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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Among Kerala arrests, the ‘global citizen’ who brags about his IS links

Until now, U K Hamza of Thalassery was seen as a harmless Islamic State sympathiser, no one took him seriously; 4 others arrested include 3 sent back from Turkey.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai | Updated: October 27, 2017 7:22:48 am
Islamic State, Islamic State terror, UK Hamza, kerala ISIS, ISIS, ISIS links, Kerala ISIS arrests, Kerala police, IS sympathisers, islamist preacher, UK Hamza at his home in Kuzzhipangad, Thalassery, in July. (Express Photo: Arun Janardhanan)

For someone who is alleged to be a handler for the Islamic State, U K Hamza stands out for his outspokenness about his supposed connections, not only in the IS but also among officials of investigating agencies, both central and state.

Hamza, 57,  of Thalassery in northern Kerala, was taken into custody along with four others by Kerala police Wednesday and Thursday. Until then, Hamza was seen as a harmless IS sympathiser although investigators were always watchful because of the way he bragged about his purported allegiance to the IS.

Hamza was among five men remanded in custody for alleged IS links. Three had been detained by Turkish authorities and deported a few months ago following an attempt to enter Syria illegally. The fifth was Manaf, who was stopped while trying to leave India for Syria last December, with his family including five children.

In the past, Hamza has linked himself to that, too. “I was supposed to follow them. But they were not lucky; they were sent back from Mangalore airport,” Hamza told The Indian Express in July, at his village near Thalasserry town. His little village, Kuzhippangad, does not show up on Google Maps and even the local taxi driver had not heard of it. When The Indian Express followed Hamza’s suggestion and asked for directions to the house of “Arabi Hamza”, it drew laughs.

“Did anyone laugh at you? I tell everyone about IS here. No one takes me seriously,” Hamza said, hugging and welcoming this reporter to his traditional Malabar house. Preparing for his daughter’s wedding, he apologised for the way the furniture was strewn all around for renovation.

He assured everyone present that the IS he knows is far from the forbidding image it carries, and declared it is a “movement of peace”. “Don’t you believe me?”

The description “Arabi Hamza” comes from his attire (see photograph) as well as special Arabic cuisines he serves at weddings in Thalassery. A chef, he spent most of his life in the Middle East, and also worked in Switzerland and Austria.

“Oh, Hamza? He is a global citizen,” a police officer laughed Thursday. An NIA officer, who has questioned Hamza several times, added: “He may be the only IS person in the world who had never got arrested in spite of his outspoken nature and claims about his allegiance to Daish. He would even claim that he is the head of IS in India.”

Back in July, a long conversation revealed Hamza’s disappointment in failing to reach Syria. “Manaf promised me that he would take me, too, but he was sent back with his entire family. I just want to go and die there,” he said, reciting verses from the Hadiths.

Would he still go to Syria? “That is my dream. But at this age, I am not sure.”

Asked how many IS sympathisers he knew, he began boasting about hundreds. And how many of them knew him personally? He could come up with just one name. “Fajid, who worked in a supermarket in Bahrain and fled to Syria a few years ago,” Hamza said. “I hope he has become a shaheed by now.”

Given his links, wasn’t he under pressure from police? He dropped the names of senior NIA and state police officials who, he claimed, were friendly with him. “They know I am not a terrorist, even if I am IS,” he said. Why had he not been arrested? “Maybe,” he admitted, “because they don’t take me seriously.”

All along, Hamza was among IS sympathisers under watch of Kerala police and the NIA. TV channels are now describing Hamza with aliases including “Taliban Hamza”. His links with potential sleeper cells of IS sympathisers in Kerala are being probed now, said P P Sadanandan, Kannur DySP, who arrested Hamza said

“Besides 21 people who went to Afghanistan in June 2016, and 10 arrested by the NIA from Kanakamala hilltop in Kannur, three of the five arrested had gone to Turkey to enter Syria. Fifteen people from Kannur wanted to go to Turkey,” said Sadanandan.

The 10 other than the five arrested entered Syria via the Turkish border. The three sent back from Turkey are graduates from middle-class families, who had been indoctrinated.

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