ISIS sympathiser turns to church to evade arrest

Bengaluru tailor switched faiths in bid to leave India
A radical Islamist, who turned an atheist, and later a Christian, to escape the attention of law enforcement agencies — this is the story of Abid Khan alias Paul, who is now in the custody of the National Investigation Agency for “furthering the illegal activities of the Islamic State in India and Sri Lanka”.

The interrogation report of the 24-year-old Bengaluru resident reveals a bizarre tale of how a small-time tailor engaged with a closed group of Islamists before ending up in a seminary attached to a church. Before he took an interest in the activities of the IS, Khan was an active member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), a closed Islamic fundamentalist group run by South Asians living in the U.K, with a large following in Pakistan and Bangladesh, but unheard of in India.

A school dropout, he told officials he wanted to go to Syria to “know whether they were telling the truth about the Caliphate.” Khan was also in touch with a few members of the Junood-ul-Khilafa-Fil-Hind (a group owing allegiance to the IS, seeking to establish Caliphate in India), but he wanted to go to Syria and “not create any problem in India.”

The Hindu visited Khan’s house in Bengaluru but found it locked. Neighbours said Khan was a recluse and did not mingle with anybody.

In a countrywide raid in January 2016, NIA arrested 18 men belonging to Junood-ul-Khilafa-Fil-Hind on to recruit Muslim youths to work for the terrorist outfit and commit acts of terrorism in India.

After this module was busted, Khan sensed trouble and to escape arrest, he took refuge at a church in Bengaluru. He told a church employee he was “disturbed and wanted to leave behind his old connections and wanted to follow Jesus Christ.”

He trimmed his beard and changed the way he dressed. He told people at the church that “he was being tracked by a radical Muslim organisation, which had hacked his e-mail account and there was a danger to his life.” He thought that if he was baptised, the church would send him abroad. He cooked up a story that he had a dream of “building a church and the place was the world’s largest Muslim country — Indonesia.” Khan allegedly had befriended an Indonesian woman on social media and wanted to travel to that country to be with her. The church sent him to Sri Lanka instead and asked him to learn more about Christianity.

In March, he left for Colombo and stayed at a base camp in Madampet with Japanese, Bhutanese nationals and a U.S. Pastor. After his return from Sri Lanka, Khan was sent to a church in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh to study further on Christianity.

Students at this church were told not to have any romantic relationships, told to talk to women only in groups, and were not allowed a mobile phone or an electronic device. Once he completed his course, Khan was asked to go back to Bengaluru but he insisted that he wanted to stay in the mountains. He also got a mobile phone connection and contacted his elder brother through Signal, an encrypted messaging service, in October. The brother told him that a few people had come to enquire about him. This made Khan determined not to return. But he was arrested in December by the Himachal Pradesh police.

After his arrest he told interrogators that for six years he had closely followed the speeches of prominent cleric and member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB)- Sajjad Nomani, but gave up on him as he didn’t find his preaching Islamic enough. He then enrolled himself in a madrassa (Islamic seminary) and then in 2014, he came in contact with HuT.

An official said they were more concerned about his close association with HuT, which creates “radical fodder for terrorist groups” and the outfit had no active presence in India. As per Khan’s interrogation, in 2014, he came in contact with “dedicated members of HuT,” which included a software engineer and a person who ran a school in Bengaluru.

“He attended meetings where they discussed various issues in the Middle East and Gaza. They also discussed the re-establishment of an Islamic Caliphate and enforcement of Sharia in India. Over time, Khan became one of the most trustworthy members of HuT and also became a recruiter for them. In 2015, the HuT members realised that he was in touch with IS operatives, so they distanced themselves from Khan,” the interrogation report says. Khan said that he got inclined towards the IS by watching news channels.

He said he watched Islamic preacher Zakir Naik’s videos as well as those of Mufti Abdus Sami Qasmi , Anjer Shah those of among others.