In another case of educated men falling for terrorist propaganda, two self-radicalised Pakistani men have been caught trying to go to Syria to join the ultra-extremist terrorist group of Islamic State (IS).
Authorities claim this is the first such case from Pakistan. Hundreds of Europeans are already fighting in the ranks of the Middle Eastern militant outfit, which has established a self-proclaimed caliphate over large areas in Iraq and Syria, and continues to create affiliates across the region.
The two men from Karachi were arrested in a remote Iranian town along the Turkish border. They were later deported by Iran and handed over to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). On their return, they were arrested by the Sindh police’s Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD).
Their interrogation has brought to light the increasing use of social media by militant groups to recruit impressionable youngsters.
The new generation of terrorists, especially the IS, has been using the platform to quickly and effectively spread their violent ideology far beyond the battlefield, law enforcement officials say.
Read: 'Secret Islamic State document found in Pakistan'
While recruitment was one of the toughest jobs for them, technology has definitely made it easier. The militants have been successfully using Twitter and Facebook to lure fighters from across the world, the officials said.
Bilal Rind and Zain Shahid were also impressed with IS’s ideology through its videos, pictures and literature shared on Twitter. They planned their escape at the start of the year and got in touch with IS operatives on the micro-blogging website.
Bilal, a resident of Boat Basin, was born in Dubai in 1986 and came to Karachi in 2001. He returned to Dubai in 2004 and got enrolled at the American University. After two years he left his education for work and joined his brother at their hotel in Dubai. He came back to Karachi in 2013.
“I started worrying about Syria after watching news channels in Dubai. I thought about the people living happily and freely in Dubai. But the situation in Syria was too different,” Bilal said while recalling how he got frustrated with the political impasse in Syria, where the government and rebels have been embroiled in a bloody conflict since 2011.
He then started talking with an IS operator, who identified himself as Abu Ukba and convinced him to come to Syria via Turkey.
Ukba asked Bilal to meet Zain and provided him a contact number. The two men met for the first time at a mosque in the Boat Basin area in March 2015. Desperate to go to Syria by all means, they got in touch with a trafficker.
“We had to leave for Syria in April but could not arrange money for the agent,” Bilal said. “We finally left the city in June.”
Zain, a resident of Nazimabad, was born in Saudi Arabia in 1989 and his family returned to Pakistan in 2000. He got admitted to Iqra University in 2008 for a Bachelor’s degree but left the varsity without completing his programme in 2013. He also got admission to the Pakistan International Airline’s training centre for aircraft maintenance but did not join the course and started working at a general store owned by his family.
Zain was talked into joining the IS ranks in Syria apparently by the same IS operative, who convinced Bilal on Twitter, with a different identity – Abu Khalid. Before leaving for Syria, he left a letter to his family, saying he was going to the same place from where he had come.
Bilal and Zain began their journey towards Syria in June. They were first transported illegally to the Iranian border via sea and land routes. They were crammed into a vehicle along with around 250 more people, who had hired the same agent to go to different countries.
Read: Islamic State says it could buy nuclear weapon from Pakistan within a year
The men were given a single date and a water bottle for each day. There was only one rule: if they die on the way, they will be left there.
“It was the toughest time of my life,” said Zain. “I truly regret my mistake. I have decided to live a normal life.”
After travelling for a couple of weeks, they arrived in a town near the Iraq border. But their luck ran out there, as they were caught by the Iranian forces before sneaking into Turkey. They were sent back to Pakistan. Their ordeal continues as the CTD took them into custody from the FIA.
Investigators believe the main reason behind their bid to join the IS stemmed from family problems.
“They thought life in Syria would be better than here. The travelling taught them a lesson,” said CTD in-charge Raja Omar Khattab, who is investigating the case.
He said there had been no such cases before and the men were arrested on information provided by an informer. “We were informed that two youngsters have left the city to join IS. We continued our working and finally found them,” he explained.
Khattab said the men would be released and put on the terror watch-list. The fourth schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act restricts the movement of a person from the place of his permanent residence without seeking prior permission from police.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2015.
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