Jait, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s native village, is not far from the home of Azhar Iqbal in Barkheda in Raisen district. Azhar was arrested on Monday for his alleged links with the IS regional wing Janood-ulKhalifa-e-Hind and suspected of planning to carry out attacks across India.
Iqbal’s family lives in four huts in the village, barely 350m from the Barkheda police outpost.
“Not only us, but the entire village is unable to believe that the boy who played with doves and birds and aspired to become a collector can even dream of waging war against the country,” Iqbal’s cousin Mohd Abid told HT at their house on Wednesday.
Iqbal is the second of four children ( two brothers and two sisters) born to agrarian couple Mohd Taufiq and Saba Anjum. He studied till Class 5 at the Children Flower School in Barkheda, before enrolling at a seminary in Malakhedi in adjoining Hoshangabad district to study the Quran.
“It was four years ago that he went to Darul Uloom seminary in Deoband (Saharanpur) for higher Islamic studies course of Hafiz, but returned abruptly in December. After attending a programme at his old seminary in Malakhedi on December 3, he didn’t return to Deoband,” his cousin added.
He instead went to Bhopal to study English and resume mainstream education, which would help him become a collector, his cousin Shazia said.
Investigators, however, believe that he was learning English to use instant messaging apps to connect with IS operatives across the globe.
Advocate Laik Ahmad, Iqbal’s uncle and from whose house the terror suspect was arrested in a joint operation of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the crime branch of Bhopal police, had a different story to tell: “He started living with us in Bhopal just three weeks ago to learn English. It was then that we came to know that Iqbal had been rusticated from the Deoband seminary for disciplinary reasons.”
Nonetheless, he said he had complete faith in Iqbal’s innocence. “We’ll defend him legally in the court of law, after he is produced before a court in Delhi,” he said.
Immediately after Iqbal’s arrest, the NIA team had brought him to his house in Barkheda, looking for his cell phone and a bag.
“They questioned the family members and Azhar, after which Azhar told them that the cell phone was kept somewhere in Bhopal. They stayed here for around two hours,” Shazia said.
“If we had the slightest idea about Iqbal’s links with any terror outfit, we would have ourselves handed him over to the police,” she added.
Azhar Iqbal, a suspected member of the India wing of the Islamic State (IS), studied at the famous Islamic seminary Darul Uloom, Deoband, for seven years before being suspended for indiscipline in December, sources told HT.
Iqbal, 23, was arrested from Bhopal on Monday by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which has so far arrested 15 people for their ties with the terror outfit.
“Iqbal allegedly was in the higher category of members of the group — Junoon al Khilafae-Hind — as he was tasked with finding new recruits. It is learnt that he was in touch with Yusuf al-Hindi alias Shafi Armar, who was an Indian Mujahideen member but shifted to the IS- held areas in Syria and Iraq,” said a home ministry official requesting anonymity.
“Iqbal knew at least two of the four suspects arrested by the Delhi police from Uttarakhand a few weeks back.”
Ashraf Usmani, spokesperson of Darul Uloom, Deoband, said Iqbal hadn’t displayed signs of extremist views while at the seminary.
Investigators have found that the head of the group, Mumbai resident Muddabir Sheikh, who was anointed Ameer-e-Hind, also visited Deoband to meet Iqbal.
The federal anti-terror probe agency has found that the India based terror group was brought together by Shafi Armar.