Kerala couple transited Colombo to join terror group?
Security alert for IS suspects from India
Security agencies are on high alert over reports that an Indian couple had
stayed in Sri Lanka for two months before travelling to join the so-called
‘Islamic State of Iraq & Syria’ (IS) terror group in West Asia, the Sunday
Observer learns. While these are only some newspaper reports in South India and
there is no actual confirmation of any such movements by IS suspects to Sri
Lanka, security officials told the Sunday Observer, “we are monitoring
developments and investigating these reports”.
While security officials remained tight-lipped, investigators reportedly did
check up on local Islamic study centres belonging to the Salafi sect with which
the IS suspects were linked.
In an article in the New Indian Express titled ‘Terror Tentacles of ISIS in
Kerala’ which went viral on the internet, an Indian police officer, Additional
Director General of Police A. Hemachandran was quoted as saying that the group
from Kerala may have gone to Sri Lanka before leaving to join the IS in either
Afghanistan or Syria. It was reported that nearly 21 youths from Kerala,
purported to be followers of a conservative Islamic Salafi school, had travelled
to join the now notorious terror group.
A family member of one youth, A. Hakeem from Padanna, India, is quoted in these
news reports as saying, that, his 23-year-old son, Hafeesudheen, last heard of
on July 1, had apparently left for Sri Lanka.
While these news reports continued to circulate, the Sri Lankan authorities
acknowledged they were monitoring the situation, but declined to elaborate. Army
Spokesperson Brigadier Jayanath Jayaweera told the Sunday Observer, that the
government was ‘on alert’.
While there has been no confirmation from Indian authorities, on July 13, Indian
press sources reported that India’s central intelligence agency, the Research
and Analysis Wing (RAW) had taken over the probe into the disappearance of the
youths, to ascertain whether the missing individuals had any links with IS.
The Indian Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, had told the
Indian press, that there has been no confirmation on the speculations, thus far.
Meanwhile, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Karunasena Hettiarachchi, when
asked if Indian authorities were in touch with Sri Lanka on the matter, did not
comment, saying it was ‘classified’ information.
According to South Indian press reports, Indian intelligence agencies have
referred to Sri Lanka as a possible locus for Islamic religious activity of the
Salafi sect following Wahabism. Sheikh Abu Abdur Rahmaan Yahya Silmy, who
operates Masjid as-Salaf & Dar as-Salaf, and the Islamic Educational & Research
Institute in Kochchikade, decried the Indian press speculation, saying it was
“baseless and unjustified”.
“The Salafi school of thought, unlike other sects, does not advocate the setting
up of a caliphate,” he said, referring to the IS claim of a caliphate. “It is
condemned, and all forms of teaching calling for a stoppage of acts of violence,
terrorism and corruption in totality.” Sheikh Yahya Silmy, who is also a member
of the All Ceylon Salaf Council, disclosed that officials from the Ministry of
Defence had visited his centre last week. “I briefed them on the actual
situation,” he said, adding that he was happy to educate individuals who were
seeking the truth since IS does not represent Islam.
“I told the officials from the Ministry that if they were intending on squashing
the IS menace, they had to be armed with knowledge.”
He emphasized that, anyone who wanted to fight the IS ideology needs to
understand the factors that give root to IS rhetoric and thinking. He argued,
the mounting negativity directed at Muslims and Islam stoked by news media was
unsettling for Muslims because the IS terrorist outfit did not represent this
religion of peace. He explained that IS preaching cannot be described as Salafi
because it did not reflect the teachings.
Colonel Chandana Wickramasinghe, who serves as Dean, at the Faculty of Defence
and Strategic Studies at the Sir John Kotelawala Defence University, said, due
to a lack of information, it was difficult to say if IS were widely networked in
Asia, or Sri Lanka in particular.
Prof Rohan Gunaratna, an international terrorism expert, told the Sunday
Observer, that IS was known to have successfully enlisted individuals from
Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh,the Maldives and Sri Lanka to join the
“South Asian governments are overconfident. They are usually reactive and not
proactive,” he said, adding, “they need to work together as a region and share
intelligence and conduct joint operations to fight a common threat. The IS
threat will not abate in the short term. In South Asia, IS will grow in the form
of extremism. As the ideology permeates the social fabric, the ideology will
crystallize and manifest as terrorism.”
Referring to Sri Lanka he said, all recruits who left the country, were from
middle class families indicating that, it was the IS strategy to recruit from
all social strata and it was no longer in the periphery of the Muslim society.
He also added that, Indian IS cells were likely to transit in Sri Lanka and
operate in the Maldives. And, such developments call for greater cooperation and
collaboration between South Asian law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
“South Asian governments have always underestimated the threat of international
terrorism. With the rise of IS in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh,
governments should strengthen their human intelligence and technical
intelligence capacities to effectively monitor IS and al Qaeda in the Indian
subcontinent (AQIS),” he said.
All attempts for a confirmation or comment from the Indian High Commission were
of no avail.