In Afghanistan, families from Kerala try to build Islamic State

The members of the group have set up stores, teach religion, have married, and had children. None appears to be engaged in military activity.

Written by Praveen Swami , Shaju Philip | New Delhi/kochi | Updated: February 16, 2017 10:26 am
afghanistan, kerala, islamic state, afghanistan abdul rashid, afghanistan isis, isis afghanistan, islamic state afghanistan, afghanistan islamic state, india news, afghanistan news, kerala news These Kerala residents, all members of an Islamic State-inspired cult, disappeared into the mountains of Afghanistan’s remote Nangarhar province. (Representational Photo/Reuters)

Like every other grandmother, there’s just one thing Afsath Rehman wants to talk about: the children that her sons, Ejaz Kettiyapuraiyil and Shihaz Kettiyapuraiyil, have had in past few months. “They promised to send me photographs but they haven’t so far,” she sighs, echoing the complaints of a million other parents with children living in the diaspora. “They said they have to travel one-and-a-half hours to reach a telephone. That’s a very long way”.

Except, Afsath Rehman isn’t like every other grandmother.

WATCH VIDEO | Families From Kerala Try To Build Islamic State In Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province

Last year, Ejaz Kettiyapuraiyil, his wife Rahaila, then three months pregnant, and their two-year-old child, along with Shihaz Kettiyapuraiyil, and his wife Ajmala, disappeared into the mountains of Afghanistan’s remote Nangarhar province along with eighteen other Kerala residents, all members of an Islamic State-inspired cult led by preacher Abdul Rashid.

From interviews with family members, and messages they have sent their friends, The Indian Express has pieced together a portrait of the bizarre life the group has built for itself in the eight months since they disappeared. The members of the group have set up stores, teach religion, have married, and had children. None appears to be engaged in military activity.

“The intent seems to be to set up a community that will nurture future jihadists who will arrive from Kerala and other parts of India for training,” says an Indian intelligence official. “This is the incubator, the nursery.”

Hamsa Sagar, the Rehman family’s comfortable home near Kasaragod, isn’t anyone’s conception of a jihad incubator. Ejaz practised medicine; his younger brother was an engineer; their father, Abdul Rehman, worked hard overseas to lay solid middle-class foundations for his family, and by all accounts, had little to do with religious chauvinism. Three years ago, though, the sons discovered neo-fundamentalist religion, and began rebelling against their father, saying they wanted to live life as the Prophet had.

“They rejected all this,” Abdul Rehman says, “this life I had made”.

In Nangarhar, the life they have is hard. The region they inhabit, Indian intelligence officials believe, is remote and mountainous, unconnected by regular road links. The rest of the migrants from Kerala are also thought to be living in village homes dotted around the same area.

“Ejaz said both families are living together in a small house”, his mother says. “There is no air conditioner or fridge or any luxury. But, they say they are living in heaven and would not come back.”

In their last call home, made a month and a half ago, Ejaz told his family about the birth of the two sons, and said he was running a medical clinic — contributing his skills as a doctor to the war-torn community. Shihaz, he said, was working as a teacher, also volunteering his knowledge of the sciences.

A third child has been born to the fledgling Islamic State community from Kerala. Bexin Vincent, who named himself Issa after converting to Islam, called his father K F Vincent to inform him of the news. Bexin called his mother-in-law, too, to say his wife and he were living some distance away, and that phone calls were expensive.

Though Afsath Rehman craves phone calls from her children, her husband disagrees. “I don’t like attending to their calls,” he says bluntly. “When we tell them to come back, they ask us to join them in what they tell us is the true Islamic life. They imagine they are living as every true Muslim should. It’s a lecture, not a conversation.”

Abdul Rehman says he believes others in Kasaragod are also in touch with his sons. “When one of our family members met with an accident a few months ago, Ejaz came to know about it much before I did,” he says.

Local police and intelligence officials agree. “There’s a whole subterranean Islamist network that’s still active in Kerala, sympathetic to the Islamic State project,” says an officer familiar with the investigation into the disappearance. “The next stage will likely be the recruitment of volunteers for actual military training.”

That assessment may not be alarmist: al-Qaeda channels on the encrypted chat client Telegram, for example, have been producing prodigious amounts of translated propaganda material in Tamil and Malayalam for the past six months, translating the primary texts of jihadist patriarchs Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri for audiences so far unfamiliar with them.

It isn’t hard to detect the communal strains that underly this development. Ashfaque Masjid, who travelled to Nangarhar with his wife, Shamsiya, and one-year-old daughter Ayesha, called his sister, Shajira Majid, some months ago. “This is a land of Muslims,” Shajira Majeed recalls her brother saying, “and we need not see any Hindu here. He wanted all of us join him in that place. He told us he would not return.”

No one is quite certain what shaped Ashfaque Majid’s world view. Until 2012 a commerce student at Mumbai’s Mithibhai College, he looked after his father’s hotel business in the city alongside.

But then, according to charges filed by the National Investigation Agency, Majid made contact with Arshi Qureshi, a manager with controversial neo-fundamentalist preacher Zakir Naik Islamic Research Foundation, who in turn put him touch with the cult in Kasaragod. Majid broke with his family business, and moved back to Kerala.

The idea that emigrating is necessary for a full practice of Islam has old roots in South Asia’s political history: in 1920, tens of thousands responded to calls to make hijrat, or migration, to Afghanistan, rather than live in British-ruled India. Large numbers of migrants were killed by hunger or looters; the Khyber pass, contemporary accounts record, was littered with corpses.

