A friendship struck in school has come back to haunt eight Kerala men deported in September from Ras al Khaimah in the UAE after a friend joined the dreaded Islamic State.
Back home — some of them with their families — they are trying to start life afresh while others hope to go back soon. But, Riyad Rahman is never too far from their minds.
“They forged a friendship while studying at Indian Public School and New India School in RAK (Ras al Khaimah). But when one of them — Riyad Rahman — took a flight to Turkey to the land of ISIS, the UAE authorities asked to them to pack and leave,” said a counter-terror official, requesting anonymity.
The 25-year-old Riyad is among at least 24 Indians believed to be fighting alongside IS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, that now controls large swathes of Syria and Iraq. Six Indians are reported to have died in IS-held territory.
Riyad disappeared in April and soon his friends, who were in touch with him through social media and met him occasionally, were in trouble, sources said.
The family hasn’t heard from Riyad. But his older brother Arshad Rahman, who is married and has a two-year-old son, was forced to return to India. The 35-year-old was with a tech company in Sharjah and was doing well, sources said.
“My sons Jaleel and Rashid are now looking for jobs here. They have been told that they can go back to RAK in six months to one year,” Mohammad Haji Ashraf told HT over the phone from Thrissur.
Ashraf came back with his sons and other family members.
Jaleel, who studied at New India School with Riyad, worked for a bank when he was deported. The UAE has strict anti-terror laws and links to IS -- however tenuous -- can invite severe punishment.
Aromal Sadanandan and Riyad, too, met in New India School. Riyad was not only his classmate but also his best friend, the 23-year-old told the Kerala Police.
“Riyad left school without completing 10th standard. He came back (from Kozhikode in Kerala) after a year and joined the school again but as my junior,” counter-terror officials quoted Sadanandan as saying.
“After his arrival from Kerala I noticed a beard on his face,” Sadanandan told his interrogators. Born and brought up in Ras Al Khaimah, Riyad was a regular at a mosque where the imam was a Pakistani. Perhaps that is where his radicalisation began, the counter-terror official said.
“Riyad told me about Prophet Muhammad’s teachings and asked me to compare them with the Gita and decide which was better,” Sadanandan said.
Riyad, whose father moved to RAK in 1986, talked to his friends about joining IS sometime last year. “After months of discussion, four of them were ready to join ISIS but only two – Riyad and a Bangladeshi school friend, Mujahid, left,” the official said.
Their departure sent alarm bells ringing. “Once Riyad went missing in April, all his Facebook friends were picked up and after questioning asked to leave,” said a Kerala Police officer on condition of anonymity.
An FIR was registered against Riyad while all his friends were let off after a round of questioning, as none of them were found to be involved with IS, the officer said.
The men can’t wait to go back. “I was told to go to my native place with an assurance that I would be able to come back in six months,” said Anas Hamza. “I won’t be able to say anything more.”