11/07/2016 12:44 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST

Have 17 People From Kerala Joined ISIS? Here's What We Know

The incident has caused ripples in the state

Manish Swarup/Associated Press
An Indian Muslim man holds a banner during a protest against ISIS in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

In a shocking revelation, as many as 17 men and women from Kerala are feared to have travelled to the Middle East and joined the terror outfit ISIS. Most of these people are believed to be between 20 and 30 years old.

Although the state police are yet to confirm the report, the matter has been brought to the attention of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who called it 'a very serious incident'. The development has created an uproar in Kerala.

Bindu, mother of 25-year-old Nimisha, who is pregnant and has gone incommunicado since June, said her daughter's last message to her was to say she was going away to Sri Lanka on work. Nimisha's brother is an NSG commando.

A student of Dentistry in Kasaragod, Nimisha had married a Christian man, Bexin Vincent, a 32-year-old MBA, in November 2015. The couple converted to Islam shortly afterwards. Bexin took the name Eeza, while Nimisha became Fathima. Eeza's family claimed his brother and his sister-in-law had also converted to Islam, and that the siblings, with their respective spouses, were running a business in Sri Lanka.

Five families in Kasargod have also filed complaints about members who have gone missing under similar circumstances and requested for investigations. A few have also disappeared from Palakkad district. Most of these people are educated, some with degrees in medicine and engineering, and come from well-do-to backgrounds. There are at least five couples among them.

Over the last couple of years many of these people had devoted themselves to the study of the Quran and become distant from their families. Speaking to NDTV, the father of a 29-year-old man defied allegations by his neighbours that his son and his wife, both of who had recently converted to Islam, were indoctrinators. The couple, who were in touch with some of the others who are missing, have a two-year-old child.

Another family in Kasargod has confirmed that their 23-year-old son has been practicing orthodox Islam since the last two years and had gone to Sri Lanka to train in Islamic Studies. Speaking anonymously, his father said he had a message from him saying he was in "a land where true Islam is practiced. No Kafirs, no tax, no haraam... if one dies here only then you go to Allah". The father added he didn't want the government to bring his son back if "he is on the wrong side".

In a statement, the Kerala unit of the BJP has demanded that Central agencies probe into the incident. BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan said the party has been warning about the strengthening of "Love Jihad" in the state, bolstering the growth of religious fundamentalism.

Days before this incident came to light, a Facebook group called Ansarul Khilafa (The Followers of the Khalifa), which carried posts in Malayalam and English, had been reported for posting death threats to exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen. After the media started reporting on the group, it was quietly deactivated, though there is no clarity if the government had initiated an enquiry into those who were behind it.

With the ISIS causing havoc worldwide, most recently in Bangladesh and Iraq, governments in India, at the Centre as well as the states, need to be more vigilant about the mushrooming of homegrown terrorist outfits. The Kerala incident is yet another wake-up call for more proactive governance.

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