The Coimbatore police on Monday said they had arrested five youths under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for an alleged conspiracy to kill leaders of two Hindu fringe groups in Tamil Nadu. Relatives and acquaintances of one of those arrested, however, said he had gone from Chennai to Coimbatore to look for footpath space to sell clothes ahead of the festive season.
A police statement said the operation — comprising a search near the station, the arrests, seizure of cellphones and five sickles, and filing of an FIR — took about six hours on Saturday. According to police, they received information that Ashiq (25) from Coimbatore, and his friends, who were arriving from Chennai, were plotting to target Hindu Makkal Katchi leader Arjun Sampath and Sakthi Sena leader Anbu Mari. Around 1 pm, the police statement said, five of them were picked up from a road near the station.
Besides Ashiq, Ismail (25) from Dindivanam, Salavuddin (25) from Otteri, Jafar Sadiq Ali (29) from Vyasarpadi near Chennai and Shamsuddin (20) from Pallavaram in Chennai were picked up. All five of them have been sent to Coimbatore central prison.
The police statement said all of them were “active in defending radical Islam and posted on social media against those who criticise Islam and Prophet”.
Citing Ismail’s alleged confession, the statement said Ashiq had promised them help from more people for their “operation” and that Ismail had links with the Islamic State. The statement said some of the accused were members of the Indian National League (INL) — an outfit found 10 years ago with the objective of preventing Muslim youths from joining radical groups — and they also supported Islamic State’s ideology.
Asserting that the alleged conspiracy was to be carried out during the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, the police statement said the arrests were also significant in view of the two murders in Coimbatore — that of Hindu Munnani spokesperson C Sasikumar in 2016 and of atheist H Farook in 2017. The role of radical Muslim groups is suspected in both cases.
A senior intelligence officer claimed at least two accused were members of INL. “They were furious on social media against anything that criticised Prophet or Islam. They never had a direct communication with the targets (Sampath and Mari), but developed enmity against both as they were very vocal against Islamic groups,” the officer said.
The officer said Ashiq, who worked at a mutton shop, was being watched for over six months since he was linked to a case under the POCSO Act for allegedly abusing schoolchildren. Among the five, the officer said, two had completed their Bachelor’s degree, one had a diploma in a technical course and others had completed school.
“All of them hail from lower middle class backgrounds. Except Ashiq, none had a permanent job,” said the officer.
INL founder Tada J Abdul Rahim said Salavuddin and Ali were active in his movement till five months ago. In a statement, Rahim said the youths were picked up when they had gathered in Coimbatore to look for footpath space to sell clothes. “Taking them into custody, linking them in a murder conspiracy and foisting charges such as UAPA is a conspiracy against Muslim youth, they should be immediately released,” he said.
Rahim, whose outfit has arranged lawyers for the accused, said Salavuddin went to towns and sold old clothes during festive seasons while Ali worked as a helper in interior decoration works. “It may be a fact that these youths were very vocal and outspoken in defending Islam on social media when hate mongers put up posts against Islam and Islamic groups. Their tone and tenor in resisting hatred online might have been equally problematic and needed correction as they sound angry in this age. But foisting such serious cases to trap them forever is cruel,” Rahim said.
Salavuddin’s sister said, “He was living with his pregnant wife and a one-year-old child in Otteri. During festive seasons, he used to go to different towns and sell clothes on footpaths. At other times, he ran a roadside soup shop in Chennai. He told our mother that he was going to Coimbatore to search for spaces on footpaths. He was supposed to come back on Sunday. But he was not reachable from Saturday.”