Around seven months ago, an 80-year-old man from a village in Uttar Pradesh received a chilling message from intelligence officials — his son who ran away from home more than 20 years ago was the head of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).
“They came knocking at our door once again,” said Irfan-ul-Haq, seated outside his single-storey house at Mohalla Deepa Sarai village in Sambhal, 158 km from Delhi.
The Indian Express reported Thursday that security agencies had confirmed that Irfan’s son Sanaul Haq was the chief of AQIS, based on information provided by a Cuttack-based cleric, Abdul Rehman, following his arrest.
“It’s been 20 years since this family last saw him. For a long time, we did not know if he was dead or alive,” said Irfan.
“Some years after he left home, officers from the intelligence and CBI came looking for him, saying he was involved in terrorist activities. It was a harrowing time for us. We would get scared every time there was a knock on the door. But that died down. Then, around seven months ago, they came again to tell us that our son was alive. He was better dead for us,” said Irfan.
So why did Sanaul Haq run away from home? His mother, 72-year-old Rukaiya, standing behind a curtain, has the answer.
“After completing his education from the Dar-ul-Uloom seminary at Deoband, Sanaul asked his father for Rs 80,000 to go to Saudi Arabia for further studies. His father refused, leading to a quarrel that ended with Sanaul being slapped by his uncle for misbehaviour. My son left the house in anger and never came back. We can’t imagine how he would look like now,” she said.
Rukaiya said the family tried to trace him, initially. “We requested the police to contact my son and tell him to return home. But now that he is associated with a terror outfit, our doors are closed to him. Being a mother, it was the toughest decision I had to take, but we cannot compromise on our principles,” she said.
Irfan says his family is well-known in the area because his grandfather was a district magistrate, and his father the mukhiya of the village.
“During my childhood, the local police used to come to our home to discuss major issues regarding the village. Now they come to ask about my son. They came first in 1999, saying my son was linked to terror activities following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992,” he said.
Irfan today can barely walk and has lost most of his teeth. Yet, he says he’s happy that the rest of his children are doing well. “I have three sons and two daughters. He is my fourth child, after one daughter and two sons. One son is a teacher with a private school in Moradabad and the other is working in Delhi as an engineer,” he said.