Updated: September 1, 2015 1:20:42 am
The 17 — all young men, barring a woman who has returned home — were educated, most hailing from middle-class or affluent families with conventional aspirations. Few had known links to Islamist political groups, and none to terrorism.
Centuries ago, Kalyan was a trading post for ships coming in from Syria and Iraq. Now the story of four boys has linked this growing suburb of the extended Mumbai Metropolitan Region, perhaps permanently, to the two countries.
NAME: Areeb Majeed
EDUCATIONAL QUALIFICATION: Diploma in engineering
STATUS: In jail since returning from Turkey
Areeb Majeed left his house on May 24, 2014, telling his parents he was heading to a friend’s home in Panvel to study. Instead he left the city, allegedly on an eight-month circuitous journey to Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
So did three other suspected ISIS recruits from Kalyan, a group of friends who often met and chatted at mosques and the crossroads of Doodh Naka, a bustling Muslim-dominated neighbourhood.
Areeb, who returned to India with injuries that November, is now in Arthur Road Jail, facing charges of having joined a terrorist organisation.
He had grown up in the family’s ancestral home, in the Muslim-dominated Machhli Bazaar area of Kalyan, and was sent to the reputable Old Lourdes High School. His father Ejaz Majeed is a respected doctor of the area.
The family stressed education. One of Areeb’s sisters is a doctor, another is in college while a younger brother is pursuing engineering. Family friends remember Areeb as very well-behaved.
Areeb did a diploma in engineering from Father Agnel’s College in Vashi, having scored well enough to qualify for the state government’s Maulana Azad Education Loan. When he scored a first-class in the diploma in 2011, family members insisted he opt for a degree course, which meant travelling almost 100 km every day to Anjuman-e-Islam’s Kalsekar Technical College in Panvel and back.
By the end of 2013, when massive clashes erupted between the Syrian government and rebels, Areeb had changed. He started faltering in his studies, and could only clear two of the three papers he had failed in the fifth semester through reassessment.
Before leaving the country, he vividly showcased how the Islamic State was attracting him. A Facebook profile under his alias Abu al-Hindi shows he married a Palestinian, Tahera Bhat, whose Facebook profile, in turn, has a picture of Areeb holding a gun and standing in front of a ISIS flag. They had apparently met online and went on to announce themselves as husband and wife. Tahera is said to have since died in Palestine.
Areeb is the only one of the four to have returned. During his six-month stay, he had been shot at and injured. After his return from Turkey, he now faces charges of being part of a terrorist entity and of returning with the objective of creating sleeper cells.
NAME: Saheem Tanki
EDUCATIONAL QUALIFICATION: College dropout
STATUS: Reportedly killed launching suicide attack in Syria
Saheem Tanki’s father Farooq runs a milk distribution business in Kalyan and used to hope his son to take over the business. Saheem, one of four siblings and the youngest of three brothers, did consider the idea for some time. Eventually, he chose to join a BPO in Navi Mumbai. He quit a week before he left with his friends.
His family has told investigators they later got a call from Iraq, informing them about his death.
Friends say Saheem was an outgoing youth with several female friends and was in a relationship with a colleague. Never a serious student, he cleared HSC from National Urdu High School but failed twice at college and dropped out.
He spent entire nights surfing the Internet or watching movies and his family believes that is how he must have been drawn to the IS. He was always religious, never delaying his prayers, let alone miss them.
In January this year, a few images went up online showing a youth, apparently Saheem, shortly before he would launch a supposed “suicide bombing” in the northeastern Syrian city of al-Hasaka. The images were released on multiple platforms linked to Islamic State.
Tanki’s family members told the National Investigation Agency earlier this month that they had received a phone call from a number in Iraq informing them of his death. The family had not communicated with him for over two months, police sources said.
NAME: Fahad Tanvir Sheikh
EDUCATIONAL QUALIFICATION: Degree in mechanical engineering
STATUS: Believed to be in Syria
Fahad’s family, unlike those of the others, had migrated to Maharashtra, from Azamgarh to Kalyan. A mechanical engineer, Fahad had got a job offer two days before he would leave his old, three-storey building close to Bismillah Hotel at Govindwadi.
His father, Maqbool Shaikh, is a practitioner of alternative medicine keen on his children’s education. Fahad went to Guru Nanak School, got a diploma from Kalsekar College and subsequently a degree from Saboo Siddik College in south Mumbai, a friend said. Also a sportsman who enjoyed cricket and football, Fahad received the offer from an engineering firm. The other lure, however, was apparently stronger.
“He would speak about the problems Muslims are facing across the world,” said a neighbour. “But no one could have imagined he would pack his bags and leave like this.”
NAME: Amaan Naeem Tandel
EDUCATIONAL QUALIFICATION: Was studying electrical engineering
STATUS: Believed to be in Syria
Amaan Naeem Tandel is an only child. The modest wooden plaque in the reception area of his building announces his name as the owner of the third floor flat. Son of an Indian Railways employee, Amaan was reportedly granted most luxuries a growing teenager would ask for. “They are a normal middle-class family,” said a family friend. “It is hard to imagine what could have made him leave.”
Amaan, an electrical engineering student, is said to have been the most intelligent and focused of the four. “He used to be focused on his studies,” a friend said. A family friend also remembers him as being very particular about his prayers.
The four of them were known to discuss Islamic issues in conversations. “They spoke about the Gujarat riots, about what Bashar Assad is doing in Syria. But these conversations can take place anywhere. We had no inkling of their plans,” said a friend of Amaan and Fahad.
Another friend recollects: “I wanted to volunteer for a political party during the Lok Sabha elections and Amaan objected. He thought Muslims should not enter politics.”
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