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The alleged link between LeT and Kerala is a Kannur man named Thadiyantevida Naseer. In 2006, Naseer met Sarfaraz Nawaz, a Malayali working in Oman who was on a trip home to Kerala. Authorities say Nawaz, who has been extradited from Oman to Indian custody, is an LeT operative. Based on wire-transfer records and other communications, the police have accused Naseer of recruiting men from Kerala to join the global jihad. "He believes that he is innocent," Naseer's brother Sohail says. "He's not scared. He's only interested in a better life in the next world."
Sohail narrates Naseer's story from the veranda of their family home, built by their father with money earned from 20 years of working in a bakery in Abu Dhabi. Naseer wanted to become an ustad, a religious teacher, but his father insisted he learn a trade, so Naseer spent two years as an air-conditioner mechanic in Saudi Arabia. He sent money home sporadically prior to returning in 2002, subtly changed. "Before, all his friends were people like us. Some of them used to drink and smoke, have a good time," Sohail says. After returning, Naseer found a new group of friends. "We didn't really know who they were."
Back in Kannur, Naseer worked as a painter, leaving home for weeks at a time. His father urged Naseer, "Why don't you go back to Saudi Arabia?" They quarreled, and Naseer moved out. During those years of estrangement, Naseer began leading religious classes for a group called Nooresha Tareeqat. Investigators call it a front to recruit jihadis, but it has a reputation in Kannur for helping lost young men break free of their desire for money and worldly pleasures. Sufiya Muhammad's son Fayas, 22, left for one of its centers in Hyderabad in the early morning of Sept. 10, 2008. Fayas had never held a job, and Sufiya hoped the move would put him on a better path. "I told him, 'Listen, if you get involved in something bad, just don't come back,'" she says. Fayas was killed in Kashmir a few weeks later.
After the deaths, Naseer crossed the border into Bangladesh. He was extradited and has been in Indian custody since mid-2009. Police have charged Naseer with involvement in a 2005 hijacking of two buses to protest the detention of a radical preacher, a 2006 twin bomb blast in Kozhikode to decry the treatment of Muslims accused of violence against Hindus in a 2003 village riot and the 2008 Bangalore blasts. "Allah knows everything," Naseer told his brother. "I haven't done anything against my conscience." As Indian officials see it, Naseer and Nawaz are a textbook case of how extremists prey on migrant workers in the Gulf. "Once they have helped you out, they have got you into their clutches," Home Secretary G.K. Pillai told the Indian magazine Tehelka. But that logic doesn't explain their influence among those, like Fayas, who never left Kerala.
Malayalis can be radicalized at home too. Take the Popular Front of India. Spokesman P. Koya describes it as an antiglobalization, antineoliberalism, pro-poor-Muslim movement. The front has 50,000 members with an average age of 20, Koya says. It was some of them who chopped off the hand of the university professor. Koya is a retired professor of English, and in his library, James Joyce finds a place alongside the Koran. He says the culprits have been suspended: "It is not [our] policy to be a vigilante group." But he does not disavow their anger. Kerala's openness has allowed these young radicals to thrive alongside the traders, the preachers, the migrants and the militants. It isn't clear if Calicut's harbor is still big enough for them all.