The Anti-Terrorism Squad suspects that three men from Malwani, who went missing over the last two months, have left to join the Islamic State.
The three are Ayaz Sultan (23), who left home on October 30, saying he had to go to Pune in connection with a job offer he had from a Kuwait company; Mohsin Sheikh (26), who left home on December 16, saying he was going to attend a friend’s wedding; and Wajid Sheikh (25), who too left home on December 16, saying he had to get his name in his Aadhar card corrected.
If the ATS’s suspicion, and the family’s fears, turns out to be true, this will be the second instance of men from the city leaving to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
In May 2014, four youngsters from Kalyan traveled to Syria to join the ISIS (See box Déjà vu). Only last week, the police arrested a government employee from Jaipur for allegedly instigating Muslim youngsters to join the ISIS on Internet forums. Last Thursday, the ATS said it has tracked and de-radicalised a 16-year-old Pune girl who was swayed by ISIS and was planning to travel to Syria.
“The three men from the same neighbourhood are close friends,” said a senior ATS officer. “Their families told us they were planning to leave the country for some time now. They were even saving up to fund their travel. The radicalisation and exchange of information was through the Internet. We have confiscated several items from their houses and are investigating.”
The officer said the three, who often spent their time together, had even approached a travel agent to plan their journey. The Malwani police have registered a missing person complaint in all three cases even as the ATS is attempting to track them.
“The families told us they could see the change months before they left home, but did not expect them to actually attempt to travel to Syria,” said the officer.
A senior ATS officer told mid-day that information available with them suggests that Ayaz has already left the country. “We are taking help from central agencies,” said the officer. “We suspect Ayaz has already left the country, while we have no clue about Wajid and Mohsin. We have called several of their close friends for questioning.”
ATS officials said Ayaz dropped out of college during the second year and enrolled in a private computer course and took up a job at a call centre in Malad. He lived in Malwani with his mother, brother and sister. His mother Razia told mid-day that the family was dependant on Ayaz.
“He was paying for the education of his brother and sister besides taking care of the daily household expenses,” said Razia. “He was very loving and caring. He wouldn’t even let me go to the market and used to do all the shopping himself. I used to say Allah should give every parent such a child.”
Razia said she started noticing a lot of changes in Ayaz’s behaviour in the last few months. A social person, he started becoming a recluse, spending all his time on the phone or computer, she said.
“Suddenly, he stopped taking interest in things,” she said. “He was always on the phone or the computer. We started having fights over this, but he never stopped spending all his time online.”
In September, Ayaz told Razia that he has mortgaged their home for Rs 3 lakh and that he wanted to use the money to start his own computer business. Razia was only relieved that her son was back on track.
“I was very happy that he has started thinking about the future,” Razia told mid-day. “But the day before he left, he told me he had to go to Pune regarding a job offer in Kuwait. At 5.30 am on October 30, he left home with a bag full of clothes and his passport. I didn’t even know he had a passport!”
That evening, Ayaz texted his mother to say he will be late. His phone has been switched off ever since. On learning that two more of his friends left their homes on December 16 and haven’t returned, Razia connected the dots. “I just want my son and the other children to come back,” she said. “What is lacking in India? Our country has everything. The government should take action against this organisation that is brainwashing our children. I appeal to the government to save our children. I also want to warn other parents to keep a watch on their children’s activities.”
Wajid is a graduate and the youngest member of his family. He got married 10 months ago and was running the family’s wholesale business in lemons.
“Even after he got married, he continued to stay with his family as he wanted to look after his five sisters. That was also why he joined the family business. He was a quiet person who cared a lot about his family,” said a relative who requested not to be identified.
Wajid’s brother-in-law Asif told mid-day that he left his phone behind while leaving home on December 16. “He left saying he was going to the Aadhar office to correct his name. But he never returned. He does not even have a passport from what we know.”
The next day, Wajid’s wife went to the local police station to file a missing person’s complaint. She told the police that her husband had recently started talking about going to Syria to join the ISIS. The local police informed the ATS. On Saturday, a team of ATS officers visited Wajid’s house. Sources said his phone was full of ISIS propaganda.
“The wife said the two had fought on several occasions recently after he started getting swayed by the extremist ideology.”
mid-day could not reach Mohsin’s family for comment. ATS sources said Mohsin, who drove an auto-rickshaw for a living, also left home on December 16. They suspect he and Wajid could have gone together. Sources said Mohsin had a couple of criminal cases against him.
“On December 16, he told his family that he is going to attend a wedding and will be back two days later,” said an officer. “We came to know from statements of family and friends that he was a rigid person and had a lot of hatred in his mind. He wanted to do something big for Islam.”
In May 2014, four youngsters from Kalyan traveled to Syria to join the ISIS. While one, Areeb Majeed (in pic), returned, there is no news about the whereabouts of the other three. Majeed is currently in NIA custody for waging war against country. (Click here to read: How Mumbai youth Areeb Majeed became an ISIS terrorist)