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Accidental Jihadist of the IS in Kashmir

Class 12 dropout Adil Ahmad Wani has become the poster boy for a new generation of terrorists in Kashmir

Firstpost print Edition

"We don’t want Hurriyat, only shariat,” reads the graffiti sprayed on a shuttered shop in Jamnagri, a nondescript village in the restive southern Kashmir district of Shopian, close to the hills and surrounded by vast apple orchards. The scribble was signed off ‘ISJK’, an abbreviation for what a band of local jihadists calls itself since 2017: the Islamic State Jammu and Kashmir.

The sleepy village does not figure prominently on the map of the region’s conflict. The first time anyone bothered about Jamnagri, perhaps, was in the middle of last year when a video shot here went viral in the Valley. The setting of the recording, located at a stone’s throw from the graffiti, was the house of Adil Ahmad Wani, who became a jihadist as an 18 year old in 2016.

The brief video shows an Army soldier sitting on the verandah with Adil’s family, urging them to cooperate whenever an opportunity arises for the young man’s surrender. “If he comes back alive, I will martyr him myself,” one of Adil’s two elder sisters is heard saying in the video. The soldier is taken aback and another in the background reminds the woman that Adil is her brother and is on “the wrong path”, but she is not convinced. “He has gone in Allah’s way. What do we need him for now?” she says. “Why should we ask him to come back?”

Adil is the only person from the village known to have joined the local jihadist group, inspired by the Islamic State (IS). His recruitment into the outfit’s fold has underlying contradictions: the young boy grew up as a follower of the Sunni revivalist movement Tablighi Jamaat and was affiliated with the pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen, both groups deemed “un-Islamic” by the extremist ideology professed by IS.

The Wanis own a sizeable apple orchard that generates a steady income. With his father Abdul Hamid Wani being in poor health, the responsibility of the household and orchard fell on Adil. According to his sisters, Adil was an introvert who barely expressed his likes and dislikes. His only expression of political thought that one of his sisters could recall was: “He would say this land [Kashmir] is neither India’s nor Pakistan’s. It is god’s land and it should be ruled as per his law.” Adil, his sister said, was not a terrorist but a devout young Muslim who was taking forward the Prophet Muhammad’s “mission” regardless of whether “azadi was achievable or not”.

Adil’s only interest that the family could infer from his habits was the occasional game of cricket apart from a consistent refuge in religion. He was a regular at a seminary in the Pinjura area of the district that was associated with the Tablighi Jamaat. According to a friend, Adil would participate regularly in their activities and on a few occasions undertook chillas—confinement in mosques for a varying but predefined period of time—of 40 days at a stretch. “When he first got a smartphone in class 12,” said a friend, “he asked me to download sermons by (Pakistani clerics) Maulana Tariq Jameel and Peer Zulfiqar on his phone”.

Adil was attempting a second time to clear his class 12 examinations when he joined the jihad in 2017 without any telltale signs, according to the family. The friend, however, said that the plunge was inevitable as Adil had already come to the notice of Hizb owing to his reputation as a “pious Muslim” and had begun working as a logistical overground operative for the group sometime in 2015. In 2016, he grew close to two jihadists, Hizb’s Mugees Mir and Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen’s Dawood Sofi, both residents of Srinagar, who were operating in the area.

Adil, however, was relieved from the district’s jihadist network after repeated requests by the family and managed to avoid the police’s radar till mid-2017. “The police were trying to arrest him,” the friend said. “But he managed to give them the slip a few times and, when he got fed up, he went to the Hizb to join them.” However, the local leadership refused to recruit Adil.

Left all alone and with the police closing in, Adil turned to the only other jihadists he knew, Mugees and Dawood, who had by then publicly expressed their dissociation from any form of nationalism and rebranded a module of the salafist Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen as IS. The duo, killed in 2017 and 2018 respectively, were termed as “corrupted minds” by the Hizb, which also held them responsible for misguiding other jihadists. “Mugees was happy that another youth was being pushed in their direction and they took him with them,” the friend said.

A few months later, the friend tried convincing Adil to shun the "khawariji" — a term commonly used to describe Muslims seen as having deviated from Islam — group and return home. His efforts, however, failed with Adil defending his decision, pointing to the IS’ successes and actions across the globe. “The last jamaat of warriors (army of jihadists) will emerge from Khurasan (present-day Afghanistan) and they will be blessed,” he recalls being told by Adil, adding, “He was already brainwashed by then.”

According to the family, Adil has not returned to the district since then and is operating in and around Srinagar city. In November 2017, according to a case filed by the police, Adil was with Mugees and others when they opened fire at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Srinagar, resulting in the deaths of an inspector and Mugees himself. Adil managed to escape while a third jihadist was arrested. Mugees was officially claimed by IS’ propaganda cell Al-Amaq.

The same year Adil was disarmed by the Hizb, another group of three IS-inspired jihadists in Shopian had their weapons and cash taken away by the Hizb. Firdous Lone, one of these jihadists, is heard saying in an audio call that he was disarmed by the Hizb, which was “threatening us the way (Indian) Army does”. Firdous was killed along with the two other jihadists in a gunfight with security forces in January 2018. In February 2018, according to the friend, Adil was in search of weapons and was collecting money to buy them within the Valley. The friend has since cut all ties with him.

For Adil’s family and a few others in Jamnagri, there is no difference between the various jihadist outfits operating in the region, all fighting a “just war” condoned by Islam and adhering to the same kalima: there is no god but Allah. Nearly a year after the video was shot at Adil’s home, his sister stood by her statement but was furious with reports in the national press that called her “the sister of a terrorist”. “People who starve themselves without any shelter are not terrorists,” she said, adding that the reason why youth in Kashmir picked up arms was “widespread oppression by India”. “I believe his mind won’t change ever. He has not [joined the jihad] for money or glory,” she said. “He has set out on the path of Allah to gain his favour. He will neither surrender nor will we let him now.”

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