In his messages, sprinkled with references to the Quran and the Hadith, Bestin Vincent alias Yahiya, who left Kerala in May 2016 to “join the caliphate” along with a team of 21 people including his brother Bexen and their families, sent several messages over eight months on Telegram, the encrypted app, revealing rare details of life inside the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan, blending the political with the personal. Of his journey, from Palakkad in Kerala to Nangarhar in Afghanistan. From the birth of his child to his wish to die for the “caliphate”.
In the last week of April 2016, almost a year after he left home to Afghanistan, his family was told that he was dead. Until a week before, however, he was sending messages to The Indian Express. In his conversations, Yahiya did not provide location details or the identities of those who accompanied him. The Indian Express could not independently confirm the validity of his claims.
Edited excerpts from Yahiya’s messages published by The Indian Express in a three part series in May 2017:
‘Not a fly has been affected by MOAB’
In the latest message, on April 22, the 26-year-old Christian convert to Islam wrote about the Mother Of All Bombs (MOAB) dropped by the US in the area nine days before. “Hahah!!! We doubt that even a fly has been affected by it,” he wrote. With an audio clip attached, purportedly of fighter jets flying overhead, Yahiya wrote that he wasn’t present at the site, but his “brothers” were having tea nearby when the bomb fell at Shadal in Achin, about 35 km southeast of Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar.
Two days ago, an activist from Kerala was informed by Ashfak Majeed K P, one of the 21 people from Kerala who had left for the Islamic State last year, that Yahiya had been killed in US bombings. Yahiya’s father — Vincent Francis, a 55-year-old Gulf returnee — is waiting for the final word.
‘ARE YOU GOING TO ISLAMIC STATE?’
“We managed to leave homes without creating any doubt, got visas from (the) embassy after the interview though all were aware of Islamic State and its threat. Passed through immigration of different airports though some were doubted and questioned. Some Murtad Shia (a Muslim who has rejected Islam) asked us, ‘Are you going to Islamic State?’
“We made ourselves into different groups, and gave different transits for each group towards one destination in different dates within (a) specified period of time, so as to reach the destination before anyone could track us.
“(Every moment of his journey was) good, especially those critical situations at immigration in the airports and interviews at embassies where Allah blinded their (officials’) eyes and covered their hearts.”
“The way we dressed, the stories we made up trying our best to avoid telling lies, each and every situation is worthy of mentioning.”
LEAVING PARENTS BEHIND
“Separation from home was easy because by heart, we had already separated ourselves due to their rejection of the truth… So we left them (parents) to fulfill His command and to fight in his cause and to kill and to get killed… now you tell me we left our family because we hate them or is it because we really love them?”
POLICE RAIDS, ‘Rs 1 LAKH PER HEAD’
“…the munafiqun (Muslims unsympathetic to the faith) tried their best to keep us in track with police, helping the kuffar (non-believers) against Muslims. They managed to arrange all details including our pictures and give to the police in order to track us. Some of us were questioned regarding Islamic State but they couldn’t get enough evidence by the help of Allah. The police threatened us with whatever they could gather but they were fooled easily.
“(Police and the intelligence agencies) questioned some of brothers. They raided our house twice. They threatened us with imprisonment. They kept watching our movements. Some police were appointed to watch our backs. But then finally what happened?… Allah is the best of planners… Not just routes, they (intelligence agencies) even failed to find out about some brothers who migrated.
“…we took precautions from our side, like avoiding talking about it on phone, or keeping anything related to it. Neither we discussed it with anyone, even to our close friends whom we thought that they wouldn’t come with us. Neither we disclosed the time and places of departure even to brothers among us, so that even if one gets caught, then he wouldn’t be able to disclose information regarding others…
“If I mention it (the cash raised for the journey) here, then police would go behind that, searching its source etc. Minimum it was Rs 1 lakh per head. When the plan was ready, then the next issue was finance. But Allah made it easy. Some had nothing. Literally zero…
“(He had to lie to his parents to arrange cash) though not a direct lie. I said I’m going to do a business… Jihad is a business with Allah where we sell our wealth and our lives for Islam and Allah gives back jannah (paradise). What a transaction.”
