This is the story of Subahani Haja Moideen (31) from Kerala, who fought for the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq and escaped to return home and work quietly in his father’s cloth shop in Thodupuzha for a year before the National Investigation Agency (NIA) caught up with him in October last year.
Moideen’s is only the second known case of an Indian coming back from the IS war front. The first was that of Areeb Majeed from Maharashtra, who escaped after being injured in the leg.
Arrested the minute he landed in Mumbai, Areeb continues to be in jail. Between 40 and 50 Indians are estimated to be in IS-held territory.
The NIA stumbled upon Moideen while investigating another case in which six men from Kerala, inspired by the IS ideology, were allegedly planning attacks against BJP and RSS leaders and High Court judges.
Explosives from Sivakasi
On October 6, he was arrested for trying to arrange explosives from Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu. The Hindu has accessed his interrogation report which details his journey.
Moideen initially studied at Saraswathi Vidhya Bhavan and then moved to Vimala School in Thodupuzha. He enrolled for a B.Com. degree but discontinued the course in the second year. He then completed a Red Hat-certified engineering course at Lynx Academy and subsequently, in 2010, worked in tech. support at Infotech in Chennai for six months.
Between 2011 and 2015, he worked in his family’s cloth shop in Thodupuzha. Moideen had by then turned into an alcoholic. But after marriage, his wife helped him quit drinking.
During the interrogation, Moideen claims he was never interested in religious matters but after giving up alcohol, he became a Tablighi — a member of a Sunni Islamic movement — in 2013. He searched for the hadees (a collection of sayings of Prophet Mohammad) and the Koran on the Internet and discovered a site called kalamullah.com . It contained lectures of one Imam Anwar Al Awlaki (an Al Qaeda preacher), who preached jihad.
He also came across IS activities in Iraq and Syria.
On Twitter, he came across the Facebook profile of a Moroccan, Abu Naseeha Al Magribi, and a Swede, whom he contacted on the site and started chatting on Telgram and Kik, both Web-based applications. The Swede suggested that Moideen reach Turkey to do the hijra . He found a travel agency that would arrange a ticket, got a no-objection certificate from his father who consented when Moideen told him he was going for Umrah.
He got his visa in March and took a Saudi Airlines flight on April 7 from Chennai airport for Jeddah and from there boarded another flight for Istanbul in Turkey. All he took with him was a small backpack which contained kurta-pyjamas and the Quran.
He checked into a hotel at Afcilar. His local handler Imitiyaz asked him to send a selfie with the words “La Ila La Illalha” written on it. He said he would arrange the necesssary taskiya (reference) for Moindeen to join the IS. That night Moideen called his wife and told her he was going to Mecca. She asked him for a photograph of the Mecca masjid which he downloaded from the internet and sent to her.
The next day Moideen was asked to go to Urfa. On April 14, he got a call from someone in Raqqa, Syria, who asked him to come to the Meccom Ibrahim Masjid. He was taken to a dilapidated house from there where he found women and children besides men of Pakistani origin from the United Kingdom. Two days later, the group left in a van to cross the border. A young boy guided them and after walking for three kilometres they found a boundary demarcated by barbed wires. They cut open the barbed wire and crossed over into Syria.
After running for a kilometre they saw a man in military uniform who shook hands, called for a vehicle on his wireless set, which arrived in five minutes. They were taken to a single storeyed house in Tell Abiad where 10 to 15 people were present, of which about five or six were IS officials. They asked for their references and confiscated their passports.
After five days, they were shifted to Mosul where Moideen shared a room with five people, including a Pakistani. The group was not allowed outside and they attended religious classes in the evenings on how to establish Khilafath.
Later three persons came to take baith (oath) from all of them to pledge allegiance to Baghdadi,the IS leader.
They were then shifted to a training camp with high walls in Mosul. Each was given an AK-47, Bushka medium mortar guns and grenades for training. The trainer was from Iraq. But they were not allowed to practise firing as American drones constantly hovered above.
After 21 days, Moideen was attached to an existing military group — Ummar Ibnu Khattab Khatiban, led by a French national who claimed he knew the Paris attackers.
Moideen was then moved to another location, paid a ‘salary’ of $ 100, given a phone and allowed to go to a market which had a “wi-fi” zone. It was here that Moideen started chatting with a Swedish woman, who told him of an Indian who was helping people to come to the IS stronghold. He also got to know of a person from Kerala who came to Syria before December 2014. Moideen contacted him and was asked to come to Raqqah where many Indians who had joined IS were.
In the second week of June, Moideen received his war call-up and a kit — two uniforms, a cap, a towel, two pairs of underwear and a belt bag. Videos were taken of Moideen. Then he was ferried to Baiji by truck. All the recruits performed the namaz standing and since Moideen had hurt his knee during training he couldn’t stand. The in-charge returned him to a hospital and after a month was shifted to another house in Mosul.
More Indian recruits
It was here Moideen met an Indian-origin couple. The man, around 35, was from Mumbai. He and his wife had been working in a middle eastern country before they had come to Mosul. The man wore eye glasses, was fair complexioned, bald and lean.
In the third week of July, Moideen and others got a call for an “emergency war” and were again taken to Baiji. Moideen was in the last group, tasked to secure the captured area. They were fighting the Iraqi Army, the Irani Shia groups, Kurdish groups and Jabat Al Nusra. A week later, Moideen heard a loud noise and rushed out of the safe house to see the charred bodies of two men from his group. That did it. Moideen ran to escape the war zone, forced his way into a bus headed to a hospital in Mosul. The hospital staff tipped off Moideen’s superiors and he was sent back to the house he had been kept earlier.
Then he was produced before a judge and jailed. He told the judge that he’d developed fear of war and wanted to go back to India. A week later he was shifted to Al Raqqa jail. The next day we were taken to an office, where he found 30-40 persons who intended to go back and escape the war.
Moideen says that it was at this office in Raqqah that he saw an Indian family of six- mother, father, three sons (included twins in their early twenties) and a daughter.
After a month in jail, Moideen was again sent for training. According to him, “The in-charge tried to motivate us by using religious doctrine and even threatened us. When they failed to harass and coerce me to fight for them, one day I was taken out of the jail and asked to check my belongings. I was told that from now I and Al Dawla (Arabic for IS) were not having any relationship. They took five of us in a vehicle and dropped us one by one on the way. A Turkish national helped me and we went to Al Bab ut Ilam in Syria and travelled for two hours. We rented a house where an Australian came and we left for Al Rai in a taxi. We crossed the border by cutting through barbed wires. On September 6, I reached Gaziantep [in Turkey]. For the night we stayed at a hotel at Fatih in Istanbul. A Moroccan man accompanying me did not want to go back and he asked me to come with him to a European country, which I refused. I then reached the Indian embassy and contacted my brother. I told them I had come with Sufi people and had lost my passport and identification card. I showed them pictures of my original documents stored in my phone. I lodged a complaint at the local police station and the Indian Embassy then gave me an emergency travel certificate to return to India,” said Moideen.
He reached India on September 22. The NIA had moved an application in a local court last week to conduct a lie detector test on Moideen.