Friday, Oct 31, 2014

From anti-Islamist letter to jihad camp in Syria, a Srinagar youth’s journey

Written by Praveen Swami | New Delhi | Posted: August 19, 2014 12:31 am

“I disagree,” wrote Adel Fayyaz Waida in an angry letter to a Srinagar newspaper in the summer of 2010, in the midst of a communally charged mass movement spearheaded by Islamist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. “I am so fed up of this thing,” he continued, “do I have an option to confront him, so I can ask him, what are we going to get with these useless strikes?” The letter ended, “Nobody cares, nobody listens, it starts in Kashmir and ends up there, no where in the world cares.”

That summer, as Srinagar burned, Waida was just over 10,000 km from his hometown, in the second year of an MBA course at Queensland University in Brisbane. He was also poised to begin a journey, through romantic heartbreak, career hardship and ideological conversion, to a jihad camp in Syria.

Family and friends of Waida have for the past week been struggling to make sense of his journey, since news broke that he was being investigated for joining a support network for jihadists. Waida’s family, documents available with The Indian Express show, have told Jammu and Kashmir police they are in regular touch with their son, who they believe is working with an NGO in Turkey. They insist he has no connection with jihadist groups.

Australia’s intelligence services, though, have told their Indian counterparts Waida is involved in Islamist-linked networks whose support is crucial to Islamic State’s infrastructure. Last month, Australia froze bank accounts belonging to Sydney resident Mohammad Zuhbi, who admitted to raising over $40,000 for humanitarian work he claims to be conducting in Syria. Like Waida, Zuhbi lives in Turkey, but travels regularly to Syria, the Australian probe has found.

The Australian phone number the family provided to police, though, belongs to someone else — and Waida did not respond to e-mail and Skype requests from The Indian Express.

Home and away
Educated at New Era Public School in Srinagar’s Rajbagh neighbourhood, and then at Higher Secondary School in Jawahar Nagar, Wadia appears to have have had an unexceptional, if entitled, middle-class upbringing.
His father, Fayaz Ahmad Waida, ran a successful contracting business, which enabled the family to move from Srinagar’s congested Habbakadal neighbourhood to the safer, more spacious Rajbagh, one of Srinagar’s most expensive neighbourhoods, in 1996. The elder Waida also opened a supermarket chain, and funded his son’s education overseas.

The extended family has several children who have done well abroad — Muhammad Arif, a doctor at a children’s hospital in Australia; Zubair Shah, a public-relations executive in Dubai; Tahir Maqbool, an engineer also in the emirate — and it seemed Waida was headed down the same road.

Things began to change around 2011. Waida had by that time completed his MBA, and taken another year to pursue a masters degree in commerce at Griffith University, which has a chain of campuses on Australia’s Gold Coast. He did not, however, find full-time work. “He had a string of part-time jobs,” a relative told The Indian Express, “but his hopes of finding something permanent in Australia didn’t continued…

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