For the family of Saheem Farooque Tanki, an Indian believed killed while fighting alongside Islamic State (IS) in Syria last year, a recent video apparently released by the extremist group has reopened old wounds.
The 22-minute video, released via Twitter on May 21 but taken down later, shows an Indian IS recruit identified as Aman Tandel who reportedly pays homage to Tanki, a fellow native of India’s Maharashtra state.
Tanki, who was 26, was killed in a suicide bombing mission in the northeastern Syrian city of al-Hasaka in January 2015, according to Indian intelligence agencies.
“It is painful for the entire family whenever such a video comes out, or anything is written in the newspapers. It gets very difficult to deal with. We don’t like to talk about it,” Tanki’s uncle, Kashif, who did not want his last name published, told BenarNews.
Kashif said the family, especially Tanki’s mother, still had not accepted his possible death.
“We have not held a funeral for him yet. In fact, whenever there is something written about him in the newspapers, we have to hide it from his mother, who is living in the hope that her son will return,” he said.
“Nothing can be more un-Islamic and away from the message of Allah,” Kashif said. “The people who are behind this ideology have taken our children away from us and are destroying the name of Allah.”
‘We will return’
The family had not seen the video, the first from IS that features alleged Indian recruits detailing their plans for action in India and elsewhere in South Asia, he said.
India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) is investigating the video, which appears to show one of the Indian IS recruits saying: “We will return, but with a sword in hand, to slice your throats to avenge the Babri Masjid, and the killings of Muslims in Kashmir, in Gujarat, and in Muzaffarnagar.”
While the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid (mosque) in Uttar Pradesh led to large-scale communal riots that killed some 2,000 people, about 70,000 people have been killed in Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim region claimed by both India and Pakistan, since the outbreak of a separatist insurgency in the late 1980s.
About 1,000 people, including some 800 Muslims, were killed in communal riots in Gujarat in 2002, while about 65 people, including 52 Muslims, were killed during riots in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar town in 2013.
On Thursday, a court in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s capital, found two dozen Hindus guilty of hacking and burning to death 69 Muslims sheltered at a residential complex in the city. The attack was one of the single worst massacres of the week-long violence in 2002, AFP reported.
The sentences will be delivered on Monday.
The Maharashtra Four
Tanki was one of four from Maharashtra’s Thane city who left India in May 2014 in an apparent effort to join IS.
Areeb Majeed, 25, has been in NIA custody since he returned to India in November 2014, while two others, Tandel, 28, and Fahad Sheikh, 26, are believed to be fighting for the group.
Indian intelligence agencies said the four were among 23 Indians who traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight for IS. Of them, at least six are dead, including Tanki.
Besides Majeed, at least 30 other Indian Muslims have been arrested for showing leanings toward the outfit since 2014, while another 150 are under surveillance, sources said.
A source close to the NIA team investigating the latest video told BenarNews on Thursday that the agency was about to send a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty to the United States to seek American help in investigating the video.
The source said the NIA had reason to believe that it was shot at least 10 months ago because one of the Indians identified in it, Mohammad Sajid, 29, from Uttar Pradesh, was believed killed in September 2015.
Aside from Sajid and Tandel, the other four Indians conclusively identified in the video are Omar Rashid, Fahad Sheikh, Tawahur Rehman and Abu Salha, the source said.
Four Maharashtra men who allegedly left India in May 2014 to join IS are (from left to right), Areeb Majeed, Fahad Sheikh, Aman Tandel and Saheem Farooque Tanki. [Courtesy India’s National Investigation Agency]
Analyst: Video release shows IS weakening
Retired Brigadier Rumel Dahiya, a security analyst at the New Delhi-based Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis, agreed with the NIA theory that the propaganda video may have been shot earlier but released only recently to divert attention from IS’s weakening position in the Middle East.
“One of the reasons why the IS has released the video is that they have so far not been able to spread their wings in India. At the moment, they are under tremendous pressure in Iraq and Syria. So, they really want to retain their relevance in the outside world,” Dahiya told BenarNews.
In Thane, a relative of Fahad Sheikh, who declined to be identified, said he wished to speak with him.
“I want to talk to him so I can understand what we did wrong that made him choose this unholy path of terror,” the relative told BenarNews.
“I don’t want him to come back. Here, he will be jailed and probably even hanged. We’ve gone through enough pain of losing him. We can’t bear losing him all over again in front of our eyes.”
Vasudevan Sridharan in Bengaluru, India, contributed to this report.