Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Indian authorities arrest Chabad couple for "spying"

From The Times of India:
An Israeli couple who came to the city on March 3, 2010, will be deported for "suspicious activities". Shneor Zalman and Yaffa Shenoi came on a multiple-entry visa and rented a house on Rose Street, Fort Kochi, for Rs 50,000 per month, far higher than the market rate.

"Central intelligence got an alert about a covert operation being carried out by suspected Israeli agents after the 26/11 terror attacks in which south Mumbai's Chabad House came under attack and six Jews, including a Rabbi and his pregnant wife, were killed. A communication was sent to all states and it was our wing in Kerala that traced this couple at Fort Kochi," an intelligence officer here said.

Indian agencies will question two suspected Israeli agents before they are deported. "We have traced the couple's financial transactions. Preliminary investigations suggest similar Israelis are camping in various parts of the country," an official said.

In their report, the state intelligence department said a group of people turned up at the couple's rented house regularly and held meetings.

"These meetings lasted for hours in the night. They were under close surveillance".

The deportation order was slapped on Zalman and Shenoi last Monday after undercover Kerala Police officers tracked them for a year, questioned them and filed a report to Ernakulam collector P I Sheik Pareeth.

Fort Kochi is a major hub for foreign tourists next to the neighbourhood of Mattancherry, famous for its Jew Town. This is the historical part of town where Jews set up their first trading outpost centuries ago and built the country's oldest synagogue in 1568.

"A monthly rent of Rs 50,000 is disproportionately high, even in Fort Kochi. This is one of the main factors that made us suspicious," the intelligence source said. "They have been in the country from March 3, 2010. When their visas expired on March 3 last year, they went out and returned on April 1, 2011 on a new visa."

From JPost and YNet:
Chabad emissaries in the southern Indian city of Kochi on Tuesday vehemently denied a report that appeared in local media earlier in the day accusing them of being part of an Israeli covert operation.

Rabbi Shneor Zalman and Yaffa Shenoi told The Jerusalem Post they were stunned by a story run by the Times of India in which unnamed Indian security officials said they were secret Israeli agents that would soon be deported from the country.

“I was invited here by the Jewish community of Kochi with the full knowledge of local authorities,” said Zalman, a 27-year-old rabbi from Jerusalem. “I have no idea how they got the impression I was part of a Mossad operation.”

He said he and Shenoi ran an outreach center catering to Jewish travelers in the popular tourist destination as well as to the city’s remaining 50 Jews, part of a once much larger community whose origins date back to the 16th century. Zalman insisted their sole motivation for being in the country was to provide religious services to local members of the Jewish community and had nothing to do with Israel.

Shenoi speculated the report might be related to an upcoming hearing on their visa status but said she was unaware of claims they were Israeli agents before the story appeared.

The report said the couple also aroused suspicions when people arrived at their home for late-night meetings. "It's pretty strange," Yaffa said, "apparently the report is talking about Shabbat dinners with Israelis and local Jews."

Addressing the high rent, the Israeli woman said, "This is a large house that is designated for Chabad activities. It only costs $1,000 a month – not an insane amount. Local police spoke to us a few times and asked that we do not hold large gathering in the house; nothing out of the ordinary.

Of course, any Jew who knows the slightest bit about the religion would know that someone named "Shneor Zalman" is from Chabad.