Three students from Hyderabad, suspected to be on their way to Syria to join the Islamic State (IS), were detained by the Telangana Police and Maharashtra ATS at the Nagpur airport on Saturday morning. This is the second time that two of them have been detained, after a similar attempt last year.
The youths, identified as Syed Umar Farooq Hussaini, 21, Mohammed Abdullah Wasim Basith, 22, and Mazhussain Farooqui, 22, were set to board a flight to Srinagar when they were detained. Last year, Basith and Farooqui were detained in West Bengal, before they could cross over to Bangladesh from where they reportedly planned to go to Syria via Turkey.
The alert was sounded after the youths’ parents reported on Friday that they were missing and their cellphones were switched off.
“To avoid detection at Hyderabad airport, where vigil is very high, they travelled by road to Nagpur and were to fly to Srinagar. We believe that they had plans to leave the country and join the IS,’’ said an Intelligence Bureau official.
“It is a fact that the three youths were detained at Nagpur airport. They have not committed any crime yet. They are being questioned to find out their motives. They will be brought to Hyderabad shortly,’’ said Hyderabad Police Commissioner M Mahender Reddy.
“All three are relatives and had planned to join some jihadi group in Srinagar and later figure out their plans to join the IS. They did not have a definite plan on how to go to Syria,” said another intelligence official.
The two who were detained last year were under surveillance of the counter intelligence cell of the Telangana Police. “We recently detected some activity within the group that suggested they were planning to leave Hyderabad to join jihadi activity. We had kept them under watch. Then they suddenly went missing. We tracked them to Nagpur and informed the Maharashtra ATS who helped us nab them,” said a senior Telangana Police officer.
In Hyderabad, Abid Hussaini, father of Syed, said: “He was missing since Friday morning and his cellphone was switched off so I felt there was something amiss. I informed the police. Like all youths these days, he was very active on social media and internet, but I did not think he would become involved in this IS affair.”
“He had failed to clear some subjects in his final exams and was preparing to give supplementary exams. He studied at the Avanti Degree and PG College. We first came to know (about his detention) through media reports, and then someone called and informed us that he has been detained with two others,’’ said Hussaini.
Mohammed Arif, a relative of Basith whose family runs a furniture store, said the youth and Syed went out together on Friday morning and were missing since then.
Last year, Basith was reported to have received funds for travel to join the IS from a Dubai-based, Indian-origin, alleged online recruiter for the IS. The “recruiter” was subsequently identified as Adnan Damudi, 35, from Bhatkal in Karnataka. Damudi is currently under detention in Dubai.
In 2014, a group of six Hyderabad youths, all engineering students, were reported to have been influenced by online IS propaganda and had been approached in closed social media groups by Damudi and another Bhatkal youth, Shafi Armar alias Sameer Khan, to travel to Syria via Turkey to join the IS.
Shafi Armar’s brother, Sultan Armar, a religious teacher who was reported to have been killed in Kobane, Syria, in March this year, was also among those who allegedly influenced the youths to join the IS.
The attempt by the six youths was foiled after the parents of two of the youths got wind of the plan and reported the matter to the authorities. The group did not get travel papers to fly to Turkey.
Four of the youths fled home before police intervention and travelled to Kolkata, in an attempt to go to Bangladesh, since the recruiters had promised help for further travel. The Telangana police tracked down the youths in West Bengal and brought them back to Hyderabad. No cases were filed against the youths but they were counselled as part of a deradicalisation strategy and returned to their families.
Sources said the sister of one of the youths who was detained last year, and again on Saturday, was also radicalised. One of the recruiters initiated efforts to get the youth’s sister married to an IS fighter and the duo had agreed, sources said.
With inputs from Deeptiman Tiwary in New Delhi