‘IS module’ in Tamil Nadu: He never had crime record, never faced social media trouble, says arrested man’s kin

Arun Janardhanan
An NIA statement had alleged that he was the Facebook friend of Sri Lankan suicide bomber Zahran Hashim and other members of the module behind the Easter Sunday attack.

Days after searches by the NIA at Ukkadam, a Muslim-dominated area on the outskirts of Coimbatore town in Tamil Nadu, the lane leading to the house of Mohammed Azarudeen (32) wore a deserted look Friday. Two elderly men sat on the portico of his double-storeyed house as his four-year-old son played with other children.

Azarudeen, who has been arrested by the NIA, is facing probe for a Facebook page he ran KhilafahGFX to allegedly propagate IS ideology. An NIA statement had alleged that he was the Facebook friend of Sri Lankan suicide bomber Zahran Hashim and other members of the module behind the Easter Sunday attack.

Besides Azarudeen, the NIA has arrested one of his associates and is questioning five others. The NIA is also examining items seized during the searches, including cellphones, pendrives, laptops, hard disks, a dagger, air gun pellets and pamphlets of Popular Front of India, an Islamic outfit with roots in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Investigators are yet to ascertain if Azarudeen was only a follower of Hashim or they were in touch. According to them, such information would emerge during examination of the seized devices.

The elderly man at Azarudeen s home is his father, a neighbour said. The man refused to identify himself and spoke from the other side of the gate, locked from inside. Stating that he is clueless about the case, he said, He is married. He has a child. He never had a criminal record. He never faced any trouble for his behaviour in social media too. We do not know, let us not talk about the case.

A woman who lives in the house next to Azharudeen s said, He is so silent. I never heard his voice. Another elderly woman said Azardueen rarely speaks to anyone unless there was something to convey. I cannot believe that he can do anything problematic, she added.

Every second Saturday, half-a-dozen children used to come to his home to learn to recite Quran. He (Azwarudeen) recites Quran beautifully, said a neighbour.

A kilometre from Azarudeen s home is the office of Qibla Tours and Travels, where he worked. The owner of the agency, Basheer, reportedly went to Kochi recently after a call from investigators. Basheer was not available for comment. Basheer or Azardueen would sit at the agency. Some of their friends were regular visitors. All of them, including Basheer, are in late 20s. They were kind and helpful, said a tailor who has a shop nearby.

Meanwhile, the three youths picked up by Tamil Nadu police on Thursday for their alleged activities on social media have been placed under arrest and cases registered against them. The three had allegedly celebrated the Easter Sunday attack, but police said they were watching them from before that.

None of the three has any criminal record. One of the youths, A Shajahan, lives at Anbu Nagar in Ukkadam. His mother Tajunniza said that about six months ago, Shajahan was summoned by police to Chennai. They said he had shared a friend s Facebook post. He was in Chennai for two days. We were told that it was a deradicalisation project and police explained to him, with the help of an Imam, to not engage in such social media posts. His phone was confiscated then, she said.

His sisters said that after returning from Chennai, he was scared to use social media or cellphone. He rarely touched his phone. His laptop was mostly used by us to watch movies. The police team had brought his old phone on Thursday and were checking it with his new phone. After about five hours of search, the police team left with him, said one of his sisters.