'I Realised Allah Didn’t Want Me To Sacrifice
My Life To Make Him Happy’
11, 2017, as dusk was settling over Aurangabad, policemen from Maharashtra’s
Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) knocked on his door and asked him to go with them
for an “urgent” investigation. He guessed why they had come.
He had been
in touch with his childhood friend who is believed to have joined the Islamic
State (IS) in 2014. And through this friend, he had spoken to an IS recruiter
over a chat app on becoming a suicide bomber. On his Facebook page, he had
changed his profile picture to the black-and-white IS flag and posted two
messages that declared his affiliation.
evening, his wife and parents watching, he feared the worst as he was driven
away in a car — life behind bars, even death. But nothing prepared him for what
office in Aurangabad, the ATS officers pushed a sheaf of papers towards him. It
was a list of 240 questions but not about him and IS. They were questions no
one had ever asked him.
impulsive? Do you like going on roller coaster rides? Do you have an active
fantasy life? Do you do things just for the thrill of it? Do you sometimes
flatter people to get your way? For eight hours, the questions kept coming.
Unknown to him, he was facing a psychometric test. And the questionnaire was to
assess the degree to which he had been “radicalised” or how vulnerable he was
to radicalisation. Then came the second surprise. He was sent home — asked to
return every day until further instructions.
He was the
latest entrant to the ATS’s “deradicalisation programme” under which the police
say they are trying to pull people like him back from the edge.
to Maharashtra Deputy Commissioner of Police Dhananjay Kulkarni, this
three-year-old programme has “reintegrated” at least 114 young men and six
women who were being wooed by IS. The ATS claims to have counselled 200 others,
Much of the
programme is under wraps so The Indian Express spoke to several officers who
run it, individuals who were put through it and their families to piece
together the story of how police turned counsellors working with a hastily
put-together roadmap with a clearly defined goal.
India has been an outlier in the jihadi recruitment business — al-Qaeda and now
IS have few from India in their ranks. While experts point to several factors —
robust democracy, political representation and a more inclusive form of Islam
being some of them — senior officers cite Maharashtra’s deradicalisation
programme as one tangible intervention.
Maharashtra’s programme is the only one in India to be run by a state police
force and word-of-mouth has had police from Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab,
Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat informally sounding them out to study the
possibility of replicating the model.
So far, ATS
records show, 93 people have been arrested in India for alleged links with IS.
While 52 have allegedly travelled to IS conflict zones since 2014, 10 have
returned, including Areeb Majid, who is being prosecuted by the National
Investigation Agency (NIA) and is currently facing trial. He is in judicial
custody in Mumbai.
says that Majid told them he was lured into a honey trap by a faceless woman on
Facebook. The officers claim he married her online and went to Syria on her
invitation to fight for IS. But, they claim, he could not find the woman. There
are conflicting versions about why and how Majid returned to India, and his
case is now being heard in a Mumbai sessions court.
Aurangabad case, which is illustrative of the contours of the programme, the
visit to the youth’s home was followed by counselling customised to the results
of the psychometric test, which was analysed by a Thane-based group of private
next 15 days, the youth reached the ATS office at 11 am to “chat” until late in
the evening. Sometimes it would be just one officer, at times there would be
two or three. “Rather than formal sessions, we made it seem like informal
chats. We would chat about his perception of the world. It was more like
friends talking over tea,” an officer said.
The room in
the ATS office had a large table where the youth sat across his counsellor. It
also had workstations for ATS officers, which added to the informality of the
setting. At least three officers involved in his counselling said the topics
would range from his favourite Bollywood hero to key events in Islamic history.
conversations would sometimes get heated. Once, said the official, the youth
referred to a key event from Islamic history and claimed that injustice was
done to Muslims — the officer responded by arguing that there was no reason to
fight now over a conflict from centuries ago.
sessions, he was allowed to pray five times in a separate room. An officer said
they served him tea and snacks and often, homemade food from their lunch boxes.
he opened up. He said he was told by the online IS recruiter that he must leave
India, which he referred to as the “land of disbelievers”. An ATS officer then
intervened to point out that this was his own country, and asked whether he had
ever been stopped from praying by anyone.
also claimed to have been influenced by Maulana Syed Anzar Shah Qasmi’s
speeches. Qasmi was arrested in 2016 for suspected links with Al Qaeda. One
heated conversation ended when an officer pointed out that, preachers who
deliver hate speeches do so to exploit vulnerable minds and fulfil their own
session, the youth brought up another grievance: problems faced by Rohingya
Muslims in Myanmar. The ATS officers told him his wife and four children were
more important than any international issue. That was when he broke down to
admit that his wife gets agitated when he leaves home to reach the ATS office
and wondered aloud what her state would be if he had actually gone to Syria.
lost his job as a mobile phones seller in 2016, he confided, he could not even
buy a football for his son. In response, an officer asked how he would fulfil
their needs if he spent all his time watching propaganda videos.
Won’t Leave Us’
the counselling team knew his mind was changing. He pledged that he would not
betray his country. But the ATS officers played it safe, saying they did not
example of a doctor who was arrested for his IS links, an officer asked him to
imagine what would happen if he spent the rest of his life in jail. At the same
time, the officer pointed out that he would be risking his career if he let the
then swore on his family and the Quran that he would never betray the officer’s
trust. After 15 days of these conversations, he was called to the ATS office
once every week; before the sessions tapered off to twice a month.
The Indian Express, the youth’s wife said: “The day he told me that he wanted
to join IS, I was shocked and at the same time I was scared. What if he leaves
without telling us? I just told him that we won’t be able to live without him.
But looking at his expression I understood that he won’t leave us and go.”
now 33, said: “I wanted to make Allah happy by sacrificing my life but I have
realised that even Allah doesn’t want me to do this.”
Source: The Indian Express