Relatives of an Indian Muslim who was arrested by the country’s premier counter-terror agency on suspicion of being an Islamic State operative said they would challenge the accusations against him.
Shakul Hameed, 25, was picked up by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) from his home in south India’s Chennai city last week. Hameed, who has a master of business administration degree, established links with the terror outfit during a visit to the Middle East two years ago and was involved in raising funds for the group, the NIA alleged.
Hameed’s family will file a petition to challenge the NIA claim when he is produced in court next week, a close relative said on Tuesday.
“The entire family is numbed by his arrest. Shakul is a very friendly boy. We know he is being framed. But why him, is what we don’t understand,” Hameed’s aunt, Anvana, told BenarNews during a phone interview from Tamil Nadu state’s Kanchipuram town, about 70 km (45 miles) from Chennai. She did not want her last name released.
Shakul Hameed (Courtesy of his family)
The only son of a Chennai tailor, Hameed was questioned several times before his arrest, Anvana said.
“My son cannot be involved with terrorists. He is a very nice and friendly boy,” his father, Mohammad Zackariya told local media after his son’s arrest.
BenarNews was unable to contact Zackariya for a comment. Anvana said the family had been instructed by the police to not interact with reporters.
“Shakul has a deep love for India. That is why when he was in high school he joined the National Cadet Corps (NCC). He was a brilliant student and had already set his eye on becoming a lawyer in a foreign country. Why would he get involved in such activities?” Anvana said.
“If he is actually an IS member, why don’t authorities produce evidence to prove it. In the last two years, the police had summoned him nine times. And each time they had to let him go because there was no evidence to indict him,” she said.
Hameed, who was pursuing a law degree, is one of more than 75 Indian Muslims arrested on suspicion of having links with IS since 2014. Only two – Azhar-ul-Islam, 24, a native of Jammu and Kashmir, and Mohammed Farhan Sheikh, 25, from Maharasthra – have been convicted. They were sentenced to seven years each in April for recruiting for the group.
Meanwhile, more than 50 Indians have left for the Middle East and Afghanistan to fight alongside IS, according to intelligence agencies. Of them, at least eight are believed to have died in battle.
On the pretext of visiting Dubai for a job in 2015, Hameed had contacted recruiters and made unsuccessful attempts to join IS as a foot soldier before he was turned away by Turkish authorities, NIA said in a statement following his Sept. 19 arrest.
Previously, Haja Fakkrudeen, an Indian-origin Singapore national who is believed to have joined IS in 2014, flew to India in 2013 and 2014 to meet Hameed and Khaja Moideen (alias Abdullah Muthalif), the NIA said.
“Both Hameed and Moideen were tasked with recruiting people from Tamil Nadi and Karnataka for the ISIS,” the agency said, using another acronym for the terror organization. In addition, the two were instructed to raise funds for the group.
Moideen was arrested in 2014 in connection with the killing of a rightwing activist, K.P. Suresh Kumar, who was hacked to death by five people in Tamil Nadu, NIA sources told BenarNews. He managed to secure bail as investigators were unable to prove his involvement in the crime.
In late 2016, Moideen was arrested and charged with masterminding Kumar’s killing. Police claimed Kumar was targeted for anti-Muslim speeches he delivered on public platforms in Chennai.
Moideen was transferred to NIA custody on Sept. 15 after investigators determined he was involved in raising money for IS. During interrogation claimed to be Hameed, who was arrested three days later on the same charges, sources said.