The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), backed by the state Special Branch, has seized computers and pen drives from the homes of four Thane youths who are believed to have joined Sunni insurgents of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq.
The men, all in their 20s and residents of Dudh Naka-Govindwadi area of Kalyan (West), left their homes in the end of May on various pretexts including going to work and on pilgrimage — even though one of them left behind a letter in which he harshly criticised his family’s “sinning” ways, and said he was going on a “blessed journey”.
The Indian Express reported on the four men — Fahad Tanvir Sheikh, Arif Fayyaz Majeed, Shaheen Farooqi Tanki and Aman Naim Tandel — in its edition of July 14. All the men were educated, and not known to have been involved earlier in radical Islamist politics.
“We have seized pen drives and laptops from the houses of these youths late on Monday evening,” an ATS officer said. The ISIS has been using social media widely for propaganda, and young men across the world are believed to have been radicalised over the Internet. All four Thane youths spent long hours on the Internet, officers said.
Investigators were checking for any links that the four youths might have had with the ISIS or other radical Islamic groups before they went missing, a source in the ATS said. They were studying their social profiles, peer groups and habits. Their parents, siblings and friends were likely to be questioned as well.
“While there may have been cases of youths crossing India’s borders to fight a global war earlier, this is the first time that we have a proper record. We need to build on inputs to now look into how they were reached and indocrinated, and how their travel was funded. They were moved between countries before being sent to Iraq, and they appear to have been in touch with people outside India for over eight months,” a senior ATS officer said.
“We have acquired the mobile numbers used by these youths. The call detail records, however, show no calls made to or received from any Middle Eastern country so far,” the officer said.
One of the youths, Fahad, had landed a job only two days before he went missing, according to his family. Fahad had studied in an English-medium school, had an engineering diploma, and didn’t even know Urdu, his uncle, Iftikhaar Khan, said on Tuesday.
“Fahad concerned himself only with his work. After a diploma in engineering, he had got a job with a private firm in Bandra two days before he disappeared. He is convent-educated and had not even learnt Urdu,” Khan said.
Fahad’s uncle said he had left home in Govindwadi’s Chaudhary Mohalla on May 24, saying he was going to work. He did not return, and the family found his cell phone switched off.
Two days later, the family registered a missing person complaint with the Bazarpeth police. By then, the families of the other three youths too had approached the police, and four different complaints were registered.
Khan said the four men were together in Iraq, according to what Arif and Shaheen had conveyed to their families. “Arif called his father to say that he was in Iraq, and Shaheen sent a text message, both from international numbers.”
Arif’s father, Dr Ejaz Majeed, said, “Arif called me and told me that he was in Iraq. He said he would return home after completing ziarat (pilgrimage). He called again on June 7 and I told him we were worried, and he should come back. He said he would return soon. A few days later, matters took a turn for the worse in Iraq.”
Dr Majeed and Khan said they were hoping the youths were simply stuck in Iraq because of the fighting. “Maybe they have no way of contacting us,” Khan said.
Shaheen’s brother Kashif declined to speak to The Indian Express. “Humko manaa kiya hai baat karne ko (We have been told not to speak),” he said through a window of their ground floor home on Tuesday, before shutting the panes.
No one was home at Aman Tandel’s residence in the same locality.