ays after Islamic State (IS) chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in raids carried out by the United States in Syria, Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has said the terror group is shifting its base to Afghanistan.
In an exclusive interview to India Today TV, Javad Zarif said the Islamic State poses a common threat to India, Pakistan, Russia and even China. He said these countries need to unite to fight the threat emanating from the terror group.
“The revival of IS (also known as Daesh) is the source of common concern between India, Iran and Pakistan. The terror outfit is moving its base from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan. There are territories within Afghanistan that are of great concern for everyone. The threat is not faced by just one country, but the entire region,” Javad Zarif said.
He said there are reports of IS operatives carrying out operations in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan from its bases in Afghanistan.
“These [reports] are serious developments. We are routinely engaging with our Indian friends over relocation of IS and the threat emanating from the move. We are also in touch with Pakistan, Russia and China. This [fight against terrorism] is an issue that can unite all of us,” Zarif said.
When asked about the role of the US, he said, “The US won’t come to our rescue. We have to help ourselves.”
Iran has been fighting against the Islamic State for the past several years. Sources in India say Indian agencies believe that key areas in Afghanistan were on radar after 21 youth from Kerala went missing in 2016 and later joined IS. Amongst them, 17 were from Kasaragod district, while four hailed from Palakkad district.
Of them, at least three to four have reportedly died in counter-terror strikes.
However, despite Iran’s anti-Islamic State stand, IS operatives in India have been using the country to escape to neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) had uncovered a modus operandi where it found that over two dozen IS operatives, mostly from Kerala, used Iran as a route to hoodwink Indian agencies.
TRACKING AN IS OPERATIVE
India Today TV tracked down case of Nashidul Hamzafar, 26, a terror suspect from Kalpetta in Wayanad district of Kerala. He was the first IS operative from India to be deported from Afghanistan last year.
In September-October 2017, Nashidul left from his hometown Waynad in Kerala and travelled to Muscat, the capital of Oman. On October 13, 2017, he along with his accomplice Habeeb, left for Tehran from the Muscat International Airport by an Emirates flight.
He bought an Iranian SIM card from the airport by using Habeeb’s passport. He then booked a room at the Imam Khomeini Street, where he had to submit copies of his passport as an identity proof. There he waited to hear from the IS’ contact person on the encrypted messaging application Telegram.
In the instructions from IS, he was asked to arrange an Afghan Visa. Sources said following this, Habeeb and Nashidul went to the Afghan embassy, where they were interviewed. They were later asked to visit the embassy after three days. They were also informed their visa applications would be processed after getting a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Indian embassy.
This involved a risk of being apprehended.
While Nashidul was determined to go ahead and become an IS operative, his companion, Habeeb, left for Kerala, after contacting his father.
Nashidul Hamzafar was the first IS operative from India who spent months in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Nashidul travelled 450 kilometres by taxi to Isfahan in Iran. He told his interrogators, “After a hectic journey of six hours I reached Isfahan by night. I paid 100 dollars as taxi fare.”
It is here where he was contacted by an IS operative on Telegram. The operative met him at night, searched his bags and took away his laptop and passport. However, Nashidul resisted handing over his iPhone.
The IS guide told him his belongings would be returned once he reached Afghanistan. For his services, the guide charged him $450 US.
This was to be Nashidul’s gateway to IS territory in Afghanistan. The next day he was dropped at a deportation camp. There was a long queue in the camp, and Nashidul joined it. He lied about his identity and address.
Sources in the NIA told India Today TV that Nashidul gave his address as “S/o Muhammed, R/o Nooristan, Afghanistan”.
This was the address given by the Iranian guide. When interrogated by NIA, Nashidul said, “The authorities interviewed me and collected my biometric details. They got suspicious about my nationality and I was shifted to another camp. They deported all Afghan citizens and l was forcefully loaded in a deportation vehicle for Pakistan, thinking that l was a Pakistani. I told one of the officers in that vehicle that I am an Afghan and requested him to send me to Afghanistan. Accordingly, he sent me back to the Afghan camp.”
Surprisingly, Nashidul was left off by the agencies and he went on to spend a year in Afghanistan. But as soon as agencies in Afghanistan got a wind of his motives, he was tracked and detained. He was questioned by Afghan and US intelligence agencies. Once, it became clear that Nashidul had come to Afghanistan to join the IS, the agencies deported him to India.
The NIA considers Nashidul Hamzafar to be a goldmine of information since he is the first active terrorist with key links to the 2016 episode when 21 youths from Kerala went missing to join IS.
NOT THE FIRST
But Nashidul is not the first IS operative from India to use Iranian soil. Between 2016 and 2018, several IS operatives have tried to hoodwink authorities in a similar fashion.
- Abdul Rashid Abdullah, from Kerala’s Kasargod also travelled to Afghanistan via Iran in 2016. He was reportedly killed in June this year.
- Habeeb Rehman, another Kerala resident from Wayanad, left for Tehran from Muscat in October 2017. From Tehran, he travelled to Syria. He was later pardoned.
- Bexen Vincent, a resident of Palakkad in Kerala, used a Mahan Airway flight to reach Iran in June 2016, before coming back to Kerala.
- Abdul Rasak, 34, from Kerala’s Kannur district left India on April 18, 2017 for the UAE. He used Iran to travel to Syria.
- Rashid MV, 24, a resident of Kannur left India on October 13, 2016 and reached Tehran by Air Asia. He illegally crossed into Turkey through Tabriz and was deported on January 17, 2017. He has currently been made an approver.
- Abdul Khayam, 22, from Kannur, left India on April 18, 2017 for the UAE and from there to Tehran on April 21, 2017. He crossed into Syria from Turkey in May 2017. He was reportedly killed in December 2018.
- Mohammed Sameer MV, a Kannur resident, left India on December 2015 for Saudi Arabia. He reached Iran in January 2016, illegally crossed into Turkey and then to Syria. He is said to have been killed in Syria in 2016.
Meanwhile, sources in Indian agencies say Iran has been a friendly country and has always aided India when it comes to legal issues such as Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) or cooperation on issues of terrorism.
But with the IS shifting its base to Afghanistan, there is a worry over attempts being made to revive IS. Besides this, there is the issue of many European nations refusing to take back IS terrorists who end up in camps being run by Syrian Kurds in northern Syria after the collapse of IS camps. Sources told India Today TV that Indian agencies are alert about these developments but are yet to hear from authorities of any captured Indian fighter.