Kids Lured To Jihad In Kashmir22 May 2010
Baramullah: Abdul Rashid Sheikh cuts an incongruous picture carrying an AK-47. He is 12 years old. And sitting by his grandfather at their one-storeyed house in Tantrey Mohalla in Pattan, he declares, “I wanted to fight the Indian Army in Kashmir.’’ Abdul set out to be a child soldier for the militant groups active in the Kashmir Valley. Brainwashed about the glory of ‘jihad’, he was among six children, all aged 12 and 13, who left their homes in the first week of May to cross the Line of Control over to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. It’s a new trend in the Valley. The six - Mohammed Yaqoob Bhat, Mohammed Saleem Sheikh, Omar Sultan Mir, Ishtiyaq Ahmed Tantrey and Shariq Ahmed Mir, apart from Abdul - were caught by the security forces from Kupwara district on May 9. All live in the same locality in Pattan. Abdul has no idea how far PoK is from Kupwara. “We went on our own and wanted to go to PoK for arms training and fight the Indian Army,’’ he told Express, adjusting his phiran while smiling sheepishly. (Sources said the children were lured into militancy by some overground workers of a militant group. Police are cagey about revealing details to the media.) Chirpy Mohammed Yaqoob Bhat takes over the narration from Rashid: “We first boarded a bus to Sopore, then to Handwara and then to Kupwara. In Kupwara, we stayed overnight in a mosque.’’ The Imam of the mosque spotted them and asked them what they were up to, and the children candidly told him they were going to an arms training camp across the LoC. The Imam promptly informed the police who arrived and brought them back to Baramulla. Senior officers questioned the kids, who revealed the name(s) of their recruiters. Parents were summoned, affidavits were signed and the children sent back home. “We told our parents that we are going out to play cricket,’’ said Bhat. The children had no idea how many days it would take them to trek to PoK. Bhat started out wearing his chappals. The group had a total of Rs 200 in their pockets. Asked whether somebody had instigated them, the boys replied in the negative. There was no problem at school as well. Now that they are back, the school is “punishing’’ them by shutting its gates to them, and Abdul’s father Farooq Ahmed Sheikh is angry. “By God’s grace, the police spared the children, but we never expected this from the school.’’ Efforts to reach the school management proved futile. A parent of one of the six children, speaking on condition of anonymity, alleged that ever since the children were brought back from Kupwara, intelligence agencies have been harassing them, frequently calling in the children for questioning. The six families are also facing another problem: other residents are taunting them. “They now look at us with suspicion,’’ said one of them. This incident, the second of its kind, has set alarm bells ringing for the security forces. “This is a new trend we are seeing. This is a clear violation of the Geneva Convention and I hope it does not increase,’’ IGP, Kashmir zone, Farooq Ahmed told Express. In January this year, eight youngsters from Shopian, all aged 15, were caught at Pampore while they were on their way to PoK. Denying that the six children and their families are being harassed, IGP Ahmed said the police have the names of the people who lured them to the path of jihad. “The children gave us some names and and we are looking for them. To me it looks like the instigator impressed the kids with an AK-47 and the kids thought they could all become Rambos,’’ he said. Back home, Rashid and Bhat keep busy playing cricket, watching the brook by their homes.