eight-year-old gang rape and murder victim in Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir. The communal hartal resulted in massive violence in almost all northern districts of Kerala. The mobs supporting the bandhs vandalised public and private property instilling fear in many ordinary citizens. The aim of the “WhatsApp Hartal” clearly was to orchestrate communal riots in the state.
In March 2019, a suspected Maoist leader, CP Jaleel was killed by the Kerala Police. In October 2019, three more suspected Maoists were neutralised by the state police in Agali forests in Palakkad. On 01 November 2019, Allen Shuhaib and Thwaha Fasal were arrested from Kalpetta in Wayanad district for alleged Maoist links. Also, incidents of distribution of posters and pamphlets by the Maoists in the hinterland were also reported.
On 03 November 2020, a suspected Maoist was killed by the Kerala Police during a search operation near Bappana Mala tribal hamlet in the Wayanad district. On 13 November 2020, the police recovered five steel bombs which were found abandoned near a mosque at Kakkuni, near Kuttiyadi.
Apart from these terrorist related activities, Kerala is today also faced with many other peculiar challenges. It has become an ideal example of a state, where ‘multicriminality’ is in play. Organised crime, terrorism and drug trafficking, the many facets of multicriminality, engage in a seamless and interconnected manner in the state. The outer cover to this labyrinth of multicriminality is political patronage.
In the last few months, Kerala has seen a quantum jump in the number of gold smuggling and drug trafficking cases coming to the fore. On 05 July 2020, in a single case, 30 kilograms of gold worth Rupees 14.82 Crores were seized by the Customs in Thiruvananthapuram Airport from a supposedly diplomatic bag meant to be delivered to the UAE Consulate. The extent of the vice like grip of this multicriminality network operating in the state was evident, when even the Principal Secretary of the Chief Minister was found involved in the case.
In Kerala now, there is not a single day when criminals involved in gold smuggling are not caught by the agencies. During the 2018-2019 fiscal year, customs had seized about 251 kilograms of gold from the various airports in Kerala. In 2019-2020, it had a two-fold increase to 540 kilograms. The actual cases of gold smuggling and drug trafficking would be much higher, as only a fraction of such cases get caught by the agencies. The nexus between smugglers, violent mafia, political leaders and extremist organisations, have emerged as a potent threat for the peace and overall development of the society in Kerala.
Therefore, it is quite clear that Kerala is treading a very dangerous path towards full scale terrorism. It is a fact that Kerala Police along with other national security agencies are actively involved in the counter-terrorism operations in the state. They also have put in motion a counter-radicalisation programme. But what is of utmost need is greater awareness and participation of the people of Kerala. The ostrich approach towards this looming crisis will not work anymore.
In the late 80s, the people of Kerala achieved the rare distinction of being the first 100 per cent literate state, by learning to read from what was written on the black boards. Once again, the people of Kerala have to learn, this time from the writing on the wall!
Colonel S Dinny (Retd) has had five operational tenures in counter-terrorism operations in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-East. He has done his research for MPhil on counter-terrorism operations from Madras University. He was a faculty at Defence Services Staff College. Presently, he is the Editor, Chanakya forum. His Twitter handle is @sdinny14.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Chanakya Forum. All information provided in this article including timeliness, completeness, accuracy, suitability or validity of information referenced therein, is the sole responsibility of the author. www.chanakyaforum.com does not assume any responsibility for the same.
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