Central security agencies have told the State police that at least two persons in north Kerala were in direct and possibly prolonged contact with Zaharan Hashim, the architect of the Easter day suicide bombings in Sri Lanka.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) had on Sunday inspected their homes in Palakkad and that of two of their close associates in Kasaragod. An officer said they were members of a “right of centre extreme Salafist organisation” with an office in Kozhikode.
He said the international probe into the terror attacks had thrown up evidence that the Palakkad duo had direct contact with Hashim. The Kasaragod pair communicated with Hashim indirectly through their Palakkad partners.
Their interactions with Hashim, the mastermind of the now notorious National Towheeth Jamaat (NTJ) based in Sri Lanka and a zealous online jihadi preacher who communicated fluently in Tamil, were mainly through social media accounts and encrypted instant messaging platforms.
Security agencies appeared to be analysing the time line of their communications in a bid to understand the nature of the contacts and when they occurred last. An officer pointedly noted that one of the persons the NIA had questioned was a clock merchant with considerable experience in repairing and assembling timer devices.
However, he said none of them or their organisation had so far indulged in any known illegal activity in Kerala. But an affiliate organisation of theirs at Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu had faced investigation in 2016 on the charge of orchestrating the murder of a Hindu Munnani worker.
Investigators said Hashim, who had toured south India several times in the past, had modelled the NTJ on the Coimbatore outfit. After the blasts, online propagandists for the Islamic State (IS) claimed the NJT to be its satellite organisation and hailed the bombers as martyrs, including Hashim.
They said another unnamed associate of Hashim, possibly one of the seven bombers, had visited Tamil Nadu.
Officials said radical activity in Sri Lanka had impacted Kerala in the past. An online jihadi recruiter had persuaded two groups of people from Kasaragod and Kannur to join the IS in Afghan and Syria in 2016 and moved them to their destinations via a safe-house in Colombo. The NIA had investigated the defections.