By Kamaljit Kaur Sandhu
November 12, 2018
The story of 26-year-old Nashidhul Hamzafar proves that the fangs of terrorism, given time and opportunity, can chew up a young mind.
Passionately opposed to the ISIS ideology, he ultimately could not resist the brainwashing by his friend Shihas who was among the 22 Kerala youngsters who travelled to Afghanistan to fight for the terrorist organisation.
A native of Kalpeta in Kerala's Wayanad, Nashidhul (alias Nashid) was a student at a Bengaluru college until a few years ago. This September, he became the first ISIS operative to be caught in Afghanistan and deported to India.
Getting hold of this goldmine of information, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has been able to track Nashid's journey from India to Afghanistan and back.India Today TV has accessed Nashid's interrogation report in which he allegedly admitted going to Afghanistan to join the ISIS, and also unmasked his college friends Shihas, Yahiya and Feroz, who were already working for the terror outfit.
As per Nashid, none of the friends was particularly religious, and he was especially averse to the ISIS ideology -which he felt "was not relevant to the ancient times or the present day scenario".
This disclosure by Nashid surprised the NIA sleuths. "I opposed the ISIS ideology," Nashid reportedly told them. But Nashid's friend and ISIS operative Shihas challenged his viewpoint.
The NIA believes that Shihas played the key role of a mentor, recruiting him to the terror ranks. How it all began The four friends from Kerala met in 2011 in Dayananda Sagar College where Nashid had enrolled for a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree with Marketing as his specialisation.
Yahiya, Firoz and Shihas were his batchmates, who later became infamous as part of the group of 22 who joined ISIS. Yahiya and Shihas were the usual college-going guys and were hardly religious, as per Nashid's confession.
They "drank, consumed ganja, and flaunted a lavish lifestyle", he said. Things changed, however, when they met a 35-yearold Tabligh follower. The students were drawn into "final indoctrination".
For Nashid, however, it was Shihas who changed the game. He inundated him with videos related to Islam and, later, the ISIS. Nashid's initial resistance to ISIS ideology broke down and by 2017 he was deeply into it and eager to learn more.
Shihas had added him to a WhatsApp group 'Message to Kerala'. Scared of the police, Nashid left the group.
However, he was by now trying to indoctrinate others by sharing a PDF file titled 'Victory in the Shadow of the Sword' with them. He also started following the preachings of Zakir Naik, Mufti Maink, Noman Alikhan, and Bilal Phillip.
Shihas had added Nashid to a Whatsapp group called 'Salafi Thrikaripur' and he shared with him the fiery speeches of al-Qaida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki who was killed by the US forces in 2011.
The investigators found Shihas was linked to controversial preacher Zakir Naik's Peace Foundation. He worked for the Peace Education Foundation. Meanwhile, Nashid attended classes at the Islamic Research Foundation (IRF).
In 2016, while Nashid tried his hands at vocational training, he heard of the 22 from Kerala going to Afghanistan. Nashid's parents were suspicious about his sympathy for ISIS and warned him to stay away.
They, however, failed to keep him away from Shihas's influence. On Telegram, a social media app, Shihas soon told Nashid: "Khilafat is right. Don't believe media reports". In May 2017, Nashid found that Firoz too had reached Syria.
He was now desperate to do Hijr. His friend told him to get a visa to Iran first. In October 2017, Nashid reached Oman with the help of his Kerala native friend Habeeb, who was also headed for Afghanistan.
The two used their connections and in 10 days they reached Tehran. Revelation Nashid and Habeeb then approached the Afghan embassy for a visa but were told they will get one only after a no-objection certificate from the Indian embassy. Meanwhile, Habeeb had started getting cold feet about the onward journey.
"Habeeb started contacting his father and he became emotional. I had already told him not to contact anybody at home. But he insisted to go home He took a ticket to go back to Kerala via Dubai on an Emirates flight. I repeatedly warned him that he would be caught by police as soon as he landed in Kerala. But Habeeb took a flight to Kerala the next morning," Nashid told the NIA.
Nashid then decided to travel to Afghanistan alone by road via Isfahan. "I dropped Habeeb at Tehran airport and I proceeded further to Isfahan by the same taxi I paid $100 as taxi fare."
He then informed a local source, Uzak (through Telegram) of his arrival at Isfahan bus stand. This man picked him up in a car, but took away his laptop and passport. Next morning, Nashid was dropped at a deportation camp.
Last effort The Iranian deportation officials got suspicious when he tried to convince them that he was a resident of Afghanistan and shifted him to another camp where he was mistaken for a Pakistani. Later, however, he was able to convince an officer in the deportation vehicle that he was an Afghan and he was sent "back to the Afghan camp".
The next day, Nashid was dropped at the bus stand of Nimruz in Afghanistan from where he boarded another bus to Kabul. On reaching Kabul, he called his contact Ashfaq, who sent a man named Abu Ali to meet him.
"Ali took me in a taxi and dropped me at another place near Kabul. No sooner did he drop me, the Afghan security forces came and took me, along with Ali and the taxi driver, into custody." Nashid's ISIS sojourn was over.
The Afghan security seized his mobile phone and questioned him about his identity. "I initially pretended to be an Afghan." But confronted with the photos of Shihas, Ijas, and Ashfaq, Nashid broke down.
After two weeks, Nashid was shifted to an Afghan jail where he was kept for three months, and later at Bagram jail that is operated by the United States.
"They took my biometrics and then locked me in a cell. After three months of custody, I was deported to India".