As Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, tries to come to terms with the death of Talha Asmal, who at 17 is believed to have become Britain’s youngest suicide bomber, police are trying to find some clues in Gujarat’s Kavi and Kamboi villages.
While Asmal’s family has its roots in Kamboi and Masrad, a village in Vadodara district, the family of another 17-year-old who is believed to have left with him to join the Islamic State (IS) and is now untraced, Hassan Munshi, belongs originally to Kavi in Bharuch district.
Asmal, given the name Yusuf al-Britani by the IS, reportedly detonated a vehicle fitted with explosives while fighting in Iraq earlier this month. Pictures released by IS online show a smiling Talha standing by an SUV giving the militant group’s signature one-finger salute.
IS statements said “Britani” was one of four suicide bombers during an attack in Salahuddin province, near one of Iraq’s largest oil refineries.
On Wednesday, a Special Operations Group (SOG) team came to Masrad looking for relatives of Asmal, whose grandfather Dawood Patel moved to Britain in the early 1970s. Dawood’s son and Asmal’s father, Ismail, was born in Britain.
Asmal’s mother Noorjahan belongs to Bharuch, and the SOG visited her family, in Kamboi village, too, to record their statement.
Vadodara Range IGP Anupam Singh Gehlot said that while there has been no communication from Britain concerning Asmal or Munshi, they were trying to determine if the families had been in touch with anyone in their native villages.
“Whenever such information is received about a native of the area involved in such activity, we do voluntary verification to understand who they have been in touch with. We have to remain alert,” Gehlot said.
The IGP added that Asmal’s family had last come to any of their native villages in 2003, and that Noorjahan’s relatives had no idea he had joined the IS.
“Asmal came to Masrad as a baby in 1991, when his grandfather sold their house in the village to a relative. Later, in 2003, they came to Kamboi, his mother’s home, and stayed there for a month. Relatives said the family did not visit India after that,” Gehlot said.
Villagers, who remember little about the family now, have been shaken by the news of the suicide bombing. The two-storey house of Asmal’s grandfather Dawood in Masrad is now owned by Mushtaq Patel, the son of his brother who is also a police officer.
Mushtaq said he had told police that he hadn’t been in touch with the family since they settled in Britain. Gehlot said they had been told the family lost touch after the sale of the house.
The police also recorded the statement of the village sarpanch, who denied knowing the family.
At Kamboi, a villager said the match between Ismail and Noorjahan had been fixed as their families were neighbours and friends in Dewsbury. Adding that the family had not visited the village for a long time, he said, “When they last came in 2003, Talha was only about six years old and many were still recovering from the wounds of the 2002 Gujarat riots. At that time, Talha was too small to understand anything. We don’t know if Noorjahan’s family was in touch with them now.”
In Hassan Munshi’s native village of Kavi, the family is long forgotten. His grandfather moved to Britain several years ago along with his six sons and one daughter, and reportedly hasn’t been back since.
Bharuch SP Shobha Bhutada, who sent a team of officers to Kavi on Wednesday to gather information about the family, said the villagers couldn’t even tell whose son Munshi was. “The Munshi family was big but locals say they have no memory of the members as most of them shifted to the United Kingdom in the 1970s and 1980s,” Bhutada said.
Munshi incidentally is the younger brother of Hammad Munshi, who was arrested in 2005 at the age of 16 while on his way home from school in Britain and convicted of terror offences three years later — becoming the youngest convicted terrorist in the country. Hammad was accused of downloading information about bomb-making from the Internet and hiding notes on martyrdom under his bed at his Dewsbury home.
British newspapers have reported that Asmal and Hassan Munshi, “friends from the Dewsbury neighbourhood”, secretly left their homes together in March 2015 and travelled to Turkey to join the IS.