The families of five men from Coimbatore arrested in a joint operation by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the local police have denied allegations that they are linked with terror group ISIS, and termed the arrests as "politically motivated".
Two sons of the Yacoobs, an elderly couple living in Ukkadam area, were arrested for having alleged links with ISIS and planning to launch terror attacks in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The NIA first arrested their eldest son, 38-year-old computer graduate-turned-honey seller Sheik Hidayatulla, along with Mohammad Azharuddin, alleged leader of the terror group's Kerala-Tamil Nadu module. A few days later, the Coimbatore police arrested their younger son, Sheik Shafiyullah, a commerce graduate working as a medical sales representative, along with two others for allegedly plotting suicide attacks in Coimbatore.
The brothers have familial connections in Kerala's Palakkad district. Their father and both their wives are from Kerala. The two brothers, the family says, earn around Rs 25,000 a month and neither have gone abroad or done anything unusual on the Internet.
"The BJP government is doing this to create enmity between Hindus and Muslims. Earlier, they had at least a few MPs from Tamil Nadu, but this time they did not get any seats in either Tamil Nadu or Kerala. They want to establish their presence in the two states by doing this," the father - KA Yacoob - told NDTV, terming the cases as "fabricated and politically motivated".
NIA investigators, however, say otherwise. According to them, Azharuddin - a Facebook friend of suspected Sri Lankan suicide bomber Zahran Hashim - had plans to carry out terror attacks in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. They claim that he was propagating ISIS ideology through his Facebook page KhilafaGFX and trying to recruit vulnerable youngsters to the cause.
Another accused, Shahin Shah, is said to be a close associate of Riyas Abubucker, who allegedly planned to carry out terror attacks in neighbouring Kerala.
Coimbatore police said the two planned to carry out suicide attacks at crowded temples and churches across Coimbatore. They were also accused of sharing videos on terror activities, besides translating and sharing literature on extremist movements.
Their brother, Sheik Arifullah, rejected any possibility of Sheik Hidayatulla and Sheik Shafiyullah getting radicalised online without the family's knowledge. "They don't have any such links. They may have received or shared some messages and videos on Facebook like all of us, but now they have been portrayed in this light," he said.
Sheik Arifullah said he had recently met one of his brothers in prison. "He said the police are torturing and forcing him to confess. They are even linking him to the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka. How can he admit? He may die, but he will not admit by force," he added.
With the recent arrests of alleged ISIS supporters, many believe that the terror outfit may be shifting base to southern states such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Others claim that police are simply taking people into custody for flimsy reasons, such as the time they had arrested some youngsters in Ramanathapuram district for allegedly wearing T-shirts with the ISIS emblem a few years ago. However, police say they cannot afford to take any chances after the Easter terror attacks in Sri Lanka, which led to the death of over 250 people.
The BJP has distanced itself from the arrests, placing the onus on law-enforcement agencies.