The parents of a man from western India’s Maharashtra state who reportedly was killed last week in Iraq while fighting alongside the Islamic State (IS) are in a state of disbelief at the news of their only son’s death, a relative told BenarNews.
Aman Tandel’s father, Naeem, received an anonymous call from Turkey on Nov. 26 informing him of his son’s death in an airstrike, said the relative, who did not want to be identified.
“Not just his parents, but the entire family is in a state of shock. Aman’s parents can’t believe that their only son is gone and will now never return,” he said.
“Ever since Aman left for Iraq, his parents were hoping he will one day leave the way of terror and return to India,” he added.
Efforts to contact Tandel’s parents for a comment failed.
Tandel, 28, was one of four men from Maharashtra’s Thane district who left for Iraq in May 2014 to join IS.
Among them, Areeb Majeed, 26, is the only one to return to India. He has been in police custody since his voluntary return in November 2014. Shaheem Tanki, 26, was killed in a suicide bombing mission in January 2015, while Fahad Sheikh, 27, is believed to be fighting for the Middle East-based terror outfit.
The four men are among some 35 Indians who have left the country to fight alongside IS. Of them, seven, including Tandel, have been killed in battle, according to intelligence sources.
Senior Inspector of Police D.S. Suryawanshi told BenarNews that Tandel’s father informed them of the anonymous phone call on Monday.
“He (the father) came to the police station on Monday. He broke down while telling us about the late-night call. The next day we went to their house but found the husband and wife in a dazed state. They are still traumatized. They are hoping it was a hoax call and that their son is still alive,” Suryawanshi said.
“The call was made from a satellite phone. The caller specifically asked for Naeem. The caller, who did not identify himself, recited a verse from the Quran before informing Naeem of his son’s death. The caller then abruptly hung up,” he said.
Suryawanshi said Tanki’s family was informed in a similar fashion of his death last year, but refused to accept that he was killed.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s top counter-terror unit, is investigating the origins of the phone call to the Tandel residence, he said.
Iftekhar Khan, uncle of Fahad Sheikh, who is believed to be fighting for the terror outfit, said it was “very difficult to sift between true and fake information.”
“Take Areeb Majeed’s case, for example. An anonymous call informed his family that he had died, but then he managed to escape from Iraq and returned to India,” Khan told BenarNews.
“Fahad’s family dreads each time their phone rings. We are all worried about his safety.” he said.
“Terror groups, like IS, have ruined our children’s lives by misguiding them and taking them away from us.”
Although Indian authorities have consistently denied any significant presence of IS in India, as many as 68 suspected operatives and sympathizers of the group have been arrested from different parts of the country since 2014, government figures show.
A total of 50 people have been arrested by security agencies, this year alone.
Indian security agencies have prevented over 30 people from leaving the country to join IS and at least 150 others are under surveillance for showing leanings toward the group.
“I’m sure the threat of radicalization by IS won’t be an issue in our nation because people who follow Islam in India love the country,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh said Sunday.
But security experts disagree.
“There are serious problems with the government in addressing some basic issues among young Muslims, such as their education, character-building and creating a sense of belonging to the nation among them,” retired Adm. H.C. Malhotra told BenarNews.
Although 68 arrests in a nation of 1.25 billion does not signify that IS has managed a foothold in the country, the number of IS supporters could be far more than that, he added.
“It is highly probably that the data of the number of IS supporters in India available with the authorities is inaccurate. The coordination between central and state security agencies is very poor. Besides, the borders of our country are highly porous, which allows movements of suspected militants to exert influence on youngsters in India,” Malhotra said.
Akash Vashishtha in New Delhi contributed to this report.