More than 60 hours since the Delhi Police’s Special Cell, along with Uttarakhand Police, arrested four youths from Roorkee villages for alleged links with the Islamic State (IS), people in these nondescript villages close to NH-58 are still to come to terms with the reality.
On Friday morning, the reaction was one of stark disbelief. Locals said some children have returned their cellphones to their parents, afraid that they too would be picked up on charges of trying to establish contact with terrorists.
According to the Special Cell, the four were in touch with a “handler” abroad on internet and Whatsapp, allegedly taking instructions on executing blasts at the Ardhkumbh and Haridwar-bound trains.
Sarfaraj Ali, elder brother of Mohammad Mehraj, 20, one of the four arrested, finds it hard to believe the second-year BAMS student in Haridwar’s Rishikul College was planning a terror attack. “If he was doing something wrong, I will shoot him myself. If he was not, we will do everything (to get Mehraj justice)…We will move the Supreme Court.”
Scarred by the experience, Sarfaraj is sceptical of sending his son to an engineering institute. “My son is in class XII and is very good in studies, but I won’t send him to Kota for BTech preparations. He will help me in business. Knowledge of technology may trap him…” he said at the family’s two-storey house in Landhuara, a Muslim-majority village.
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Recalling Mehraj’s arrest on Wednesday night, he said the youth was downstairs and the others were watching a TV serial when a few men came asking for him. “The local police were with them. As soon as Mehraj came and identified himself, they went to his room, seized his laptop and cellphone, and took him away. He kept asking what his fault was.”
Mehraj was the last in the series of arrests that day. Akhlak-ur Rehman, (19), a third-year polytechnic student in Roorkee, was already in police custody by then, according to his brother Kamrul Hassan. Akhlak, Kamrul said, had gone to take his last examination. “When he did not return even by evening I went to Mehraj’s house to check if the boys had gone out anywhere together. While I was speaking with them, the policemen came and took him away,” said Kamrul, an engineer who now teaches class X students in a private school.
Akhlak’s father Mohammad Naseem, a motor puncture mechanic in their village, Bhagwanpur-Chandanpur, said: “He took Rs 100 from his mother that morning, saying it was his last paper. Otherwise he used take Rs 30-40. He does not carry a laptop. How could he talk to people abroad?”
Without getting into the merits of the arrests, Gayyur Alam, the village pradhan, said, “Whatever has happened has dented the image of our village.”
Mohammad Osama (18) and Ajeemussan (19), both pursuing graduation from Chaman Lal Degree College in Landhaura, and friends of Akhlak and Mehraj, were also arrested.
Osama’s elder brother Mansoor, a farmer, said the youth wants to become a government officer and is preparing for civil services exam. He had purportedly gone to tuition classes that morning. “I got a call from Delhi past midnight . A policeman said Osama was in their custody. We met him the next morning, surrounded by officers at Lodhi Colony. Osama was so scared he could not utter a word; he just kept crying,” Mansoor said.
Azeemussan’s uncle Arif, a general physician who runs a small clinic near his house, said the youth, too, had gone for tuition and did not return that evening. He does not even know how and when Azeemussan was nabbed. “The four were good friends and at times met at my clinic. But they never discussed anything but their studies.”