Terror down south and radicalisation were subjects that were often spoken about. The agencies often complained that South India had become a ticking time bomb, but it was an issue that was never taken seriously.

However, the birth of the Islamic State changed everything and the rapid pace at which youth from South India were being roped in set the alarm bells ringing. On Monday at a conference of anti-terror teams, Alok Mitta, IG National Investigation Agency said that the highest number of recruits into the ISIS in India were from Tamil Nadu. He said that out of the 127 known recruits from India, 33 were from Tamil Nadu.

Uttar Pradesh (19), Kerala (17), Telangana (14), Maharashtra (12), Karnataka (8) and Delhi (7) were the other states to figure in this list.

Tamil Nadu has had a long run with the ISIS. The first known recruit from India was Haja Fakruddin and he hailed from Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu. It was the early part of 2014 and the recruitment of Haja set the ball rolling for the Islamic State in India. It was in that year that an incident was reported from Tamil Nadu, where youth sported t-shirts of the ISIS.

Tamil Nadu and the ISIS connect:

What is ironic was that Haja was radicalised by a Cuddalore based group. Haja then went to Singapore left for Syria never to return. Till date his whereabouts are unknown, but the agencies believe that he may still be in Syria.

The Haja Fakruddin incident set the ball rolling and the ISIS problem in Tamil Nadu started to grow immensely. Agencies have often accused soft governments in states such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala for this problem to grow. An NIA official who is probing the ISIS case tells MyNation that the problem grew because the law enforcement agencies were slow to act on the local modules that were indulging in radicalisation and also recruiters.

Also read: Kerala youth Muhammed Muhasin, who had joined ISIS, killed in Afghanistan

Recently the NIA arrested a computer engineer, Mohammad Naseer who was deported from Singapore. During his investigation, he said that it was he who had introduced Haja to the ISIS. In Tamil Nadu, the ISIS goes by the name Ansarullah and as the NIA probed deeper into the case, it was able to understand the larger conspiracy.

The arrest of 14 persons in this case suggested that the ISIS had recruited highly radicalised persons. Subsequent raids led to the seizure of jihadi material that included speeches of the 20th century Islamist thinker Abu Ala Maududi. Compact discs comprising speeches of radical elements such as Abdul Raheem Green and Anwar Al Awlaki too were seized by the NIA. The probe also found that these persons were in touch with Zaharan Hashim, the mastermind mind of the Easter Bombings in Sri Lanka.

A deeply infested problem:

While the focus is on the ISIS problem, the radicalisation problem in Tamil Nadu has had a long history. Groups such as the Students Islamic Movement of India operated in this state. In this context one must also look at the Pakistan hand in all of this. Back in April 2014, the agencies busted a major modus operandi by Pakistan. A Sri Lankan national, Zaheer Hussain entered Tamil Nadu on the pretext of selling footwear. He was in fact sent in by the Pakistan High Commission in Colombo to survey targets and also set up terror modules.

Intelligence Bureau officials say that Tamil Nadu faces a bigger problem from groups such as the ISIS and SIMI, which have deeply infested networks in the state. In September 2018, a top ISIS operative Ansar Meeran, who had mobilised funds and facilitated the travel of several persons to Syria had tried to break out of Cuddalore jail. He had made the escape attempt and was planning on carrying out a big strike, an input shared by the NIA with the Tamil Nadu Police revealed.

Also read: NIA continues crackdown on ISIS sympathisers in Madurai 

When the NIA probed the Mohammad Naseer case, the agency learnt that his radicalisation process had been taking place for several years. When he was doing his computer engineering at the MNM College in Chennai, he would visit a Mosque which was run by the Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath, a non-political Islamic Organisation, which preaches the puritanical version of Islam. This group it may be recalled was founded in 2004 by P Jainul Abdeen, after he broke away from the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam.

The undercurrent has always been there, says officials, while explaining an incident that took place in August 2014. The police arrested Abdul Rehman and Mohammad Rizwan from Ramanathapuram district on the charges that they were distributing ISIS merchandise. The same year a photo on the social media showing 26 youth posing with ISIS t-shirts at a Mosque at Thondi had gone viral.

The problem is the ideology which is deeply infested say officials. The ISIS operates as Ansarullah while the Al-Qaeda is known as the Base Movement in South India. Further the seeds of radicalisation were also sown by another group called as the Al-Ummah, which focuses largely on political murders, especially the Hindu leaders. This group was in fact involved in the Coimbatore blast, which was meant to target LK Advani. The 2013 blast outside the BJP office in Bengaluru was also the handiwork of the Al-Ummah.

Fear of being tripped:

Be it Kerala or Tamil Nadu, the agencies have had a difficult time in probing such cases. The problem of radicalisation is nothing new in Tamil Nadu. The undercurrent was always there, but officials were forced to look the other way. Even if an officer was keen on probing the case, he would tread carefully because the politics was such that he or she could have been tripped over, former special secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing tells MyNation.

Be it Tamil Nadu or Kerala, the agencies have been very often accused of reacting late to the problem. Bhushan however says that the issue is not about reacting late. The establishment did not want us to react. Governments would latch on to support from some Muslim groups and this was one of the primary reasons, why the agencies were not allowed to function there, he says.

He says that issues such as the ISIS or Al-Qaeda cannot be looked at as individual cases. There is a great deal that happens behind the scenes and it begins at the ground level with a radicalisation programme. To fight these outfits, one needs to get to the bottom of it and as security personnel, we require a free hand to operate. The police and the agencies have faced problems not only in Tamil Nadu, but also in states like Karnataka. The rise of the Indian Mujahideen from Bhatkal, Karnataka is a classic example of how the agencies were not allowed to operate freely for a long time, Bhushan explains.