The National Investigation Agency’s (NIA) interrogation report (IR) of 26-year-old Nashidul Hamzafar, a Wayanad native who travelled to Afghanistan in October 2017 allegedly to join the Islamic State (IS), reveals some dark details about the process of radicalisation that young people can go through due to the influence of friends and online materials.
Hamzafar’s IR also reveals the IS machinery in place in Iran and Afghanistan, which eases access for potential IS recruits, and the journey that IS recruits embark upon once they leave India.
The Indian Express reports that Hamzafar travelled to Afghanistan allegedly to join the IS upon being persuaded to do so by 14 other youths from Palakkad and Kasargod, some of whom were his friends from Kerala and Bangalore, who had also joined the terrorist group before him. The Hindu reports that Hamzafar was also allegedly influenced by the teachings of Yemeni-American preacher Anwar Awlaki, whose sermons he downloaded online, and by the visit of a Tablighi Jamaat teacher to his rented home whilst studying in a Bangalore college.
It was in Bangalore that he met his friends Shihas and Bestin Vincent, who later converted to Islam and goes by the name Yahiya. Shihas and Yahiya both live in Afghanistan now. According to Hamzafar, Shihas had a particularly strong influence on changing his ways of thinking and reportedly helped him in his short-lived migration to IS-controlled areas. Shihas works for the media team of ISKP (Islamic State Khorasan Province). Another friend, Ashfaq, is allegedly in charge of migration, and also helped him in his journey.
Hamzafar reportedly left for Oman in May 2017 with valid travel documents, and from there travelled on to Iran in order to make his way to Afghanistan. In Iran, he was dropped off at a deportation camp meant for Afghans to be deported back to Afghanistan. The officials at that camp became suspicious of his nationality, not believing that he was actually an Afghan. He was instead sent to a Pakistani deportation camp, as the officials thought he was Pakistani.
Hamzafar’s IR report, as quoted by the Indian Express, says: “I told one officer I am an Afghani and requested him to send me to Afghanistan. Accordingly, he sent me back to the Afghan camp.”
Thus, he was sent to Nimruz province in Afghanistan, where he made his way to Kabul and contacted his friend Ashfaq. Ashfaq sent over a friend named Abu Ali, but they were almost immediately apprehended by Afghan authorities. The Hindu reports that his IR says, “I was shifted to a big Afghan Intelligence jail and I was there for 3 months. After that I was again shifted to Bagram Jail, a US jail. They took my biometrics and then locked me up in a cell. After three months of custody, I was deported to India.” This was in September, when he was immediately arrested by the NIA.
When Hamzafar was allegedly told about IS’ “revolution” by Shihas in 2015, he was not convinced and told Shihas he was opposed to their activities. His parents “showered abuses” on Shihas, Bestin and other friends when it came to be known that they had left Kerala to join IS, and insisted that he drop all contact with them and change his mobile number.
However, six months after Shihas and the others had left for Afghanistan, Hamzafar received a WhatsApp greeting from Shihas, which he ignored. A month later, he received another, and Shihas began sending him voice notes, and then asked him to join Telegram. On that chat service, Shihas began indoctrinating Hamzafar, telling him he was in IS-controlled Khilafath, Afghanistan, and that the media reports about IS were untrue, and that Khilafath was “right”. Shihas began sending him reading material on IS, and Hamzafar was finally swayed by the voice notes of the Islamic preacher Abdul Rashid, which he received when Shihas added him to a group called Message to Kerala in May 2017. Hamzafar went to Bahrain that same month, under the pretext of a job, and contacted Shihas to tell him of his desire to join the IS.