For the families of many of those who have gone to Afghanistan, the politics underlying their migration is incomprehensible. Mohammad Mehmood, whose son Mohammad Salil was among the migrants, has got two calls from his son, once a well-off worker in Sharjah.

“When I asked him why left home, he had no answers,” Mehmood says. “He is living according Koran and has no plan to return. I pick up his calls, and he starts delivering religious sermons.”

The shortest conversations have been between Hafeezuddin and his mother, Khadeeja. “The words get stuck in my throat,” she says, speaking from behind a half-closed door. “I cried when he last called. He told me that we would meet in heaven.”

He’s sent Telegram messages since. “Sleep doesn’t help when it’s your soul that’s tired,” one reads.

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First Published on: February 16, 2017 4:06 am
  1. C
    Chandu Shah
    Feb 16, 2017 at 8:38 am
    Even Muslims have lots of enemies in the Islamic world. Look at stan. Bombs everyday
    Reply
    1. I
      Inch.wapsi
      Feb 15, 2017 at 11:36 pm
      ole Praveen Swami, did you actually write the fiction or are you just pasting that was written by some other OLE.
      Reply
      1. I
        Inch.wapsi
        Feb 16, 2017 at 2:10 am
        Did you do your daily salutation to Israelites by supplying your beautiful women folks?
        Reply
        1. H
          Hedonist
          Feb 16, 2017 at 2:12 am
          Unbelievable. So many BRAHMIN PIGS below eating the SHT fed by Praveen Swami.
          Reply
          1. I
            IslamForFoools
            Feb 16, 2017 at 2:19 am
            And entire media is maligning Hindu for resisting Islamic terrorism, and hiding real terrorism by gaddar musselman subhumans.
            Reply
            1. I
              IslamForFoools
              Feb 16, 2017 at 6:44 am
              Army shud take over India for few weeks, bombing all mussies areas and clearing our pure Hindu land from Muslims
              Reply
              1. I
                IslamForFoools
                Feb 16, 2017 at 4:43 am
                Converting Muslims is only way Hindus have, make plan, be aggressive, convert them or if you don't do this, your next generations will be slaughtered same way non Muslims are slaughtered in Muslim countries, that will be end of humanity
                Reply
                1. I
                  IslamForFoools
                  Feb 16, 2017 at 2:20 am
                  Hindus produce one extra child for Kerala, besides Kashmir and am and West Bengal.
                  Reply
                  1. I
                    IslamForFoools
                    Feb 16, 2017 at 2:19 am
                    Tere Allah k ma ki ch00t. Tera Allah sir terrorism is kar sakti hai, bhadwa
                    Reply
                    1. I
                      IslamForFoools
                      Feb 16, 2017 at 2:20 am
                      We must go to Kerala and confront Islamic mobs coming out of mosques on fridays
                      Reply
                      1. I
                        IslamForFoools
                        Feb 16, 2017 at 3:18 pm
                        What is guarantee Allah exists? Because mohemmed said so? What is guarantee mohemmed is prophet when he stole and wrote one book of violence against non Muslims? What is guarantee your ammi did not sleep with 12 taliban to produce you?
                        Reply
                        1. I
                          IslamForFoools
                          Feb 16, 2017 at 2:44 am
                          Wonder when evil HDTV going to make report on this specially beech Burkha dutt and jihadi Srinivasan Jain
                          Reply
                          1. H
                            Humanbeing
                            Feb 16, 2017 at 3:55 am
                            Welcome to the world of keralites who are supposedly highly ibtelligent educated tolerant blah blah blah. Dear keralites pls lead all of yourselves and others with your superb culture to the highly secured and evolved cave lives.
                            Reply
                            1. I
                              IML sood
                              Feb 16, 2017 at 2:53 am
                              What more people need to understand that Con.long rule in this country has created many dens of Jhadhi pigs may be in Kerala, WB, Bihar,UP,JandK and as near as JNU in Capital of India. Now the present Govt has tough task to rein them under control or wipe them out from the country.
                              Reply
                              1. K
                                Kanarathinam
                                Feb 16, 2017 at 2:20 am
                                Afghanistan was once ruled and dominated by Aryans. It is very unfortunate that Aryans lost all those fatherlands and had to move east to stan. It was more unfortunate that Aryans lost a million of them in 1946 when they were brutally kicked out from stan by Shri Mohammed Ali Jinnahji. From here where will the Aryans go. They are lazy to cross he Himalayas and the jungles of the east.BoB?
                                Reply
                                1. P
                                  Piyush
                                  Feb 16, 2017 at 2:08 am
                                  Kill these Kerala terrorists..khate yaha h gaate vaha ka h
                                  Reply
                                  1. L
                                    Lol
                                    Feb 16, 2017 at 12:04 am
                                    You area jihadist in the making. I pity people like you .
                                    Reply
                                    1. N
                                      Ninad
                                      Feb 16, 2017 at 5:43 am
                                      Should have close watch on these kind....as day by day they are becoming threat to India...
                                      Reply
                                      1. A
                                        Adam K.
                                        Feb 16, 2017 at 4:38 pm
                                        Dear brothers n sisters, you denounce Islam so blindly! Try reading The Quran and see what it preach. Truthfully analyse and see if it preaches violence or non violence. Then p your comments.
                                        Reply
                                        1. A
                                          Ajit
                                          Feb 16, 2017 at 2:02 am
                                          This is awesome!. We shall encourage these people to leave India so that rest of the country can live in peace.
                                          Reply
                                          1. A
                                            anil
                                            Feb 16, 2017 at 4:32 am
                                            It is biased news. Many People recruited to IS from northers part of India.MP,Chattsghar People .Why u r projecting 1 or 2 people from kerala alone.
                                            Reply
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