Last Saturday, his family was told that he was dead. Until a week before, however, he was sending messages to The Indian Express. Since September 2016, he sent several messages over eight months on Telegram, the encrypted app, revealing rare details of life inside the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan, blending the political with the personal. Of his journey, from Palakkad in Kerala to Nangarhar in Afghanistan. From the birth of his child to his wish to die for the “caliphate”.
In his messages, sprinkled with references to the Quran and the Hadith, Bestin Vincent alias Yahiya, who left last May to “join the caliphate” along with his brother Bexen and their families, did not provide location details or the identities of those who accompanied him. The Indian Express could not independently confirm the validity of his claims.
In the latest message, on April 22, the 26-year-old Christian convert to Islam wrote about the Mother Of All Bombs (MOAB) dropped by the US in the area nine days before. “Hahah!!! We doubt that even a fly has been affected by it,” he wrote. With an audio clip attached, purportedly of fighter jets flying overhead, Yahiya wrote that he wasn’t present at the site, but his “brothers” were having tea nearby when the bomb fell at Shadal in Achin, about 35 km southeast of Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar.
Two days ago, an activist from Kerala was informed by Ashfak Majeed K P, one of the 21 people from Kerala who had left for the Islamic State last year, that Yahiya had been killed in US bombings. Yahiya’s father — Vincent Francis, a 55-year-old Gulf returnee — is waiting for the final word.
Edited excerpts from Yahiya’s messages:
‘ARE YOU GOING TO ISLAMIC STATE?’
“We managed to leave homes without creating any doubt, got visas from (the) embassy after the interview though all were aware of Islamic State and its threat. Passed through immigration of different airports though some were doubted and questioned. Some Murtad Shia (a Muslim who has rejected Islam) asked us, ‘Are you going to Islamic State?’
“We made ourselves into different groups, and gave different transits for each group towards one destination in different dates within (a) specified period of time, so as to reach the destination before anyone could track us.
“(Every moment of his journey was) good, especially those critical situations at immigration in the airports and interviews at embassies where Allah blinded their (officials’) eyes and covered their hearts.
“The way we dressed, the stories we made up trying our best to avoid telling lies, each and every situation is worthy of mentioning.”
LEAVING PARENTS BEHIND
“Separation from home was easy because by heart, we had already separated ourselves due to their rejection of the truth… So we left them (parents) to fulfil His command and to fight in his cause and to kill and to get killed… now you tell me we left our family because we hate them or is it because we really love them?”
POLICE RAIDS, ‘Rs 1 LAKH PER HEAD’
“…the munafiqun (Muslims unsympathetic to the faith) tried their best to keep us in track with police, helping the kuffar (non-believers) against Muslims. They managed to arrange all details including our pictures and give to the police in order to track us. Some of us were questioned regarding Islamic State but they couldn’t get enough evidence by the help of Allah. The police threatened us with whatever they could gather but they were fooled easily.
“(Police and the intelligence agencies) questioned some of brothers. They raided our house twice. They threatened us with imprisonment. They kept watching our movements. Some police were appointed to watch our backs. But then finally what happened?… Allah is the best of planners… Not just routes, they (intelligence agencies) even failed to find out about some brothers who migrated.
“…we took precautions from our side, like avoiding talking about it on phone, or keeping anything related to it. Neither we discussed it with anyone, even to our close friends whom we thought that they wouldn’t come with us. Neither we disclosed the time and places of departure even to brothers among us, so that even if one gets caught, then he wouldn’t be able to disclose information regarding others…
“If I mention it (the cash raised for the journey) here, then police would go behind that, searching its source etc. Minimum it was Rs 1 lakh per head. When the plan was ready, then the next issue was finance. But Allah made it easy. Some had nothing. Literally zero…
“(He had to lie to his parents to arrange cash) though not a direct lie. I said I’m going to do a business… Jihad is a business with Allah where we sell our wealth and our lives for Islam and Allah gives back jannah (paradise). What a transaction.”
1 MONTH TO REACH IS
“… it took me around one month to reach the khilafah (caliphate) from my home. Most of the days, it was just me and my wife…
“(The) first barrier was to get visa from (the) embassy. They refused to give visas. Then crossing immigration at the airports, then immigration of place of destination… one brother was stopped by officers, others were questioned thoroughly due to the looks and names and places of visit… They questioned him but finally they allowed him.
“(Halfway to their destination) there was no message from transporter, we had to act as tourists and make up stories, avoiding lies, because lying is not a character of a good Muslim.”
‘YOU MIGHT BE GOING TO THE PARK?’
“We divided us into groups. And all were supposed to leave India before a specified time. So when first group reached the border, we were waiting for the transporter. After few days, he called us and told the route is blocked. He said we cannot use that way for some weeks because the rival army has been stationed on the way. Even our transporter didn’t know what to do. Thus we were struck. And our visa validity was for a limited period. So we asked the groups who were yet to start the journey to wait for a while… But within (a) few days, Allah opened another easy way.
“(Once he was stranded with his pregnant wife) in a tourist area. So when people asked us why you came to this area, we said we thought it was a tourist place. But two days passed, three and four and five days passed — still there was no instruction from the transporter to proceed further. We kept changing hotels in two days until there was only one good hotel left. Finally we moved from that place.
“At one point, we were separated into 3-4 groups as we had to pass through one same checkpoint. So the first group said they are going to (for eg: a park), so officers noticed all are Indians and they allowed. The second group too had reached the same check point some days later and they too gave the same reason. When the last group reached the checkpoint, it was same officer and he recognised that all are Indians… that stupid (officer) asked (the) brothers, ‘You might be going to (the park), isn’t it?”
BIRTH OF A CHILD
In a message sent on October 8, Yahiya, referring to himself as Bestin wrote: “One more baby girl born a few days back – to Bestin (His 33-year-old elder brother Bexen had his first child sometime in July or August).
“Our children were born in the land of Islam. That is one of the greatest blessing… here, relation between husband and wife, children and parents are 100%… Less the luxuries, more the relations.
“(During the pregnancy and delivery there was medical assistance) but not like in Kerala. Allah blessed (his and his brother’s wives) with good health and quick recovery. In one week, they started household work… We slaughtered a goat for the people around us. During the pregnancy period, other families and neighbours wouldn’t allow us to cook. They brought food most of the times.”
“Since the beginning of winter, days are short and nights are long. So time passes by quickly. But everyone has been assigned with many duties from the Ameer (chief of the group). First time we are living in a place where there is snowfall… very cold and snowing… All are thrilled to experience snowfall right in front of our homes.”