THE 16-year-old who became only the third local militant to be part of a fidayeen attack in the Valley was the son of a police constable and died within 100 days of dropping out of school and picking up arms. Manzoor Ahmad Baba, 22, of Drabgam village died along with him in the December 31 attack on a CRPF training centre in Pulwama, making it the first suicide strike in Kashmir involving two locals. The third person to die was reportedly a Pakistani.
At Iqra Educational Institute, where Fardeen Ahmad Khanday studied in Class X, his classmates and friends, who don’t want to be identified, struggle to associate the 16-year-old with fidayeen. “He was one of the brightest students of our class,” says a friend, also in Class X. “He was unlike most of us. He would hardly talk about politics, and stayed away from stone-throwing protests. I never thought he would become a militant.”
Apart from being good at studies, Fardeen was also among the best cricketers at school, they say. “He loved playing cricket. He was also a prefect,” says a friend and neighbour.
Fardeen belonged to Hyuna village, which falls in slain Hizb-ul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s Tral, while another top Hizb-ul Mujahideen militant, Shabir Ahmad Bhat, was his neighbour. But family members say what badly affected him was the killing of another militant and neighbour, Aaqib Moulvi, in March last year.
Moulvi, an alleged Hizbul commander, was a hafiz (one who has memorised the Quran in full) and was Fardeen’s Quran teacher at a local madrasa. “Fardeen had a religious bend, and prayed regularly. He sometimes even led prayers at the local mosque,” says a friend. “He was disturbed by the killing of Aaqib. But we never had an idea what was on his mind.”
Family members say Fardeen left home on September 17, a Sunday, without informing anybody. Days later, his picture surfaced on social networking sites holding a gun, with a banner of the Jaish-e-Mohammad behind him.
He was one of the two elder sons of Constable Ghulam Mohidin Khanday’s four sons (two sets of twins). One of Fardeen’s cousins says that after his picture holding a gun appeared, the family tried desperately to search for him. “His mother (Wazeera Begum) looked for him everywhere,” he says. “She went village to village.”
Pulwama SSP Choudhary Mohammad Aslam says Fardeen was likely influenced by Jaish local commander Noor Mohammad Tantray. “These boys are indoctrinated,” says Choudhary. “He (Tantray) was notorious for this.”
Tantray was incidentally killed six days before Fardeen, in a December 25 encounter at Samboora Pulwama.
The turn towards militancy of Manzoor Ahmad Baba was as sudden. SSP Aslam says that on November 4, a group of militants attacked a police station in Pulwama, killing an official. While they escaped, police were able to trace the taxi in which they arrived, and it was owned by Baba. “He went missing the same day,” says Aslam.
Police officials admit though that they are not sure if Baba himself was involved in the attack, and Aslam says there was nothing in the police records against him till the attack.
Baba’s whereabouts remained unknown till 50 days later, when he surfaced in the Jaish attack on the CRPF centre.
Baba’s father died some years ago, after which his mother remarried. He and his two younger siblings lived separately in a house Baba had constructed in his Drabgam village, located near J&K Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu’s native Rajpora.
“He was just 22 but supporting a family,” says a neighbour. “He would often work till late. We never thought he would become a militant, let alone a fidayeen.”
Police have said that the third militant to die in the suicide attack was Abdul Shakoor, a resident of Rawlakote in Pakistan.
Before Fardeen and Baba, only two local militants had been involved in a fidayeen attack in Kashmir. The first was Afaq Ahmad Shah, a resident of Khanyar in Srinagar. Also a Jaish militant, he blew up an explosives-laden car near the Army’s 15 Corps headquarters in Srinagar in April 2000. Ten years after Shah, a painter from Sopore was part of a two-member Lashkar-e-Toiba squad that stormed a paramilitary camp at Lal Chowk in Srinagar.