Fakruddin, Bilal Malik and Panna Ismail, who were arrested recently on charges of indulging in terrorist acts, avoided contact with the local public during their stay at Puttur.

As their area of operation was in and around Chennai, they preferred to stay in the sleepy border town of Puttur, situated 100 km from the metropolis and having convenient train connectivity, and hence considered a safe ‘shelter zone’. Fakruddin, alias ‘Police’ Fakruddin, stayed in the multi-storied building, from where the policemen seized explosives and a large amount of cash, while Ismail, Malik, his wife and children stayed in the tiled house on the adjacent street, where the operation was taken up to smoke them out.

According to eye witness accounts, Fakruddin regularly attended the local mosque for ‘namaaz’, but used to keep a stoic silence and safe distance from the public. The others maintained cordial relations with the local crowd and never had any altercation. “Though there was a tiff once while collecting water from the public tap, Malik’s wife silently turned back without uttering a word, in order not to draw attention,” a local woman said.

Sleuths of the Special Branch conducted a door-to-door survey in Gate Puttur area on Tuesday to extract details from the public and also to get additional clues on the terrorists’ operations, it is learnt. “They never came to our house, nor did they invite or allow us to visit them,” said a resident of the street.

Though the scene has shifted to Chennai, the curiosity among visitors to Puttur, right from textile traders to patients seeking traditional bone-setting, has not died down.

Many are found lurking at the street corner to take a glimpse at the now-infamous tiled house.