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India unlikely to accept back four women who converted to Islam and joined the Islamic State

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Four Muslim women, who migrated to Afghanistan from Kerala, India, in 2016 to join the Islamic terror outfit known as the Islamic State (ISIS), will not get permission to return to India.

“One line of thought was to allow them to come back and become an approver in the cases here. However, their interview revealed that they are highly radicalised. The France model may be followed and the Afghanistan authorities can be requested to put them on trial there,” stated a high ranking Indian official.

Who are these women?

The four women have been identified as Nimisha, alias Fathima Isa, Sonia Sebastian, alias Ayisha, Raffeala, and Merrin Jacob, alias Mariyam.

Sebastian, an engineering graduate, married a Muslim named Abdul Rashid Abdulla in 2011 and embraced Islam. The couple started holding secret classes supporting the ideology of the Islamic State and jihad during the last part of Ramadan in July 2015, and travelled to Afghanistan with their daughter in 2016.

Mariyam, married to Bestin Vincent, and Nimisha, married to Vincent’s brother Bexon, escaped to Afghanistan, converted to Islam, and were recruited into the jihad terrorist group.

Reffeala was married to a Muslim physician from Kerala’s Kasargod and was allegedly involved in the August 2020 jihad attack in Eastern Afghanistan’s Jalalabad prison.

The four women subsequently reached the Islamic State through different paths, and were recruited as ISIS fighters, but lost their husbands in different terror attacks over the years.

Abdul Rashid Abdulla, the terror mentor 

It has been reported that Ayisha’s husband, Abdul Rashid Abdulla, was the central figure in the chain of events. A resident of Kasargod, Abdul was an Islamic state mastermind in the region. Abdul has recruited numerous promising and qualified Muslim youth or Muslim converts from Kerala for jihad, and has helped them join the Islamic state.

Abdul had also set up a Telegram group to reach out to larger groups of Keralites, and routinely shared audio-video messages promoting jihad among its subscribers. This Telegram group was highly active in 2015.

Together with his wife, Ayisha, Abdul had conducted several meetings and gatherings to further the cause of ISIS across Kerala and enroll more and more people in it, aiding the Islamic State’s deep and widespread penetration in the Southern state.

The Indian National Investigation Agency has acknowledged his contribution in leading youngsters to the path of jihad, and identified Abdul Rashid Abdulla as an ISIS mastermind.

Committed to jihad down to the bone

After the deaths of their husbands, in 2019, these Islamic state jihadis surrendered to the local authorities in Afghanistan. The Indian agencies in Kabul had interviewed these women soon after their surrender, and were astonished by the ferocity of their commitment to jihad, as was abundantly clear throughout everything they said.

It is all the more unnerving to witness these women being steeped in Islamic jihad doctrine, because three of them were converted to Islam far later in their lives. Though they have expressed a desire to distance themselves from the terror state and return to India, their commitment to jihad is unshaken. This is an indication of the precision with which Islamic State operatives program and condition fresh converts while recruiting them to the jihad terror outfit.

In their video interview, Khorasan Files: The Journey of Indian ‘Islamic State’ Widows, these women reveal that they had come to join the Islamic State and live a life governed by the Islamic laws, surrounded by the Islamic ideology and culture. However, they were disillusioned to find that the reality was far from what they had been promised, including the right to perform Namaz (Islam’s daily prayers) at mosques. They have appealed to be allowed to return to India and live with the families of their Muslim husbands.

What’s next?

At a press conference in April 2021, Ahmad Zia Saraj, the head of the National Directorate of Security in Afghanistan, confirmed that 408 terrorists of the Islamic State were presently lodged in Afghanistan prisons. They hail from thirteen countries and include these four Indian women, as well as two Bangladeshis, two Dhivehin, sixteen Chinese, and 299 Pakistanis.

He added that the Afghan government had initiated talks with the representatives of these countries to have their prisoners deported. Afghan officials in Delhi, however, have maintained silence on the situation. Senior officials in Kabul have indicated that they have yet to hear from their Indian counterparts on what India plans to do next concerning these four women.

As per sources, Indian officials have not arrived at a consensus regarding the return of these women, which in itself suggests that the possibility of the Indian government accepting their return is essentially non-existent.

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