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NIA: Manila woman turned to religion and drew close to ISIS terrorist group after father’s death

NIA: Manila woman turned to religion and drew close to ISIS terrorist group after father’s death

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india; philippines; sudan;

While Hamidon was a devout Christian throughout childhood, her father’s death in 2001 reportedly had a massive impact on her life. “With passage of time she began getting attracted to the religion of her father and soon began practising and reading about Islam,” the officer said.

Between 2014 and 2016, among the most popular online groups of Islamic State (IS) sympathisers was “Islam Q&A”, a WhatsApp group ostensibly used to get answers to all contentious questions about Islam. Run by a Filipino woman in her thirties, Karen Aisha Hamidon, the group was often recommended by IS’s online army to potential recruits.

Investigation by the NIA has now found out that during the period, the unassuming former call centre executive from Manila managed to convince close to 50 Indians to join the Islamic State. Not more than half-a-dozen, however, managed to or attempted to sneak into Syria, the agency has learnt.

While the investigating agency has tracked down youths from across the country with alleged IS links, most remained online soldiers, harbouring desire to fight alongside the terror outfit but either lacking the courage or the means to go to Syria, the investigators found out.

One was even found undergoing treatment for last-stage cancer, a source said.

An NIA team returned from Manila last month after interrogating Hamidon, who is lodged in a jail there on charges of “incitement to rebellion”. While she has given details of all 50 or so online entities that she came in contact with, and the NIA is already pursuing various leads, her own story is no less an example of how the IS is as much a challenge online as it is terrestrial.

Hamidon was born to a Muslim father and Christian mother in Manila. Both her parents worked in the police department and her elder brother is with Philippines Air Force, NIA sources said.

Hamidon came from a well-off family, and received the best of education, graduating in Psychology from a college in Manila, an NIA officer said. While Hamidon was a devout Christian throughout childhood, her father’s death in 2001 reportedly had a massive impact on her life. “With passage of time she began getting attracted to the religion of her father and soon began practising and reading about Islam,” the officer said.

After graduation, Hamidon worked at a call centre between 2007 and 2012. Fluent in English, she started with discussing Islam online,” the officer said. “Islamic State’s activities in Syria, and its buzz online, were at their height, and she soon got sucked into it.”

With her knowledge of Islam and her “online charm”, she soon became a popular figure on IS chat forums. Her popularity also got her four husbands and enough money to survive without a job. “She married four different people online and received ‘haq mehr’ (a kind of dowry given by the groom to the bride). Her marriage was consummated only with one of them – one Abu Sheriffa, an operative of the local terror outfit Ansar-ul-Khalifa,” the NIA officer said.

As the NIA began crackdown on IS networks in India, and several Indians began to be deported from countries such as Turkey and Sudan while trying to cross over to Syria, investigators found out that many Indian recruits were in touch with Hamidon. “Several recruits we have questioned said they had a great desire to seek answers to many unanswered questions on Islam, and Hamidon had ready answers,” an NIA official said.

Among them were recruits such as Tamil Nadu techie Mohammed Naseer, Indian Oil employee from Rajasthan Mohammed Sirajuddin, a teenager from Pune and online entity “Yusha Kashmiri” from “Sharjah”. Kashmiri was later tracked down by the NIA in a J&K hospital, where he was undergoing treatment for last-stage cancer. He was let off after questioning.

Based on information provided by India, the Filipino National Bureau of Investigation arrested Hamidon on October 11, 2017. India subsequently sent a judicial request to get access to her. Hamidon has told the NIA that she never received instructions from IS leaders and was a self-appointed recruiter for the group, sources said.

The NIA has identified her as “one of the most active ISIS operative based in Philippines between 2014 and December 2015”.

In a statement, the agency said, “She was running different Facebook pages, WhatsApp groups and Telegram channels for motivating, radicalising and instigating her online associates from different countries, including India, to fight on behalf of ISIS in conflict zones. She was also in telephonic contact with many other Indian nationals.”

According to NIA officials, Hamidon has now come to realise the pitfalls of her online adventure. “She told us that she feels very lonely. She said, ‘I was so popular online – almost everyone came to me for answers, advice. Now no one meets me here.’ Her family has severed ties with her. In all these months, her mother has visited her only once — right after her arrest.”

Source: Indian Express

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