1 MONTH TO REACH IS
“… it took me around one month to reach the khilafah (caliphate) from my home. Most of the days, it was just me and my wife…
“(The) first barrier was to get visa from (the) embassy. They refused to give visas. Then crossing immigration at the airports, then immigration of place of destination… one brother was stopped by officers, others were questioned thoroughly due to the looks and names and places of visit… They questioned him but finally they allowed him.
“(Halfway to their destination) there was no message from transporter, we had to act as tourists and make up stories, avoiding lies, because lying is not a character of a good Muslim.”
‘YOU MIGHT BE GOING TO THE PARK?’
“We divided us into groups. And all were supposed to leave India before a specified time. So when first group reached the border, we were waiting for the transporter. After few days, he called us and told the route is blocked. He said we cannot use that way for some weeks because the rival army has been stationed on the way. Even our transporter didn’t know what to do. Thus we were struck. And our visa validity was for a limited period. So we asked the groups who were yet to start the journey to wait for a while… But within (a) few days, Allah opened another easy way.
“(Once he was stranded with his pregnant wife) in a tourist area. So when people asked us why you came to this area, we said we thought it was a tourist place. But two days passed, three and four and five days passed — still there was no instruction from the transporter to proceed further. We kept changing hotels in two days until there was only one good hotel left. Finally we moved from that place.
“At one point, we were separated into 3-4 groups as we had to pass through one same checkpoint. So the first group said they are going to (for eg: a park), so officers noticed all are Indians and they allowed. The second group too had reached the same check point some days later and they too gave the same reason. When the last group reached the checkpoint, it was same officer and he recognised that all are Indians… that stupid (officer) asked (the) brothers, ‘You might be going to (the park), isn’t it?”
BIRTH OF A CHILD
In a message sent on October 8, Yahiya, referring to himself as Bestin wrote: “One more baby girl born a few days back – to Bestin (His 33-year-old elder brother Bexen had his first child sometime in July or August).
“Our children were born in the land of Islam. That is one of the greatest blessing… here, relation between husband and wife, children and parents are 100%… Less the luxuries, more the relations.
“(During the pregnancy and delivery there was medical assistance) but not like in Kerala. Allah blessed (his and his brother’s wives) with good health and quick recovery. In one week, they started household work… We slaughtered a goat for the people around us. During the pregnancy period, other families and neighbours wouldn’t allow us to cook. They brought food most of the times.”
“Since the beginning of winter, days are short and nights are long. So time passes by quickly. But everyone has been assigned with many duties from the Ameer (chief of the group). First time we are living in a place where there is snowfall… very cold and snowing… All are thrilled to experience snowfall right in front of our homes.”
‘There are many Indians… but are advised not to stay together’
“(There are many Indian families but)… due to security reasons, it’s not recommended for all Indians to stay together nor work together. Still everyone meets often. I cannot disclose the total number of Indians. And these come under the restrictions. And every do’s and don’ts are taken from Quran and Sunnah. Anybody transgressing these limits would be punished,” Yahiya wrote.
In his messages, Yahiya admitted that he knew at least two people who are under investigation by the NIA for “instigating” Indian youth to join IS. But Yahiya, a Christian convert to Islam, denied that they had played a role in his religious transformation.
On Zakir Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) employee Arshi Qureshi, who was chargesheeted by the NIA in February, Yahiya wrote: “Qureshi was a very close person to me. It was me who told him about Islamic State and Jihad. He never talked to me anything regarding that. Also he refused to accept that Islamic State is true.”
On Rizwan Khan, another suspect who was arrested last year in Thane by Maharashtra ATS and Kerala Police, Yahiya wrote: “Rizwan brother (did not) have any part in our Hijrah. He was just a witness of my nikah because there were no one else.” In February, the NIA told a Mumbai court that they did not have “enough evidence” to currently file a chargesheet against Khan.
‘GREEN TEA IS SPECIAL’
“(The ruling system gives) us cash and they control the shops. When it’s difficult to arrange cash, they give all necessary things at (the) doorstep. Most people have gardens here. Cultivating basic necessary vegetables. We also have enough space in our compound but we don’t have much experience in it. And not enough time… Mostly we eat roti here. Green tea is also special. Whenever some brothers gather together, green tea is must.”
