By Praveen Swami
May 21, 2016
Thane engineering student Fahad Sheikh
The Islamic State has released a new 22-minute Arabic-language documentary on purported Indian jihadists in its ranks, providing the first interviews with five fugitive jihadists known to have joined the ranks of fighters in Iraq and Syria since 2014.
The video, released online early on Friday, is the first propaganda the Islamic State has produced with content focused on India and South Asia.
Thane engineering student Fahad Tanvir Sheikh who travelled to Syria in 2014 along with three other men from the city, as first reported in The Indian Express, is the only individual conclusively identified in the video, in which he uses the pseudonym Abu Amr’ al-Hindi.
“We will return,” Sheikh vows, “but with a sword in hand, to avenge the Babri Masjid, and the killings of Muslims in Kashmir, in Gujarat, and in Muzaffarnagar.”
Sheikh also pays homage to his friend from Thane, Shahim Tanki, who is said to have been killed in a bomb attack in Raqqa last year.
The third member of the group, Areeb Majid, is now being prosecuted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
The video also features several still-to-be-identified members, suspected to be once of the Indian Mujahideen, whose members are known to have been serving with Islamic State forces after breaking with their Pakistan-based leadership.
“To those in the Indian state who wish to understand our actions”, says an unidentified jihadist, “I say you have only three options: to accept Islam, to pay Jizya, or to prepare to be slaughtered”.
Families of the surviving Thane men, as well as members of the Indian Mujahideen known to have left Pakistan for Syria, are being contacted to identify the individuals featured in the video, a government source said.
“The last photographs we have of many of these people we have are from before 2008, when many of them were just adolescents”, the source said. “It’s hard to be certain just who is who in the video, though it is possible to make informed guesses”.
Large parts of the video, narrated in Arabic, seek to provide context to the presence of Indian jihadists in the Islamic State – men it describes as jihadists from “Hind wal’Sindh”, a usage for India and Pakistan. The video begins with medieval warlord Muhammad Bin Qasim’s conquest of the region, saying it laid the foundations for Islamic rule.
The British, the narrator states, then handed over control of India to Hindus – people it describes as “cow-worshippers” who have been responsible for violence against Muslims in many places, including Mumbai, Gujarat, Assam and Moradabad.
“Hindus are striving to convert you Muslims to their faith, O’ sons of Bin Qasim”, one recruit says, recounting a string of communal riots. “Is there any other humiliation that you still need to suffer before you will give up chanting that Islam is a religion of peace, and learn from the Prophet, who fought with the sword?”
An unidentified IS fighter in stills from the newly released video
For the most part, the video consists of interviews, mainly conducted at an unidentified coastal location. There is no combat footage of Indians, bar one sequence involving several men in two boats, first released by the Islamic State’s Indian affiliate, Junood Khilafat-al-Hind, last year.
The video does, however, include one sequence where six men sit together, singing a jihadist anthem, promising that a new dawn lies ahead.
Explaining his personal journey, one jihadist says he was forced to leave Mumbai for the Khorasan region, or the Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlands, after the 2008 shootout at Batla House in which Indian Mujahideen Commander Atif Amin was killed.
This first Hijrat, or religious migration, was followed by a second one to Syria, the man recounts.
“In India”, the man who says he fled Mumbai says, “we see that it is that it is the cow, the trees, the sun, the moon…that is worshipped. Instead of fighting these things, the Muslims of India trade and maintain social relations with these infidels”.
He vows, though, to return to avenge atrocities against Muslims in India. “Have you forgotten the train bombings in Mumbai or the bombings in Ahmedabad, and Surat, and Jaipur and Delhi”, he asks.
The video assails mainstream Muslim politicians and clerics for compromising with what the narrator describes as a tyrannical system responsible for massacring Muslims. Images of the Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen leader Assaduddin Owaisi and All India United Democratic Front politician Badruddin Ajmal are juxtaposed with dead bodies of victims of communal riots. Indian Muslim politicians are attacked for associating with non-Muslim leaders: one image shows the Congress’s Mani Shankar Aiyar embracing a Hindu priest and Muslim cleric.
The most acid invective, though, is reserved for Indian clerics who, the video says, are supporting the forces of Kufr against the Mujahideen of the Islamic State.
A screen grab from the video shows a group of purported jihadists threatening attacks in India.
Insisting that armed jihad “in the way of Allah” is an individual religious obligation incumbent on every individual Muslim, the video warns clerics that they will soon meet their reckoning.
“Do not listen to those who tell you that Islam is a religion of peace”, one jihadist says, his face digitally masked over. “Islam was never a religion of peace for even one day. Islam is a religion of war. The Prophet commanded us to remain at war until the day the rule of Allah is established”. The video mocks Muslims protesting against the Islamic State.
The jihadists interviewed also praised the quality of life in the Islamic State. “Here there is Shari’a”, one says. “Here the hands of thieves are cut off. Here, our religion is safe”.
Indian Mujahideen cadre are known to have travelled to Islamic State-held territory from 2014, after rejecting the leadership of their Karnataka-born chief Riyaz Ahmad Shahbandri, also known as Riyaz Bhatkal.
The men include one-time Mumbai hospital employee Abu Rashid; Shahnawaz Ahmad, a Unani doctor and the son of a local Samajwadi Party politician in Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh; and students Mohamma‘ ‘Bada’ Sajid, Mirza Shadab Beig. Karnataka Muhammad Shafi Armar, one of the Indian Mujahideen fugitives, has been named by the NIA as a key suspect in several recent arrests related to Islamic State.