The changes were first visible about three years ago. He started growing his beard, ignoring objections from his family, and wearing “Arabian attire”. He became silent and aloof. He stopped watching films and TV, turning instead to his smartphone for videos and articles on Islam. Soon, his brother warned him against his “objectionable” Facebook posts.
On Sunday, the family of Riyas Aboobacker, 29, realised what it all added up to. That was when officers of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) reached its small, partially built home on eight cents of land at Akshaya Nagar colony in Palakkad’s Kambrathchala village. Riyas was arrested a day later on suspicion of being an Islamic State (IS) recruit and “for conspiring to commit a terrorist act”. According to the NIA, Riyas had been following speeches and videos of Zaharan Hashim, the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday blasts in Sri Lanka — and “wanted to carry out a suicide attack in Kerala”. Read in Malayalam
When The Indian Express reached Riyas’s home Tuesday, it found a family struggling to cope with shock and disbelief. “If my son is a terrorist or anti-national, let him perish in jail, we won’t help him,’’ said his father Aboobacker, a worker at a mango plantation in the area.
According to the NIA, Riyas was in touch with at least two men from the group of 22 that left Kerala in 2016 to join the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Recently, the agency said, he changed his name on Facebook to “Abu Dujana”.
“I knew he was on the wrong track. But I never expected that he would be arrested for links to the Islamic State,” said Aboobacker.
Riyas is Aboobacker’s eldest son, and has a younger brother and a sister who is married.
“In 2016, when two men from Palakkad named Yahiya and Issa (Christian brothers who converted to Islam) left the country to join the IS as part of a group from Kerala, Riyas told us that they were his friends. When photos of those men appeared in the media, he told us that he had met them at a mosque in Palakkad,’’ said Riyas’s brother-in-law, Kaja, who is employed as a driver.
According to Kaja, Riyas cleared Class 12 in the Humanities stream. “He completed his BA through private study but we don’t know any details,” he said. The family said Riyas moved from one city to another in Kerala “doing odd jobs”, including as a jewellery salesman and an employee at a steel firm in Palakkad’s Kanjikode.
“Recently, he started going twice a week on his two-wheeler to Govindapuram village nearby to sell perfumes. He was not interested in helping me run the family. I had asked him several times to join me at the mango plantation where he would have got Rs 500 for a day’s work. But he wanted to learn religion,’’ said Aboobacker.
According to the family, Riyas turned to the Internet to learn more about religion because the family never sent him to a madrasa. “In those days, we were staying at Chappakkad, a remote village, where the nearest madrasa was about 8 km away. So he felt that he didn’t get a proper religious education,’’ said Riyas’s brother, who declined to be identified.
Neighbours said they were still in shock over the arrest. “His long beard was a cause of concern because it was unusual. You will not find a Muslim youth in this region sporting such a long beard and hair,’’ said Sirajuneesa, a local resident.
Another resident, Saleem Shahul Hameed, said Riyas “got attracted to the Salafi movement”, which preaches an orthodox form of Islam. “But we never expected that he would have links to the Islamic State,” he said.