‘LANGUAGE IS A BARRIER’
“I read.. on an international news channel that mujahideen are leaving khilafah (caliphate) because of less salary. So funny.
“The fact is there is no salary in khilafah. And there is not a single mature guy without a job. Either in police or medical… or army units. …the Ameer in charge wants to put us in different departments because everyone of us are educated and capable to control the system. But language is a barrier…
“Major income is ghanimah… war booty. What we get after defeating the enemies in war and conquering their lands. This is divided among the mujahideen. So you do not know when the rizq (provision) from Allah comes. Sometimes big amount, sometimes less… Other source of income is kafala (a sponsorship system for migrants), which is paid for every person, male and female and child in time periods like one month or so. Some people do their own business like selling cakes, weapons etc and make income.”
‘DRONES, JETS ALMOST 24/7’
“We wear only Islamic dress… There are no luxuries here. Local people might not even know what luxury is. There is no tension for anyone even if your area is surrounded by (the) murtad (a Muslim who has rejected Islam) army… In the past few months, we were able (to) participate in jihad…
“Land attacks happen once in two or three months in one border. There will be war all the time either near or in far places. But airstrikes happen very often. Almost 24/7, there would be drones or fighter jets.”
‘Pakistan like Iraq, history will repeat…’
‘Yahiya’ claimed that India would “witness the time” of Sultan Mahmoud al Ghaznawi, who is said to have first invaded modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of India in 1001. From comparing jihad to the market and Pakistan to Iraq, and warning of pushing India back to the year 1001, the messages of Bestin Vincent alias Yahiya, who left Kerala last year to join an Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, reveal a strong sense of victimhood and delusions of grandeur.
Long before his reported death last week, Yahiya claimed in messages sent to The Indian Express since September 2016 on Telegram, the encrypted service, that India would “witness the time” of Sultan Mahmoud al Ghaznawi, who is said to have first invaded modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of India in 1001.
Turning to Pakistan, he claimed that the terrorist groups supported by them “will one day turn against them”.
Yahiya also claimed that his goals were “much higher” than those of political parties and wrote that “the more you control and put pressure upon Muslims, the more hatred you are creating in the hearts of young people”.
‘Pakistan Following Route Of Iraq’
“Pakistan is the worst apostate country and India is a mushrik (one who associates a worldly object with divine power) country.
“History will repeat. Pakistan is following the route of Iraq. Every group they create in the name of jihad like Lashkar-e-Khabeeth (Taiba) and others will one day turn against them and it is going to be in the hands of righteous ones. Then India will once again witness the time of Sultan Mahmoud al Ghaznawi (who first invaded modern day Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of India in 1001)… No one will sleep peacefully…”
‘No Party Can Compare To IS’
“No party can be compared to Islamic State. We live for life after death, while they live for this life. We love death as they love life. And war is not something new. It was there before 1000s of years, but all fight (was) for land or money or something like that. And we fight so that (the) whole world lives according to the law of Allah. No war is justified other than the war for the sake of Allah. Our aims and goals are much higher.”
‘People In Kerala Unaware’
“The people in Kerala are totally unaware of what’s happening around them. They don’t know what is Islam, nor (do) they know what a war is. The more you control and put pressure upon Muslims, the more hatred you are creating in the hearts of young people who fear Allah. The more you try to cage those lions, the more they get hungry and the more danger. Have you not witnessed what happened in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan etc? They all began the fight against Islam. What happened in US and in Paris recently? They too fought Islam and (are) now living in fear.”
‘Jihad Is Like A Market’
“Jihad is like a market. It won’t be open for long. But whoever makes the business in its right time would sweep a huge profit. This is a business with Allah, where we have to spend our life and wealth for the sake of Allah and his faith. In return, he gives us paradise. What a profitable trade.”
‘Our Language Is Different’
“Let me ask you, what is terrorism? What if, if I say, (I) am not a terrorist? We have everything, very comfortable life and what is the need of being a terrorist? How come the one who fight for his country becomes a soldier and the one who fights for his religion becomes a terrorist? Suppose, if someone go against (the) Indian government, the government will punish him, right?…
“We have a heart in our body. We also feel pain. But behind this journey there is a reason, there is a reason why we came to these mountains, leaving our family and home.”