A low pressure area over south Andaman Sea and adjoining Bay of Bengal was “very likely” to concentrate into a depression in the next 48 hours and intensify further before moving towards the Tamil Nadu coast, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Saturday. Under its influence, various parts in southern states were likely to receive rainfall starting December 1, the IMD said in a series of tweets.
“A Low Pressure Area lies over South Andaman Sea adj SE (south east) Bay of Bengal and Equatorial Indian Ocean. It is very likely to concentrate into a depression during next 48 hours and likely to intensify further thereafter,” it said. It is likely to move nearly westwards and reach south Tamil Nadu coast around December 2, it said.
Under its influence, scattered to widespread rainfall activity was “very likely” over Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Karaikal, Kerala, Mahe, Lakshadweep, south coastal Andhra Pradesh and south Rayalaseema on Tuesday and Wednesday, the weather office said. IMD also forecast isolated heavy to very heavy rainfall with moderate thunderstorm and lightning over Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Karaikal during this period.
Isolated heavy falls with moderate thunderstorm and lightning was also very likely over south coastal Andhra Pradesh during December 1 and 2 and over Rayalseema and Lakshadweep area on Wednesday, it added.
“Once again, the evil hands of global arrogance were stained with the blood of the mercenary usurper Zionist regime,” (a term referring to Israel), President Hassan Rouhani said in a statement, according to state TV.
“The assassination of martyr Fakhrizadeh shows our enemies’ despair and the depth of their hatred… His martyrdom will not slow down our achievements.”
Hossein Dehghan, military adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vowed to “strike” the perpetrators like thunder.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on the international community to “condemn this act of state terror”. “Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today,” he said in a tweet.
Iran’s UN ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi said the killing was a clear violation of international law, designed to wreak havoc in the region.
Mr Zarif blamed Israel for the attack saying it had “serious indications of Israeli role”.
Fakhrizadeh’s name was specifically mentioned in Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s presentation about Iran’s nuclear programme in April 2018.
There has been no comment from Israel on the killing. The New York Times quotes three US officials, including two intelligence officials, as saying Israel was behind the attack.
What’s the context?
News of the killing comes amid fresh concern about the increased amount of enriched uranium that the country is producing. Enriched uranium is a vital component for both civil nuclear power generation and military nuclear weapons.
A 2015 deal with six world powers had placed limits on its production, but since US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, Iran has been deliberately reneging on its agreements.
Joe Biden has pledged to re-engage with Iran when he becomes US president in January, despite long-standing opposition from Israel.
The former head of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), John Brennan, said the killing of the scientist was a “criminal” and “highly reckless” act that risks inflaming conflict in the region.
In a series of tweets, he said Fakhrizadeh’s death “risks lethal retaliation and a new round of regional conflict”.
Mr Brennan added that he did not know “whether a foreign government authorised or carried out the murder of Fakhrizadeh”.
What happened to Mohsen Fakhrizadeh?
In a statement on Friday, Iran’s defence ministry said: “Armed terrorists targeted a vehicle carrying Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, head of the ministry’s research and innovation organisation.
“After a clash between the terrorists and his bodyguards, Mr Fakhrizadeh was severely injured and rushed to hospital.
“Unfortunately, the medical team’s efforts to save him were unsuccessful and minutes ago he passed away.”
Iranian media reports said the attackers opened fire on the scientist in his car.
Fars news agency earlier reported there was a car explosion in Absard town, with witnesses reporting that “three to four individuals, who are said to have been terrorists, were killed”.
It is not clear what happened to the gunmen after the attack.
Why was he targeted?
By Paul Adams, BBC Diplomatic Correspondent
As head of the ministry of defence’s research and innovation organisation, Fakhrizadeh was clearly still a key player. Hence Benjamin Netanyahu’s warning, two years ago, to “remember his name”.
Since Iran started breaching its commitments under the terms of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the country has moved ahead rapidly, building stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and enriching to a purity above the level permitted under the deal.
Iranian officials have always said such moves are reversible, but developments in research and development are harder to eradicate.
“We cannot go backwards,” Iran’s former ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said recently.
If Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was the key player Israel alleges, then his death could represent someone’s effort to put the brakes on Iran’s forward momentum.
With the US president-elect, Joe Biden, talking about taking Washington back into the deal with Iran, the assassination could also be aimed at complicating any future negotiations.
Who was Mohsen Fakhrizadeh?
Fakhrizadeh was the most renowned Iranian nuclear scientist and a senior officer of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
He has long been spoken about by Western security sources as extremely powerful and instrumental in Iran’s nuclear programme.
According to secret documents obtained by Israel in 2018, he led a programme to create nuclear weapons.
At the time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he identified Fakhrizedeh as the head scientist in the programme, and urged people to “remember that name”.
A professor of physics, Fakhrizadeh is said to have led Project Amad, the alleged covert programme that was established in 1989 to research the potential for building a nuclear bomb. It was shut down in 2003, according to the IAEA, though Mr Netanyahu said the documents retrieved in 2018 showed Fakhrizadeh led a programme which secretly continued Project Amad’s work.
The IAEA has long wanted to speak to him as part of its investigations into Iran’s nuclear programme.
Suspicions that Iran was using the programme as a cover to develop a nuclear bomb prompted the EU, US and UN to impose crippling sanctions in 2010.
