PESHAWAR: Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has already lost hundreds of youngsters to the ‘charm’ of the various Taliban groups and factions. Now, it appears the Khorasan franchise of the ultra-extremist group Islamic State (IS) has moved in to tap into this recruitment pool, security officials told Daily Express.
Muhammad is 22. He went to the country’s most prestigious boys’ school – Aitchison College in Lahore. He eventually got a scholarship to study in the United States.
Then, two-and-a-half years into his degree programme, he started showing interest in IS propaganda literature on the internet. Soon after he moved back to Pakistan, he grew out his beard and started showing signs that worried his family.
A little while later, he disappeared from his house in the Gulbahar area of Peshawar. He had allegedly fled to Afghanistan to join IS.
His parents say they have disassociated with him.
“After returning to Pakistan, Muhammad grew his bread and one day he suddenly disappeared from his home,” said a security official probing the case. According to the K-P police counter-terrorism department’s records, Muhammad is from Mohmand Agency and is an information technology expert. The police only caught wind of his activities after he had left, when his family came to the local police station on August 27 to lodge an FIR about his disappearance.
Soon after the police registered an initial report – Muhammad’s brother got a text message from an Afghan number in which Muhammad informed his family that he has reached Afghanistan and asked them to stop looking for him.
The family then registered an FIR stating that Muhammad had voluntarily joined an anti-state group and that his family takes no responsibility for his future actions.
The police then changed their investigation and found that Muhammad had been in contact with IS over the internet for a while and had crossed into Afghanistan via Torkham border crossing. Intelligence agencies and FIA then found footage of him crossing the border.
Intelligence officials said Muhammad sold his cell phone to a used phones dealer in Peshawar’s Saddar Bazaar for Rs9,000, adding that although the phone was later confiscated from the dealer’s shop, it had been wiped before being sold.
Another official probing the case said Muhammad’s family and friends noticed changes in his attitudes.
Muhammad performed Umrah after coming back from the US and had a spat with someone over a ‘minor’ prayer-related issue. He then began behaving even more strangely and was harsh when interacting with family or friends. But because “he isolated himself and limited his routine activities…the family did not realise that he had joined IS.”
The official added that a worrying number of highly-educated youngsters are joining militant organisations, particularly IS.
Security forces arrested three graduates of University of Engineering and Technology along with their teacher a couple of weeks back for facilitating IS, and another month earlier, security officials arrested dozens of suspects from Charsadda for facilitating IS.
The police have also claimed to have killed two IS-linked suspects – Mustafa and Khalil – in Peshawar. Both Mustafa and Khalil are said to be the heads of the “target killers wing” of IS in Peshawar. The officials also claimed to have evidence that Khalil was behind the deadly 2016 attack on lawyers in Quetta.
And as recently as Monday, security forces arrested suspects from a flour mill in Peshawar. Sources said the mill doubled as an IS operations centre in Pakistan.
According to officials, Muhammad has a valid US visa on his passport, which he has taken with him. “We are afraid he may try to go to the US to commit a terrorist act,” said an official, adding that they have approached the foreign office so that the information can be passed on to US officials.