Neighbours say Jaipur engineer held for IS links was shy, quiet, and a caring husband

Neighbours say Jaipur engineer held for IS links was shy, quiet, and a caring husband
Photo Credit: PTI
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The door to the apartment on the fifth floor was locked. On the ground floor, a terse notice pasted next to the elevator read: “All residents and corporate officials living in the building are urgently requested to submit their identity proof and copy of their flat allotment.” Dated December 11, the noted was signed by the society of Jaipur’s Jawahar Enclave.

These were only the tell-tale signs a day after Mohammad Sirajuddin, a 33-year-old engineer with Indian Oil Corporation, was apprehended from his rented home by the Rajasthan unit of the Anti-Terrorism Squad for allegedly instigating youth to join the Islamic State.

Sirajuddin, who is from Gulbarga in Karnataka, was arrested on Thursday under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967. It was the first arrest in Rajasthan on charges of propagation of the Islamic State’s ideology.

While Sirajuddi will remain in police custody till December 21, police officers said they are conducting a detailed investigation of his online activity. He is alleged to have publicised the militant group’s ideology through “hundreds of social media websites”.

Young father

Sirajuddin shared the fifth floor of his Jaipur home with another Indian Oil Corporation employee and a middle-aged couple. At noon on Saturday, the newspapers lay unclaimed outside the door of Sirajuddin’s colleague at the public sector unit. He was unavailable for comment.

Across the hall, the middle-aged couple who have been Sirajuddin’s neighbours for the last 18 months struck a sympathetic note. They said Sirajuddin’s wife Yasmeen had moved back to her parents’ home in Bengaluru in April after complications in early pregnancy.

“They were our neighbours and one forms an attachment,” said Neelam Gupta, a housewife. “Just a few days ago, I met Sirajuddin in the corridor and asked about his wife. He said he would bring her back by January.”

Gupta said she was baffled by her neighbour’s arrest. “I do not understand how he got into this mess,” she said. “When I saw Siraj flanked by policemen on television and read what the newspapers are reporting on him, I felt sorry. They are very young. Yasmeen is just around 26 and gave birth to a boy around Diwali. This will ruin the family.”

Indian Oil Corporation owns two apartments on the same floor. Sirajuddin had moved into one of the flats in April last year with his wife and two-year-old son Ubair. He had been living alone since Yasmeen and Ubair left for Karnataka in April.

Meghna Gupta, Neelam’s daughter, said Sirajuddin’s parents and Yasmeen’s mother had visited the couple over the past year. The Indian Express reported that Yasmeen is a computer applications scientist, Sirajuddin’s father is a retired agriculture department official who lives in Gulbarga with his wife, and Sirajuddin’s younger brother is also an engineer.

Before moving to Jaipur as assistant manager (sales) at IOC, Sirajuddin had worked at the company’s Bangalore office for three years. He had graduated in engineering from Gulbarga, before doing his masters in Coimbatore.

Surprise development

Neelam Gupta described Sirajuddin as polite, shy, and a caring husband. “Yasmeen often got abdominal pains at the onset of her second pregnancy,” she said. “I saw Sirajuddin helping out in the kitchen, and cooking for her. His mother-in-law had told me that he is reserved around women and would be uncomfortable with a female cook in the house while he lived alone after Yasmeen left. I then helped him find a male cook.”

Gupta said she found about her neighbour’s arrest from the television.  “On Thursday, the cook said Sirajuddin had turned him away when he went to the house in the evening,” she said. “A couple of hours later, we found out from television news that he had been arrested for supporting terrorist activities. It was shocking.”

KN Buch, the secretary of Jawahar Enclave residential society, denied having any interaction with Sirajuddin or his family. Buch said the allotment to companies – apart from IOC, several government banks and insurance companies own apartments in the building – made it difficult to keep track of individual tenants’ identities.

Online recruitment

Alok Tripathi, Additional Director General of Police (Anti-Terrorism Squad), said that intelligence officials have evidence of Sirajuddin being active in spreading the ideology of the Islamic State across social media platforms.

“He had not only gained access to an inner circle of those who believe in the ideology internationally, but was carrying out propaganda and recruitment for Islamic State on hundreds of accounts of Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram and other sites, based on selecting persons as per their fervour for this ideology,” said Tripathi.

He declined to comment on whether Sirajuddin had persuaded anyone to travel to any area of active conflict in Syria or other countries, or if he had plans to travel anywhere to serve the militant group in combat.

On Friday, the police said it had seized several issues of Dabiq, the Islamic State’s monthly propaganda magazine, from Sirajuddin’s home. “He was not just accessing these items regularly, but prescribing and making these available to others, which constitutes propaganda of a banned organisation,” Tipathi said. He added that security agencies have made requests to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram for more information on Sirajuddin’s online activities.

Sirajuddin’s family is yet to make a public statement on his arrest. “We are not aware of anything” his mother said on Friday.