From online persuasion and sermons by preachers to cartels that have infiltrated deportation centres in countries such as Iran, the interrogation of an alleged Islamic State recruit deported from Afghanistan recently reveals how the terror outfit runs a well-oiled system to attract young men to Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
Nashidul Hamzafar, a 26-year-old management student from Kalpeta in Wayanad district of Kerala, travelled to Afghanistan in October last year, reportedly to join the IS, on the persuasion of 14 youths from Kerala’s Kasargod and Palakkad districts who had earlier joined the outfit. Many of them were friends Hamzafar had made while studying in Kerala and later Bangalore.
This September, Hamzafar was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is also investigating the case of the 14. During interrogation, Hamzafar, the son of a Wayanad-based Regional Transport Office agent, reportedly confessed he almost ended up in Pakistan in his attempt to join the IS.
As per his interrogation report (IR), Hamzafar said that he left for Oman in mid-2017, and from there went to Iran in a bid to reach Afghanistan. In Iran, a person responsible for taking him to Afghanistan reportedly put him in a deportation centre meant for Afghans.
“They (the deportation authorities) got suspicious about my nationality. I was forcefully loaded onto a Pakistan deportation vehicle (as they thought) I was a Pakistani. I told one officer I am an Afghani and requested him to send me to Afghanistan. Accordingly, he sent me back to the Afghan camp,” Hamzafar’s IR says.
From Nimruz, he reportedly took a bike taxi to Kabul, and met another contact. But soon both were apprehended by Afghan authorities who, after months of detention, deported Hamzafar to India.
In his interrogation — which is not admissible as evidence in a court of law — Hamzafar said that having finished his schooling with 60 per cent marks in science stream, he had gone to Bangalore in 2011 to do Bachelor’s in Business Administration. According to the IR, Hamzafar’s religious inclination began with visits of a Tablighi Jamaat preacher there. By the end of his course, this had reportedly transformed into “fanaticism”, with him coming in contact with a Salafist preacher. The IS was rising in Iraq and Syria at the time, and there was a flood of material on the Internet to draw impressionable minds.
At college, Hamzafar reportedly came in contact with several youth who later joined the IS, including Shihas and Bestin Vincent. A Christian whom Hamzafar describes as “hooked to alcohol and marijuana”, Vincent converted to Islam and migrated to Nangarhar in Afghanistan where, last year, he had a child with his converted wife.
Following his initiation into Salafi Islam, Hamzafar reportedly said, he began listening to Yemeni proselytizer Anwar al-Awlaki and, along with friends, organised a lecture of Islamic preacher M M Akbar, of the Peace Foundation, in Bangalore. Akbar was arrested this February by the Kerala Police after his name reportedly cropped up in IS investigations.
Hamzafar said he was not attracted to the IS till then, and was trying to pursue a career in Dubai and New Zealand. According to him, the “brutal” ways of the IS scared him, and he feared for his friends who had joined it. By 2016, Hamzafar was back in Kerala pursuing an automobile training course in Thiruvananthapuram. He said his parents, alarmed at what Shihas had done, warned him against ties with him.
According to the IR, Hamzafar’s friends from Afghanistan, however, got in touch with him again and began asking him to join them. “After 6 months of their departure, one day I got a message on WhatsApp from Shihas: ‘Asalamum Alaikkum’. I didn’t give any reply due to fear. After a month again he wished me… Then he started sending voice messages and one day he instructed me to install Telegram… (On Telegram) I asked him how was the condition there (IS-controlled Afghan areas) and he told that… 99% media reports were lies and Khilafath (Caliphate) is right… We then maintained regular contact,” Hamzafar’s IR says.
Shihas reportedly also sent him a 110-page PDF file named ‘Victory in the shadow of Sword’ in Malayalam, written by Ibnu Nuwas. That book was “all about hijra and jihad and history of the Prophet”, which Hamzafar felt “related to an ancient period and was not relevant”. But Shihas, Hamzafar said, argued, “Prophet’s ways were always relevant.”
In May 2017, Hamzafar received some audio clips from Shihas on a WhatsApp group called ‘Message to Kerala’. “After hearing the clips my objection to ISIS ideology became soft,” Hamzafar says in the IR.
“I started listening to audios of Zakir Naik, Mufthi Maink, Noman Alikhan, Bilal Philip etc. I instructed my family members not to watch TV and not to lend money for interest. I also instructed my mother and sister to dress properly, to cover their body fully. When my father instructed me to cut my beard, I refused,” Hamzafar said.
In May 2017, Hamzafar went to Bahrain for a job but reportedly maintained contact with Shihas and the others in Afghanistan. “I expressed my interest in hijra. Ashfaq (a friend who migrated to Afghanistan) and Shihas advised me… to come to Iran first… Shihas was working in Media department of Khilafath and Ashfaq was working in hijra department,” Hamzafar said.
He came back from Bahrain but soon after left for Oman in October 2017. Through all this, he was reportedly guided by Ashfaq, who provided him 600 Riyals in Oman through hawala and later 5,000 Dirhams. Once in Tehran, Hamzafar was asked to travel to Isfahan, where a man picked him up and put him in a safe house. The next morning, he was dropped at a deportation camp.