Areeb Majeed was first accused of being an Indian spy by ISIS, trained to use AK-47s by the militants in Syria and was finally hit by a bullet to his chest. The 23-year-old Kalyan-based engineering student, one of the four youths now remanded by a National Investigating Agency (NIA) court for alleged ties with ISIS, relates a chilling account of his indoctrination, his trip to Iraq and eventually being abandoned in Turkey
It took a bullet in his chest and being abandoned by ISIS at Turkey to convince Areeb Majeed to return home after pledging his life to the outfit.
Face of terror: (Left) Kalyan-based engineer, Areeb Majeed, told NIA officials about how he decided to shift base to an Islamic country and join ISIS in their operations across Syria (above) and Iraq
The 23-year-old Kalyan-based engineering student was remanded by a special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court for being an alleged ISIS terrorist till December 8. Now, Majeed has revealed vital information to the officials on how Indian youths are brainwashed into becoming terrorists in the name of jihad.
In his six-page-long statement (exclusively available with mid-day), Majeed claimed that the indoctrination began when a girl on Facebook, Tahira Bhatt, began radicalising him and his three friends, Shaheem Tanki, Fahad Shaikh and Aman Tandel.
'Wanted to live in Islamic country'
Majeed studied at Lodhas High School, Kalyan, and went on to join Father Angel Polytechnic College in Vashi to pursue a Diploma in Civil Engineering.
Early this year, during his third year at the Anjuman-I-Islam’s Kalsekar Technical Campus, Majeed began frequenting his friend Fayaz Khan’s house in Mumbra to study after college hours. “I also studied the Quran and the Hadis, and tried to imbibe their teaching in my life. I browsed through YouTube videos of several international Muslim scholars such as Mohammad Al Arfi, Imran Hussain, Mussa Seth Terranio and Abu Walid,” Majeeb revealed.
After watching the videos of the Israel-Palestine conflict, Majeed made up his mind to dedicate his life to Islam and live in an Islamic country. He lost interest in studies, too. The NIA officials said that Majid’s friend, Shaikh, too, agreed about them shifting base.
‘Syria is called the ‘Land of Sham’. It is a Hadis and I read how Muslims from across the world must visit Syria because the supremacy of Shariyat originates from there. We decided to contribute to it,” said Majeed.
The Facebook profile of Tahira Bhat
Soon, Majeed found that Tanki and Tandel, too, who lived in the neighbourhood, were keen on visiting Iraq. He soon came upon information on the terror outfit, ISIS, and decided to join it with the other three friends.
“I studied the route and found that I could reach Syria through Iran and Turkey. Through an Internet search, we also came across a woman, Tahira Bhat, on Facebook, and learnt that she has been involved in sending youths from several countries to join ISIS,” Majeed told the officials
According to the NIA officials, Tahira played a key role in indoctrinating the youths. She told the four youngsters about how ISIS is fighting for Islam, which only strengthened their resolve. “It is highly possible that Tahira’s is a fake profile,” said an NIA official on condition of anonymity. He added that the agency is still unclear about how Majeeb and his friends came across Tahira on Facebook through a random Internet search. “There are many such gaps in Majeeb’s statement, which we will explore now,” added the official.
Financing a trip to Iraq
The friends began inquiring about ways to travel to Turkey (before crossing the border to enter Iraq) at various travel agencies. They first approached a Thomas Cook office in Kalyan but after the travel agents asked them for their salary slips and other documents — which the group could not produce — they visited other travel agents, and zeroed in on Rahat Travels in Dongri, who agreed to send them to Turkey for Rs 60,000 each. The group paid the sum in three to four installments from April 14 to June 1.
Majeed admitted to the NIA that he had begun amassing money to fund his trip six months before the group began hunting for a travel agency, and had Rs 25,000 on him. “This is quiet unbelievable, since Majeeb had no source of income. We suspect that he isn’t revealing who actually paid him the money,” said the official.
Meanwhile, Tahira had given Majeed and his friends the contact details of two ISIS members who would facilitate their entry into the group. She also gave them strict instructions to call on the numbers only once they reach the country and make the calls from local numbers.
