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Was Jamia youth held for ‘IS fundraising’ goaded by Syria girl? NIA probe finds ‘romantic angle’

Family of Patna native Mohsin Ahmad, a BTech, student, has questioned his involvement in activities he is accused of, describing him as a bright and shy boy.

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New Delhi: The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has found a potential romantic angle behind the alleged participation of a 22-year-old Jamia Millia Islamia BTech student in raising funds for the Islamic State (IS) terror group, ThePrint has learnt.

According to security sources, the student — arrested Saturday for his alleged association with the IS — fell in “love” with a girl in Syria who encouraged him to “collect money through crowdfunding for jihad and send it to ISIS (another name for IS) camps, including Al-Hol in Syria (a detention camp for ‘people displaced by the IS’ war’)”.

Patna native Mohsin Ahmad, the sources said, had collected “over Rs 4 lakh in cryptocurrency in the account of a leading crypto platform, not just from India but also the Maldives, Bangladesh and Indonesia”. This money, the sources added, was then “sent to Iraq and Syria to further ISIS activities”.

The NIA arrested the electrical engineering student from Batla House on charges of being an active ISIS member, in connection with a case registered on 25 June pertaining to online and on ground activities of the terror group across India.

Ahmad was held after the agency was “alerted” about his “suspicious activities” by a Jamia student, the sources said.

The student, the sources added, was in touch with people in Iraq and Syria through Facebook and Telegram for almost three years, and was radicalised over time.

“He was taking coaching classes for engineering in Kota and that is where he came in touch with people online who sent him literature on jihad. He would often watch ISIS videos, including those of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (the late leader of the group),” one of the sources said. “He was completely radicalised and became a part of several Telegram channels where the idea of jihad was discussed.”

“This is the time when he got in touch with a woman online, who was based in Syria. In his questioning, he claimed that he fell in love and that she asked him to collect funds through crowdfunding and send them to Syria,” the source added.

Ahmad, the source said, then started discussing the idea with a group of classmates at Jamia, trying to convince them to “join the fight”.

The student’s family, however, has questioned his involvement in the activities he is accused of.

Ahmad’s father told ThePrint that his son was “very bright”. “He scored 94 per cent in his Class 10 exam. He isn’t how it’s been portrayed everywhere.”

Ahmad has three sisters — two elder and one younger — who refuted the charges against him as well.

“This is a joke. He is shy, meek and I would have known if he was in love. Also, if he was radicalised, then why didn’t we see it all this while when he was living with us?” one of them said when asked about the alleged relationship. “Wouldn’t he be discussing it at home? Ideology is first shared with the family.”

The sister said Ahmad was in Kota for less than a year before his Class 12 exam. “He wanted to be a pilot. Then he planned to study computer science, but instead got admission in electrical engineering. We are holding strong. He will be out and has a long life ahead,” she added.

The investigators, meanwhile, have contacted the cryptocurrency wallet company to get data on the alleged transactions made by Ahmad.

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‘A pan-India crackdown’

Ahmad’s arrest, the sources said, is part of a larger crackdown to bust a network of ground workers “spread across India” who are working for the IS, trying to “radicalise and induct youths in the country”.

The NIA had been working on “specific inputs” about youths willing to join the IS and how they are “brainwashed over the internet”, they added.

According to the sources, they have identified areas from where these inductions have been happening.

“These people are in different states but are part of the same network. They are in touch with each other with the help of encrypted social media platforms. They are given a task to radicalise and rope in as many youths as possible and some promising recruits like Ahmad are being asked to identify sympathisers and generate funds,” the aforementioned source said.

Last Sunday, the NIA conducted searches at 13 locations in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh in connection with the case, and is said to have seized “incriminating material”.

The NIA also conducted searches in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram district in a case pertaining to suspected IS sympathiser Sathik Batcha, who was arrested along with four others in Tamil Nadu for allegedly hatching a conspiracy to threaten public and police, and for attempting to murder the police personnel who checked their vehicle on 21 February.

According to an NIA statement, Batcha and his accomplices were involved in “inciting hatred for secession of a part of India and had intended to disrupt the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India by forming outfits like ‘Khilafah Party of India’, ‘Khilafah Front of India’, ‘Intellectual Students of India’ and associating themselves with the proscribed terrorist organisations ISIS/Daesh and al-Qaeda”.

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‘They moved in a few days ago’

Nestled in the cramped lanes of Batla House’s Japani Gali is the four-storey building where Ahmad lived with four roommates.

The inter-connected lanes are easy for anyone to get lost in. Until Ahmad’s arrest, the building was largely inconspicuous but, in the days since, it is being described by local residents as the building “where the boy who is being called a terrorist lived”.

Neighbours and shopkeepers remained tight-lipped on the arrest. While some called it “anti-Muslim propaganda”, others accused the security agencies of stereotyping the Batla House area where the infamous encounter took place 14 years ago.

An immediate neighbour told ThePrint that Ahmad and four other boys, all students, moved into the flat about a fortnight ago.

“Five of them moved in here and lived together. They never made any noise. There was no chaos until the NIA came. They first took three boys but released two of them later that day. Now everyone identifies this building as one where a terror suspect lived,” the 40-year-old man said.

“They are all students, living away from their families. One cannot completely vouch for his innocence, but who goes for coaching for two years and then gets into a top-notch engineering college to become a terrorist?” he added.

“Something isn’t adding up. However, no one wants to wait for the truth. The (arrest and trial) process becomes the punishment. The boy’s details are all over the media. No one is thinking about his family.”

A shopkeeper recollected that he saw the boys sometimes but never together. “But it’s not possible to remember their names or faces, as so many students live here. Mohsin came to get daily things. He is soft-spoken and appears meek.”

(Edited by Tony Rai)

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