West Bengal minister Siddiqullah Chowdhury on Tuesday demanded the immediate and unconditional release of 10 suspected al-Qaeda operatives from Murshidabad arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) last month. Seven were held from the district while three were arrested in Kerala’s Ernakulam district.
Chowdhury, who is the minister of mass education extension and library services, told reporters at a press conference, “We already talked with many people and after that I am demanding that immediately all who were arrested by NIA should be released unconditionally.”
While six of the men were held from Murshidabad on September 19 and three in Kerala, one man was arrested six days later. His wife claimed that her husband was being falsely implicated in the case. All the accused were flown to Delhi for remand and interrogation.
The minister said, “What the NIA did seemed like war. In the early hours, 12-13 armed convoys entered the village and arrested innocent people. State police did not know anything. The people of the house are not being informed about the whereabouts of the detainees. NIA is not saying anything about the crime of those arrested youths.”
Chowdhury — who met two to three Muslim organisations, including his former outfit Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, during the day — went on to add, “On the other hand villagers are saying, they are innocent. So, we think that, attempts are being made to humiliate the Muslim community.”
The minister, who joined the Trinamool Congress before the 2016 Assembly polls, accused the NIA and the Narendra Modi government of defaming the Muslim community by linking the arrested men to terrorism. “It is a dangerous tactic of the central government,” he said, expressing his solidarity with the accused.
Chowdhury said that in Domkoland Raninagar, the areas in Murshidabad from where some of the accused were arrested, the Border Security Force (BSF) regularly detains and questions innocent villagers. “They are basically harassing the innocent villagers. They are also harassing old people,” he alleged.
The NIA suspects that al-Qaeda was trying to gain a toehold among Bengali-speaking labourers in the southern state. The group is believed to have been radicalised and sponsored by a Pakistan-based al-Qaeda module. They were allegedly planning to attack vital installations across India, including the Delhi-NCR region.
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