news Tuesday, May 19, 2015 - 05:30
A file picture of Mohammed Atif Waseem "This is it. That's the house," says a kid, pointing in the direction of a big four-storey building. After a couple of turns on the dusty path in Shastripuram on the outskirts of Hyderabad, stands a tall glass building with high walls and lofty gates. This is where the family of Mohammed Atif Waseem stays. This is the house in which Atif grew up and spent his formative years. On April 24, Atif's family received a message from terrorist group Islamic State in Syria informing them that he had died while fighting for them, and that the State considered him a martyr of God.  On approaching the house, young man, around 30-years-old, opens the gate. With one hand ready to close the gate at an instant's notice, he enquires about a reason for the visit. The expression on his face changes when he hears Atif’s name.  Refusing to open the gate completely, he starts talking about how the family still cannot come to terms with it. He is one of Atif’s elder brothers, but refuses to share a name. "We're still in shock. We do not know how to react. What drove him to do it, even I don't know," he says, as his eyes water up. “I do not want to talk about what happened to my younger brother, please go away,” he says, closing the gate.   السلام عليكم اخي العزيز اود اخبارك ان اخيك محمد عاطف وسيم الهندي قتل في سبيل الله نحسبه من الشهداء ان شاء الله Translation - Alsalam alakum i want to inform you your brother Mohammed Atif waseem, an Indian has died. We consider him among the martyrs of God. (The message that was sent to Atif's brother)     Looking at that the house, what stands out, as opposed to the popular construct of poor Muslims taking up to terrorism, is that Atif was from a rich family. Hailing from Manchriyal in the Adilabad district of Telangana, Atif’s family settled in Hyderabad two decades ago. His father runs a real estate business, which has provided well for the family. There's an unspoken tension in the entire neighbourhood. Even the two little children playing outside the house know they are not supposed to talk about "Atif Bhaiya". There are unlikely to even have understood what this was all about. Twenty-eight-year-old Atif was known to be a bright child. He did well in school and was a Computer Science Engineering graduate from a college in Hyderabad. "He was a very smart kid. I remember playing cricket with him. He was really good at it and we used to play every day," says 25-year-old Asif manning his father’s shop near Atif’s house. “I have known Atif since we were kids,” he says. "I remember him clean-shaven with short hair and looking well kept. When I saw his photo that was being circulated through the media, it took me a few seconds to recognize him with the beard," he adds.  "He was one of the richest kids in the colony. He was the first one to get a CBR 250 sports bike in the neighbourhood. Even during his college, he used to take his Honda Civic," adds another friend. His family remembers him as a kind boy. "He had a very helpful nature and he would always be ready to help if someone needed anything. I was shocked when I found out what happened," says one of Atif's cousins, who wished to remain anonymous. Atif’s move to London seems to have triggered his interest in the Islamic State. Earlier last year he had moved to London to pursue a Masters degree in Engineering. Family members and police officials say that it was in the UK that he was lured to the Islamic State. But what drove a bright, well educated, well-to-do kid to join a terrorist organization and pay for it with his life, is still a matter of mystery. The Hyderabad police say they have established that Atif was lured through Facebook, and that given his educational background, it is unlikely he would have been involved in warfare. Atif, however, is not the only person from India to have joined the IS. In January, a techie from the city was arrested at Hyderabad airport while on his way to Syria via Dubai to join the Islamic State. Thirty two-year-old Salman Mohiuddin, who had returned from the US, was in touch with a British woman in Dubai and they planned to join the terror group. On October 29 last year, police detained a former employee of Google originally from Tamil Nadu, on the suspicion that he was travelling to Saudi Arabia to go to Iraq and join the IS. Mehdi Masroor Biswas was arrested in December last year on charges of running the Islamic State propaganda Twitter account @ShamiWitness. That the popular social media account, followed even by international experts monitoring the ISIS, was being run by a well-mannered techie from Bengaluru in India came as a shock to many. Biswas had been using the micro blogging site to spread the ideology and messages of the Islamic State for a while and gathered more than sixteen thousand followers before his arrest. (Mehdi Masroor Biswas who ran the ShamiWitness twitter account) So what makes young, educated and seemingly middle-class men get attracted to the Islamic State? Is there a particular social construct or socio-economic background which explains this? As The Guardian states, IS propaganda and messaging is aimed at foreign fighters from diverse backgrounds. “There is no single pathway, no common socio-economic background, not even a common religious upbringing among individuals attracted to foreign fighting in general or jihadist fighting in particular.” The Islamic State attracts people with a media mix of "graphic violence and utopian idylls”. A CNN report mentions how terror groups prey on a recruit's sense of identity and "religious duty" besides operating a sophisticated propaganda machine while exerting a cult-like control. The IS turns out timely, high-quality media, with video footage like an action movie trailer and it uses social media, much better than a PR team, to secure a widespread following, mostly teenagers, who are easier to manipulate. And the target of such PR, are the ones hooked to social networks on smart phones. On December 17, 2014 at around 6:42 pm, Atif made his last call to his elder brother Azeem to tell him that he was in Syria fighting for the Islamic State. He added that there was nothing to worry about. Five months later, the family sits hushed inside their home as they try to cope with the devastating loss of their youngest one. From Atif's story it seems clear that several Indian-origin men continue to be enamoured by the IS, and that seems to be neither because of “state actors” like Rajnath Singh suggests, or a result of poverty in Muslims as others say.  Read - Sohanlal Valmiki: The forgotten rapist behind Aruna Shanbaug's painful ordeal
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