Central intelligence and security agencies which have been tasked to look for possible Islamic State modules in Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the wake of the April 21 suicide bombings in Sri Lanka have identified over two dozen radical Islamic preachers in these two states who are spreading venom in the name of religion and their speeches and motivating young people to join the jihad or holy war, two top counterterrorism officials said.
The officials, both of whom asked not to be named, clarified that there is no case or terror charge against any of these preachers as of now but that "they are being watched".
An Intelligence Bureau officer, one of the two, said there are 25-26 Islamic preachers who regularly give provocative lectures on religious fundamentalism, hand out jihadi literature, belittle other religions in their speeches and encourage young Muslims to propagate the Sharia law.
Some, this person added, go far enough to support the activities of global terror outfits like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
These preachers, the IB officer added, operate from different mosques, Islamic centres and offices of different Muslim organizations based across both states.
In some cases, the agencies zeroed in on the preachers because some terror suspects arrested spoke of them. In others, it was on the basis of videos and audio speeches analyses in the past few weeks.
The two officials declined to divulge the names of the preachers but admitted that there is a list and that a crackdown in the near-future cannot be ruled out.
It is suspected that the man suspected of being the mastermind behind the Sri Lanka attacks, Maulvi Zahran Bin Hashim, was in touch with some radicals in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and these people planned to have a separate Islamic confederation in the region, as first reported by HT.
Indian agencies have previously come across instances where Islamic State draftees in India were self radicalized after listening to speeches of different radical preachers within the country and abroad.
The most controversial name, already charged by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), is that of Zakir Naik, who fled the country following a crackdown and is currently residing in Malaysia on a permanent residency status even as New Delhi works on his extradition.
In a charge sheet filed on July 25, 2016 in a case against ISIS suspects — Sheikh Azhar ul Islam (from J&K), Adnan Hassan (Karnataka) and Mohammad Farhan Sheikh (Maharashtra) — NIA referred to 14 globally recognized preachers, based in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and Zimbabwe, whose lectures/sermons directly or indirectly influenced the terror suspects.
Some of the well-known names mentioned in the NIA chargesheet (not as accused) who inspired the terror suspects were the UK based Anjem Choudhary, Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, Imran Mansoor, Mizanur Rahman and Abu Waleed, US-based Yasir Qadhi, Yusuf Estes, Hamza Yusuf and Ahmad Musa Jibril, Australia-based Musa Cerantonio, Shaikh Feiz Mohammad and Omar El Banna, Zimbabwe-based Mufti Menk and Canada-based Majid Mahmood.
To be sure, many of these preachers openly condemn the terror activities of outfits like IS and Al Qaida while some others openly support and justify it.
NIA claimed in its charge sheet that Farhan Shaikh "got self-radicalized during his stay in Ajman (UAE) by listening to provocative Islamic lectures and speeches of Anjem Choudhary, Yasir Qadhi, Majid Mahmood, Yousuf Estes, Mufti Menk, Hamza Yusuf, Hamza Tzortzis, Imran Mansoor and Omar El Banna".