The family of the 17-year-old Pune girl who was recruited by the ISIS is relieved that the police turned up before she was brainwashed into any extreme steps
When the Maharashtra Anti- Terrorism Squad (ATS) marched into the home of a 17-year-old Pune girl suspected of being an Islamic State recruit, she knew exactly why they were there. 'Mein ISIS ko dawat deti hoon roz' (I give daily invitations to ISIS) was her brazen response when the officers asked her whether she knew why they were looking for her. For her family though, the revelation was a bolt from the blue.
“We could not digest it at first, when the police entered our home and explained why they had come. We had no clue that she was under such negative influence. We are Muslim, but we hold progressive beliefs. We had educated my niece in a good convent school; she is a good student,” said the girl's uncle.
True, over the past few months, they had watched her undergo a radical change – she had stopped wearing jeans and other Western attire that she used to adore earlier, and refused to step out of the house without a burkha. Her ideas about Islam had grown orthodox, which became evident in the many debates she began to hold about the religion. They had assumed this was all part of a teenager's exploration of faith. They never imagined that she had been brainwashed and recruited by extremists from the ISIS terror outfit.
It was particularly shocking since she hails from a well-educated family that doted on her. “She is a star student who scored 90% in Std X, and dreamed of studying Medicine or Engineering. Right now she is studying Science in Std XI at a junior college in Pune,” said another family member.
The ATS officers then explained how the teenager had been slowly radicalised by ISIS members over the past four months, after she got in touch with them through social media.
“An ATS officer said, “The girl had been trained to stay calm and not fear cops. She spilled the beans when we took her to our office with the consent of her mother and other relatives. It became clear that she had been brainwashed over four months. It was her curiosity about ISIS that had landed her in trouble,” said an ATS officer.
He added, “The girl became curious about ISIS after she saw a documentary film about them. She started surfing the Internet and soon came into contact with ISIS agents on Facebook. She connected with them through Facebook, Twitter and other social media and messaging platforms. She became more active after her mother recently gave her a smart phone.”
With her father out of station, it was the girl's mother who took most of the responsibility for her upbringing. “ISIS had lured her by promising to sponsor her education in medicine. She was innocent, and thought that if her fees were covered by them, she would not be a burden on her mother, who works day and night for her. The ISIS agents claimed that as a doctor she could help victimised people in Syria,” said an official.
The ATS officers and the girl's family worked along with Muslim clerics and scholars to clear her questions about Islam and 'de-radicalise' her. “Allah sent the ATS as our messiah, to save our daughter from evil ideology. This is a second life for her. We will try to forget all that has happened as a bad dream, and try to teach her that Islam is about harmony. We hope that in the future, our girl will make the country proud,” said the family members.
— Inputs by Saurabh Vaktania
Through Facebook, the girl had come into contact with suspected ISIS agent Mohammad Sirajuddin, who is an Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) manager in Rajasthan. He was arrested in Jaipur on December 5. After scrutinising his laptops, the cops got on the trail of the girl in Pune and went to question her, accompanied by women officers. They are now also going through all her contacts to see what other ISIS links may be found.
Not off the hook
Officials from the ATS said they would continue to investigate the case and then take a decision on the teenager's fate. “Even if the girl is a minor, she is 17 years old. We are deeply scrutinizing her chats, her contacts and her recent activity. If anything comes up, we will definitely register a case against the girl and arrest her. We have not given her a clean chit yet,” said a top officer. Meanwhile, the girl will continue to be counselled by Muslim scholars, as well as a psychiatrist, said the police.
Cops appeal to parents
Assistant Commissioner of Police Bhanupratap Barge, in-charge of the ATS unit in Pune, said, “We appeal to parents to keep an eye on their children. They should observe their ward and try to talk to them. If they are not able to communicate with them, parents can approach us, and we will help them. We are also thankful that the girl's family was very co-operative, which helped us to pull her out within 10 days.”
Dr Kersi Chavda, Consulting psychiatrist, Hinduja Hospital
It might seem unusual that a youngster from a fairly liberal atmosphere lands up being radicalised. Perhaps, the person felt there was something missing in her life and getting into a religious movement answered the missing link