Till multiple blasts ripped through a convention centre killing three and injuring 50-odd attending a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses at Kalamassery in Kochi, Kerala, on a sleepy Sunday morning, house no. 92 along the Comrade Khader Road at Kuthapady, near Thammanam, was indistinct from several other dwellings lining the residential area in the Kochi city limits.
All that changed since the tenant of that household, 57-year-old Martin Dominic, surrendered before the police claiming responsibility for the blasts on October 29 afternoon. The house now remains marked out by the presence of a heavy posse of media personnel stationed before it. It was from this nondescript dwelling that Martin set out for what turned out to be a shocking incident, the tremors of which were felt far beyond Kerala.
He had left his two-storied rented building on a white two-wheeler around 5 a.m. on October 29. His landlord, Jaleel B.A., distinctively remembers the engine of the gearless scooter stuttering to life and leaving the house as he was getting ready to offer his morning prayers. A cloth merchant at the boat jetty near Marine Drive for years, little did he however know what his tenant was up to.
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“I was shocked after seeing his picture flashed all over the television channels by Sunday afternoon. He always came across as a mild-mannered person, though he did not interact much with us or our neighbours,” says Mr. Jaleel.
The otherwise silent by-lane leading to his house was buzzing with the hubbub of the crew of numerous television channels on October 30 morning.
The wife and the daughter of the suspect were staying away from the media glare after the investigating officials searched the house for evidence on October 29 evening.
Martin, his wife, son and daughter had moved into the first floor of the house with three bedrooms around five-and-a-half years ago. The rent agreement he signed up with the landlord stated his address as ‘Velikkakath House, Chilavannoor, Kadavantra. He had given his then driver’s licence as the ID proof in which his name was mentioned as Martin V.D., son of V.P. Dominic.
“He was offering spoken English classes at a rented place in Anchumuri near here until he left for West Asia two years ago. He returned just around two months ago. He never appeared suspicious and was prompt with the rent. Also, he never had many visitors, except for the occasional visits by his brother and mother-in-law,” recollects Mr. Jaleel.
A man of few words
His neighbours also remember him as a ‘soft-spoken’ person and a man of few words, often limiting his interactions to a smile. His son had left for the U.K. two months ago in search of a job, while his daughter had recently landed a job after her studies.
Mr. Jaleel had seen him carrying a barbecue grill a few days ago. “He told me that it was for his daughter who liked to have grilled meat. He also told me not to get concerned if there was smoke coming from above as it would be from the grill,” he said.
With unconfirmed reports claiming that the suspect probably assembled the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at his rented house, Mr. Jaleel wonders whether the smoke had to do with more than a mere barbecue grill.