February 24, 2021 1:09:54 am
AREEB MAJEED was among the first few Indians to travel to the conflict zone in Iraq and Syria in May 2014, when the ISIS captured swathes of territory in the region. He is also one of the few who returned.
The truth of his return, in November 2014, is contentious and the matter of a sub-judice trial.
Majeed claims that six months after his journey to Baghdad, he contacted his family, and his return was facilitated by the Indian authorities, including the National Investigation Agency (NIA), who were in touch with his father. In his bail application in 2016, Majeed alleged that he had returned voluntarily, and was “betrayed” by being arrested from the Mumbai airport.
Opposing his bail plea before the Bombay High Court, the NIA claimed that Majeed was arrested when he was trying to sneak into the country, purportedly to carry out a terror attack. It said he had also participated in terrorist activity in Iraq and Syria.
Majeed, a resident of Kalyan, was a 21-year-old civil engineering student in 2014 when he, along with three others, Aman Tandel, Fahad Shaikh and Saheen Tanki, boarded an Etihad Airways flight for Abu Dhabi and travelled to Baghdad with a group of pilgrims. The four youths later separated from the group, went to Syria and joined the Islamic State, said investigating agencies.
Their family members filed missing person complaints; the NIA later took over the probe.
In August 2014, Majeed’s family said they had received a phone call from Tanki, who reportedly told them that Majeed had died. But three months later, on November 29, 2014, Majeed was arrested from the Mumbai airport.
He has been in jail since then, charged with offences under Section 16 (terrorist act), Section 18 (conspiracy) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, read with Section 125 (waging war against any Asiatic power in alliance with the Government of India) under the Indian Penal Code, which have a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. He was also charged with being a member of a terrorist organisation, but the special court dropped this charge in 2017.
In its evidence, the NIA has also cited his alleged social media posts, including one where he is holding a gun. Majeed has claimed that he did not upload these posts, and holding a gun was not proof of involvement in a terror act. Over 100 witnesses are yet to be examined in the trial.
In his bail plea, Majeed said that as a 21-year old, he was “carried away” and had committed a serious mistake for which he had already spent over six years behind bars. He denied that he had participated in terrorist activity in Iraq or planned to commit one after his return to India.
With the chargesheet against him running into 25,000 pages, Majeed initially appointed lawyers to represent him. But during the course of the trial, he informed the court in February 2018, that he wanted to fight his own case. Since then, he has been representing himself. He now hopes to study law, said his father, Ejaz Majeed.
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