A Community 'Terror'ised in Coimbatore

Members of the Islamic community in Coimbatore appear to have become soft targets for investigators on a terror trail. Ever since the serial blasts of February 14, 1998 in the textile city, Muslims have become the first suspects in the eyes of the law keepers. Mercifully the judiciary has come to their rescue as seen in last year’s BJP office blast case in Bangalore. Beginning today, Rohan Premkumar in a five-part series examines the plight of the Muslims and how their lives have been ruined after being arraigned in terror related cases.

Published: 24th June 2014 07:16 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th June 2014 07:16 AM   |  A+A-

A year ago, police officers from the Bangalore anti-terror squad had proudly declared Saddam Hussain, a resident of Karumbukadai here, as a prize catch in the case relating to bomb blasts near the BJP office in Bangalore. Hussain was arrested along with six other Muslim men from the textile city, all of whom, according to cops had links in the April 2013 blasts.

Community-'Terror'ised.jpgGoing by the account of the police, Hussain was the one who provided “material support” to the prime suspects in the case Bilal Malik and ‘Police’ Fakrudeen, both Islamic fundamentalists, who are since lodged in prison in Tamil Nadu. A vast section of the media was quick to dub Hussain an Islamic fundamentalist and dreaded terrorist.

However, within a few months, a court in Bangalore declared that Hussain and another accused Peer Moideen cannot be prosecuted as there was “no evidence” of their involvement in the blasts. And for the media the Islamic ‘fundamentalists’ overnight became “innocent Tamils”.

The case of Hussain and Moideen is not an isolated one. They have merely joined a long line of alleged terror suspects from Coimbatore who were later released or acquitted.

The records speak for themselves. While over 180 Muslims were arrested following the 1998 serial blasts in Coimbatore, only 166 were charge-sheeted. Two of them died in jail even before the judgment on their guilt or otherwise was delivered, nearly 10 years later.

Of the 44 who were sentenced to life term by the trial court, 22 were acquitted on appeal. Around a 100 accused were awarded “light” sentences. 

Muslim activists, who keenly followed the progress of their cases, said that by the time their sentences were handed out to them, most of them had served a lengthy prison term and were released, while the others were given jail term ranging from two to four years.

“Even those who were sentenced to jail, could have appealed to the higher courts and been acquitted. However, most of them were extremely poor and their families simply could not meet the legal expenses and so served out their sentences,” contended Samsudeen of the Charitable Trust of Minorities.

A former CB-CID (SID) officer, requesting anonymity, argued that “procedural lapses” had led to the acquittals. He insisted that the agency made “minimal” mistakes in investigating terror suspects.

“There is always pressure to solve terror cases expeditiously. However, the CB-CID is an effective investigative agency which does not pick up innocent people arbitrarily,” he claimed.

However, People’s Union for Civil Liberties activist and lawyer Nagasaila, alleged that arbitrary detention of Muslim youths by police was “common and widespread.” Speaking of the 1993 bombings of the RSS office in Chennai, she said that police had zeroed in on small-time members of the Al-Umma outfit and they became radicalised after their terms in prison.

Nagasaila said ahead of the 1998 blasts when Muslims were targeted following the murder of constable Selvaraj, she had heard eyewitness testimonies of Muslim youths, attempting to hide at the morgue in the Coimbatore Medical College Hospital to escape from armed Hindu fundamentalists. “Those thinking that the morgue would provide them sanctuary were proved wrong. Hindu fundamentalists entered the room and began stabbing bodies,” she claimed.

Nagasaila accused the state police apparatus of unfairly targeting members of Muslim community.

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