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Kerala resort for terror

Thiruvananthapuram, March 27: If Kerala’s hill resorts have provided shelters for many terrorists targeting India, some of this week’s developments may partially explain why.

When it emerged after the arrests of the Indian Mujahideen’s officiating head and an associate that they had stayed in Munnar, central Kerala, towards end-2013 and early 2014, state police seemed to be clueless.

Now the embarrassed cops have launched a “massive combing operation” to identify the hideouts — months after the duo left the state before being arrested by Delhi police this week — but with little success.

Tehsin Akhtar alias Monu, who headed the Indian Mujahideen since its chief Yasin Bhatkal was nabbed in Bihar last August, was apparently arrested in Darjeeling on Tuesday. His associate Zia-ur-Rehman alias Waqas was held in Ajmer on Sunday.

Their interrogation has revealed that they had moved to Kerala after Bhatkal’s arrest, Delhi police sources have said. Reports say Waqas was in Munnar for about three months, and Akhtar joined him for a month.

The hundreds of homestays and lodges in Munnar would have provided easy cover for the duo, who are believed to have shifted their location a couple of times.

Going by a statement from Kerala home minister Ramesh Chennithala, the state police knew about Waqas’s movements in the state — so it remains unclear why they didn’t hunt him down.

Quizzed by reporters, Chennithala said the police had tipped the central agencies off about Waqas. He refused to speak further on the subject.

Earlier, Lashkar-e-Toiba operative David Coleman Headley had stayed in Munnar before the 26/11 attacks, in which he was involved.

The Indian Mujahideen had itself been born at a terror camp organised by the outlawed Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi) in Vagamon, a hill town less than 50km from Munnar, in December 2007.

Ernakulam police had picked up the two camp organisers, Ansar Moulavi and Shaduli, along with 16 others from a secret meeting in August 2006. Yet they booked only five of the 18 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and let the others off.

Reports had accused the investigating officer of fudging the evidence and showing one of the Simi men as the complainant, but political pressure saved the cop’s skin.

Shaduli and Moulavi were released on bail and allegedly went on to mastermind the Jaipur blasts of May 2008, which killed 68 people. Rajasthan police later arrested them and Shaduli’s brother Shibly, a computer engineer and key Simi operative.

According to the central intelligence agencies, Kerala’s links with the Gulf — a grazing ground for Pakistan-backed terrorists aiming to target India — make it a potential refuge for militants.

The state, especially its capital, has a considerable presence of Maldivians too. With the island nation increasingly turning hard-line and moving closer to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, experts have stressed the need for more vigilance in Kerala.