After his preparations were complete, Majeed spoke to his parents about visiting Iraq to do Hijrat in the ‘Land of Sham’. However, his father, Hijab Badruddin Majeed, did not support him, and even took his passport away. Majeeb, however, continued planning the tour at the home of a friend named Faizal between May 22-24. “I kept some of my clothes at his house and we decided to leave our homes separately and meet at a pre-decided place. On May 24, I left for college and went to Mumbra market, bought a huge travel bag, stuffed my clothes in and met Fahad at Mumbra station. Tanki and Aman Tandel joined us in the cab from Thane station,” related Majeed.
The four then went to Chhatrapati International Airport and boarded a flight for Abu Dhabi, yet another one to Baghdad, where they landed on the morning of May 25.
'Ready to die'
“After reaching Baghdad, we toured the place for six days and called up the men Tahira had mentioned, from local numbers. They were men from ISIS, and they asked us to continue with the tour for a while,” Majeed told NIA officials.
Soon, their tour was on the verge of completion but Majeed and his friends heard nothing from the men from ISIS.
“We began calling them up frantically. That’s when Abu Fatima, the man we were in touch with in Baghdad, asked us to take a cab and go to Masul. We took our passports from our tour operator and left for Masul without informing anyone. We stayed in a hotel in Masul and then again contacted Abu Fatima. He asked us to reach the Sabunchi Mosque there.” Majeed said.
As Majeeb and his friends waited at the mosque, Abu Fatima called them and told them that he was watching them from a distance. He, however, suspected the friends to be Intelligence officials. “He threatened to kill us if his suspicion was proven true,” Majeed told NIA officials.
Soon, a group of people, led by a man named Ali, escorted the four friends to a nearby place and interrogated them for nearly two hours, checked their passports and asked them to return to India, claiming that their lives were in danger. The four, however, waited outside the mosque because they knew they were being watched.
Finally, a car stopped beside them and they were taken to an office and were interrogated further. “We told them that we had come here to join ISIS, but they said we couldn’t join the group without a reference. We were adamant and told them that we would prefer to die there rather return to India,” Majeed said in his statement.
Life with ISIS
At the friends’ insistence, Ali and a senior leader discussed the matter and enrolled them in the terror outfit. The friends were taken to a deserted area and were kept there for eight to 10 days. The group then took the four to Rakka, Syria.
“Before enrolling us, ISIS changed all our names. Areeb Majeeb was named Abu Ali Al Hindi, Fahad was Abu Bakar Al Hindi, Aman was named Abu mar Al Hindi and Shaheem was renamed as Abu Usman Al Hindi. They then shifted us close to Yufret river, located 45 km away from Rakka. Along with 50 other men, we were trained in Shariyat and learnt how to handle AK-47s for three days. Thereafter, we were recruited in the various departments — Fahad handled the car repairs, Shaheem was in the Economics department and Aman was deputed in the Electronics department,” said Majeeb in his statement.
Majeeb later walked for 10 days, crossed the border of Rakka, and reached another undisclosed place. In a village there, he worked on the window panes of a building to make them bullet-proof. One day, during a shooting in the building, Majeeb was hit in the chest by a bullet. “I was unconscious for five hours, and after I woke up, I walked for one km to meet some ISIS members, who took me to a hospital. It took me a week to recuperate. There, I met Shaheem, who told me he thought I were dead and had informed my family over phone about the same,” recounted Majeed in his statement.
After he recovered, Majeeb repaired roads near Mosul University. However, he often suffered from severe nosebleeds due to his injury. “The ISIS members were tired of my shortcomings. So, they picked me up and left me near Turkey with $2,000. I then travelled to Istanbul, got in touch with the Indian Counsulate, who sent me to India. And here I am,” Majeed told NIA officials.
Did you know?
The ISIS has dominated headlines the past several months, mainly for its violent propaganda, mass beheadings and skillful use of social media. The ‘Sunni, extremist’ group was first known as Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999