Sometime after September in 2013, a ‘strikingly tall and well-built man’ was briefly in Munnar, a busy hill station dotted with expansive tea plantations in Idukki district.
During his stay, he largely passed unnoticed as one among the hundreds of North Indian sightseers who visit the scenic business town every day.
However, the 24-year-old man’s brief sojourn in the State’s most famed hill station triggered a flurry of activity in the intelligence community in Kerala soon after he left.
For the police intelligence had learned, though belatedly, that he was Zia-Ur-Rehman alias Waqas, a Pakistani national and wanted terror suspect. (The Delhi Special Police had arrested him this week in connection with multiple serial blasts across India).
Senior police officials said Waqas had left Munnar by the time the police got on his trial. Waqas had been on the run ever since the arrest of Mohammed Ahmed Sidi Bapa alias Yasin Bhaktal, alleged founder of Indian Mujahudeen (IM), a proscribed terrorist organisation, in August last year.
In 2013, the State police had sought the help of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to interrogate Yasin separately to find out specifically whether the IM had any ‘sleeper cells, covert operatives, safe houses, modules or sympathetic socio-political outfits’ in the State.
A senior State police official, familiar with the NIA’s investigations into the IM, said, so far, there was no evidence to suggest that the terror outfit had any kind of infrastructure in Kerala. The State also, so far, did not figure in the organisation’s list of targets.
However, the State police were ‘sure’ that Waqas had received some local assistance in Munnar. It was also possible that he met in Munnar other IM members who were, like him, fleeing from the law. Investigators here believe that Waqas could have reached Munnar from Mangalore or Goa.
It was Yasin’s arrest that revealed the existence of Waqas, along with at least six other key IM operatives, to the law enforcement agencies last year.
Possibly, the NIA was tracking the trial of digital communications of the suspected IM members, including their mobile phone and Internet usage patterns, to plot their relative locations in the country while they were on the run.
The arrest of Waqas was of much importance to the State police. Its operatives are likely to be in New Delhi soon to find out what the suspect has to state about his visit. Waqas’s statement is sure to have a bearing on the intelligence collection of the Kerala police in the coming months, a senior official said.