New Delhi: Once the family fought for India’s freedom from the yoke of colonial power has now been tainted for giving birth to a ‘Gaddar’ a terrorist. Intelligence agencies were shocked to learn that the elusive head of of the Indian branch of al-Qaida had been born in a family of freedom fighters in Sambhal, less than 200km from the national capital. On Sunday, Sanaul Haq, 40, was unmasked as Maulana Asim Umar, the head of AQIS (al-Qaida in Indian Subcontinent) and one of the most wanted men on the security forces’ list. Details of his life as a troublesome son of an Indian family are now trickling out.
TOI reported on Thursday that the most important outcome of interrogating the apprehended Mohammed Asif, training and recruitment chief of AQIS, was the revelation of Haq as the elusive head of the dreaded organization.
Shocked perhaps, Haq’s family in Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh, however, wasn’t surprised. “For us, he died six years ago when the local intelligence agents told us he had joined a terrorist organization,” his 70-year-old mother said on Friday.
In 2009, intelligence agents had landed at the house in Deepa Sarai village in Sambhal to inform the family that their son, missing for 14 years at the time and presumed dead, was alive and working for terrorist organisations Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and al-Qaida. A bitter Irfan-ul-Haq, now 75, had promptly inserted advertisements in the newspaper disowning his son. The news was galling to a family whose forebears had fought the British during the freedom struggle.
“Sanaul was always fond of books, but one day he announced he wanted to study the Quran and Arabic at a madrassa,” recalled the old man. The young student of Sambhal College explained to his family that if he studied to become a hafiz, they would reach heaven. The unconvinced father tried to dissuade the youngster, but he remained sullen and adamant.
Things came to a head one day in 1995 when he demanded Rs 1 lakh. “He wanted the money to go to Mecca for higher studies,” said Irfan. “I was taken aback. I asked him to find a job to support the family or study in the local college, but he insisted he wanted to leave India. His uncle even beat him. We were all scared for him,” the father added.
Their fears weren’t unfounded. A few days later, Haq vanished. The family lodged a missing complaint but the son could not be located. His mother took him for dead and the family moved on. Until 14 years later, he resurfaced as a man in the ken of security forces.
Details of the AQIS head’s transformation from a small-town student to the confidant of Osama bin Laden’s successor Ayman al-Zawahiri were revealed to DCP (special cell) Pramod Khushwah’s team by Mohammed Asif during interrogation. It was the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) that had succeeded two decades ago in winning over Haq, talking him into leaving his village for Kashmir and then for POK.
“Umar discussed his hizrat (journey of separation) with me one day,” the terrorist told his questioners. “Umar told me that he had been among the first lot of locals from Sambhal recruited by HuM under the guidance of Pakistan’s ISI. He told me about having attended training in a province near Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in POK and of switching from HuM to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Later, he joined the ranks of al-Qaida.”
Haq soon earned the trust of Zawahiri, and two years ago when the al-Qaida chief decided to form AQIS, he appointed the Indian as the amir of the new outfit. Along with the post came a new name, Maulana Asim Umar. With the disclosure, the pieces are finally falling into place about Haq’s fascination for Mecca and Arabic and his disappearance from Sambhal.
Today, both the family and the intelligence rue that the Hindi Haq learnt in school was put to use in translating Zawahiri’s provocative Arabic message in videos that were widely circulated to entice gullible young Indians like Haq himself into a life of violence.