Monday, 7 September 2015

Reactions to Abu Thahir's flight to Al Qaeda's Syrian branch

Abu Thahir took the ultimate step in July 2014 when he abandoned his life as a journalist in Qatar for a life of Jihad in Syria. Taking the same route followed by the Mujahideen wishing to fight the government of Syria's Bashar Al Assad, he took a flight to Turkey before crossing the porous border to Syria.

Beginning in November 2014, he began to post photos and videos of dead ("martyred/Shaheed") anti-Government fighters primarily from Jabhat Al Nusra (JAN) and videos of attacks on Syrian Army (SAA) positions. In addition propaganda photos of his colleagues posing with children were also posted.

On June 1, 2015, his former employer Janam TV posted a report (Malayalam script), stating that he had joined Al Qaeda. This post examines the reactions of his friends and families to his activities, which continued until August 2015 on Facebook, where his screen name was "Thahir Hasan".

NAME: Abu Thahir
AGE:   24
FROM:   Olavakkodu in Palakkad district, Kerala
OCCUPATIONS : DTP operator, journalist
STATUS: Called up family from Doha to say he was going to Turkey; believed to be in Syria.


“We were shocked when the Malayalam channel reported it. He had even been in regular touch with some friends, while some had noticed that his FB posts were inflammatory, no one gave any real attention to them. The first thing most of us did after the report was to unfriend him,” said one of his friends wishing to remain anonymous.


Thahir was in constant contact with his family until September 2014. It is unclear if the calls were from Syria or Turkey. In January 2015 he called his mother Ayishumma for a brief conversation, telling her he was in Turkey. This may or may not be true. It is possible that he may have crossed the porous Syrian-Turkish border as such trips are not uncommon for jihadis fighting in Northern Syria.

 “Umma (mother),” Abu Thahir told her, “We will meet in heaven. I don’t want to return home. I am in Turkey.”

His diabetic mother lives with Thahir's two daughters, one of them married, in a colony of BPL (Below Poverty Line or financially disadvantaged) families at Olavakkodu, in Palakkad district. Their home is only half-built and stands on a 4-cent plot. Her husband Abdurahiman has been working as a salesman in Saudi Arabia for the past seven years.

“In 2012, Abu joined the Palakkad bureau of a regional newspaper. He worked there for six months, but chose to leave. He went to Doha in Qatar in October 2013. He joined a firm as an accountant in December,” the mother said.

Family sources have said that the family is "shattered" by the news of their son's joining JAN. His mother refuses to discuss him. Their home is regularly visited by police in mufti.  

"You media people have already concluded that my son joined the ISIS. You know everything," whimpered Ayeshummal to a local journalist who got a chance to meet her. "It seems like the whole world has every information about my son, barring us. You won't understand the anguish of a mother who hasn't met her son for long," she added.

In September 2014, Thahir was scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia from Doha to perform Umrah. Abdurahiman (a relative) came to the Jeddah airport to receive him, but he didn’t turn up. For two days, the family says, Abdurahiman kept waiting at the airport, before he had to return to Riyadh.

During his time in Palakkad, Thahir was a member of Popular Front of India (PFI), a  controversial right wing Muslim outfit that once attracted attention for sporting military uniforms during parades.

His comments on the domestic politics of India includes references to "apolitical" Jihadis in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. In one of his social media posts he compares Indian PM Narendra Modi to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. He also expressed hope that more Indians will join  The above post translates to :

Still there is hope, a group of people from India will join us in Jihad, they will chain the Indian leaders (present government) and will take to the streets. Some of these true jihadis are there in Kashmir and in some other parts of India. They don't have any politics.

Although described as an "ordinary PFI activist", his mother was anxious that Thahir could be radicalized and this was one of the motivations for sending him to the Gulf. Little did she know the gravity of her mistake.


Former colleagues have tried unsuccessfully to contact him. Thahir worked as an intern with Malayalam daily Thejas in Kozhikode. He did not complete his internship. Chekkutty N.P, Editor of Thejas, says he has a vague memory of the youth who, after his graduation, joined as an intern with the daily four years ago. 

"He didn't complete the internship. His family was poor and he was desperate for money. In Thejas, we provide only food and lodging for the interns. There is no salary during the internship period. So he was with us in Kozhikode (the head office of Thejas) for only two months. After that I heard he got a job in a private company in Palakkad. Later he left for Doha."

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