Thane college student-turned Islamic State jihadist Areeb Majeed, flown home under NIA escort from Istanbul on Friday morning, has provided a graphic account of his journey, police sources have told The Indian Express — an almost filmic story that involved bullet injuries during a skirmish in the Syrian city of al-Raqqa and a narrow escape when the makeshift hospital where he was recovering was destroyed in an air raid.
Areeb is being questioned by the NIA, Intelligence Bureau and Maharashtra Police anti-terrorism investigators at a safe-house in Mumbai, the sources said.
Late Friday night, the NIA filed an FIR against the foreign terror outfit. NIA spokesperson Inspector General Rama Shastri said, “After receiving permission from the government, we registered an FIR against the ISIS under Sections 16, 18 and 20 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and Section 125 of the Indian Penal Code. We will take a call on further action shortly.”
The three UAPA sections stand for commission or conspiring to commit a terrorist act and for being a member of a terrorist organisation, while Section 125 of the IPC stands for waging war against a nation which is in alliance with the Government of India.
The Islamic State has not been designated a terrorist group in India, but it has been proscribed by the United Nations, automatically making membership an offence under the UAPA.
Officials said Areeb is now being treated as a suspect due to his prima facie involvement with the Islamic State and was likely to be placed under arrest soon. NIA sources said he would face suitable action unless further investigations absolved him. “Not just Areeb, but anyone found to be associated with the IS will have to face the criminal justice system,” said a source.
The 24-year-old engineering student was believed to have been killed in late August — his “martyrdom” hailed on online jihadist forums — after his father received a call from a friend and fellow-fighter in Syria, telling him that his son was dead.
Investigators who spoke to Areeb said he provided details on just what happened after he, along with friends Shaheen Tanki, Fahad Sheikh and Aman Tandel disappeared into Islamic State-held territory on May 23, while travelling with a group of Indian pilgrims in Baghdad — as reported by The Indian Express. The four men, Areeb confirmed, took a taxi to the Islamic State-controlled city of Fallujah, where the militant group arranged for their travel north-west to al-Raqqa.
For the next month, Areeb said the men trained together at a camp housing volunteers of South Asian ethnicity — largely Indians and Pakistanis from the United Kingdom. The four Indians were taught basic weapons operation and combat tactics, before being dispersed among Islamic State units across the region. The men remained in contact, though, over their cellphones.
Less than a week after Areeb was deployed in al-Raqqa, he suffered two bullet injuries during a skirmish. He claimed it was not enemy fire but panicked and indisciplined shooting by Islamic State forces. “He was lucky he survived the injuries,” a source involved in questioning Areeb said.
Following his injuries, Areeb told investigators, he was shifted to a makeshift camp hospital on the fringes of the city, which was brought down in a Syrian air raid two weeks later. Al-Raqqa — the first city to fall to the Islamic State last year — has been under relentless attack for several months, with Syrian air force jets targeting the jihadist group’s infrastructure and communications facilities.
Following the airstrike, having lost contact with Areeb, former call centre employee Tanki called home to tell his parents he had been killed. Areeb, the sources said, had however succeeded in surviving the air strike, and with help from Islamic State cadre, made his way to a relief camp across the border in Turkey from where, out of money and ailing, he called his parents in October seeking help. Ejaz Majeed, Areeb’s father, then reached out to contacts in the NIA.
The NIA, in turn, succeeded in working with the family to help Areeb make contact with the Indian consulate in Istanbul, and ensure his return home.
“He’s voiced no regret over his decision,” an officer involved in Areeb’s questioning said. “He believes fighting for the Islamic State is a religious obligation, and does not see his actions as terrorism.”
The sources said Areeb made clear he was not motivated by any organisation or clerics to join the ranks of the Islamic State, saying he and his friends made their decision on the basis of information gathered from the internet. In postings on his Facebook page, he demonstrated strong Islamist convictions, urging Muslims to unite in a Caliphate “as one Ummah [nation]”.
“Upon reaching Mumbai, Areeb called his father Dr Ejaz Majeed and told him that he had reached the country and was safe and sound,” said a source close to the family. Areeb’s father immediately called a relative and told him, “Apna Guddu mil gaya (Our Guddu has been found),” referring to his son’s nickname. He then left with his wife for Mumbai, where they are now with Areeb at the safehouse.
In the compound of Sarvodaya Society in Kalyan, where the Majeeds live, scores of people gathered on hearing about the development.