The 2015 deal that Iran reached with the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany saw it limit its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.
Since President Trump abandoned the deal, it has floundered. Earlier this month, the IAEA said Iran had more than 12 times the amount of enriched uranium than permitted under the deal.
Meanwhile, tensions between the US and Iran have escalated, peaking in January with America’s assassination of Gen Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds force.
A 36-year-old man and his associate were arrested for allegedly posing as officials of the UK tax department and duping several UK-based citizens through a fake call centre in central Delhi’s Rajinder Nagar area, police said on Wednesday. The accused, Parvinder Singh, was operating the call centre illegally for the last one-and-a-half years in partnership with his brother-in-law Pankaj Kapoor (40), they said.
They had not obtained any license or permission from the competent authority and had set up their office on the sixth floor of a building at Rajinder Place, police said. Kapoor was a property dealer before he partnered with Singh, they said. An action was taken against them after police were informed about the fake income tax centre on November 7. On reaching the spot, 19 people, including six women, were found working on their laptops and systems. They were engaged in making and receiving calls via internet and Singh was supervising their activities. When questioned, he could not give a satisfactory reply, said Sanjay Bhatia, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central).
Later, police found that the employees at the call centre posed themselves as officials of the UK tax department and approached UK-based citizens through VOIP calls by gaining access to their data via various online websites, he said. Police said that this way, the accused were causing wrongful loss to government exchequer and cheating people based in abroad. A case was registered in this regard at Prasad Nagar police station and based on further investigation, Singh was arrested in the case while 19 others who worked at the call centre under him were interrogated and released after being questioned, the DCP said.
Singh’s associate was also arrested in connection with the case, he said. “During interrogation, Singh disclosed that being a partner, Kapoor also regularly received huge cash share of the cheated amount. The two targeted people after gaining access to their mobile numbers through online websites and social media platforms. “They started the operations of their call centre with around 20 seats and recruited employees through advertisements in newspapers and other platforms,” Bhatia said.
The accused was running the call centre on the pretext of operating a tour and travel agency and the employees worked in shifts according to the UK-based timings. They called up their potential targets in the UK and asked them to pay their due taxes and received the cheated amount in a fake account created by them for the purpose, he said. Initially, they contacted the account holders and even threatened them about the consequences if they do not transfer money in the accounts, following which he received payments. The payment was later converted into Bitcoin through a person who gave cash to the accused after deducting his commission, the DCP said.
Singh also disclosed that one Sourabh is an accomplice of Kapoor, who through Havala and other means, brought cheated money into India for Kapoor and him, he said. Police recovered cash worth Rs 19,64,400, 32 laptops, five mobile phones, head phones and various other items from the fake call centre.
Although the full trial data has yet to be published, the companies say there have been no serious safety concerns. But they did notice headaches and fatigue in about 2% of volunteers given the vaccine.
There is also evidence that the vaccine protects against severe Covid – but this is based on only 10 cases.
However it’s still unclear how long protection from the vaccine lasts and if it stops people transmitting the virus.
In the trial, 42% of all participants are from diverse ethnic backgrounds and 41% are aged between 56 and 85 years old.
The trial, which is testing people at 150 sites in the US, Germany, Turkey, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina, will collect data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine for another two years.
The companies behind it expect to produce up to 50 million doses of the vaccine this year and up to 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.
The UK has pre-ordered 40 million doses and should get 10 million by the end of the year.
It has also ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is planning to release data from its phase three trial soon.
There are hundreds of vaccines in development around the world, and about a dozen in the final stages of testing, known as phase three.
The first two to show any results – made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna – both use an experimental approach, called mRNA, which involves injecting part of the virus’s genetic code into the body to train the immune system.
Antibodies and T-cells are then made by the body to fight the coronavirus.
Delhi health minister Satyendra Jain on Monday said the national capital is past the third peak of the Covid-19 wave and denied rumours of another lockdown in the city-state.
“There is no need to be worried about absolute numbers. I can definitely say that the peak of the third wave in Delhi is over. The first wave came in June, the second wave came in September and the third wave in November. Slowly, numbers will start coming down,” Jain told reporters at a briefing.
Asked to explain the rationale behind the claim, Jain pointed to the positivity rate in the capital during the previous peaks which he said was the main indicator instead of the absolute case numbers. “In June, the weekly average positivity rate was 37%. In the second peak, we had positivity rates of 12%, 13%, 14%… in the third wave, the positivity rate touched a maximum of 15% and has started declining,” the AAP minister said.
Jain attributed the sharp spike in Delhi’s caseload to increase in the number of tests. “If the positivity rate goes up with the increasing number of tests, then it is a cause for worry. If the positivity rate is less, then we should be cautious that’s all,” he said.
Quoting from the serological surveys, the minister said roughly 50 lakh people in Delhi had already been diagnosed as Covid-positive two-and-a-half months ago.
“Delhi had conducted a sero survey in which 25% people were found to be positive. After that, the next two surveys also showed 25% people as positive. The scientists said cases which are three to four months old have falling levels of anti-bodies and, therefore, cannot be detected. This means that two-and-a-half months ago, 25% people in Delhi or 50 lakh people were already positive. The rising numbers we see are because of more tests being done,” Jain said, essentially de-linking the absolute number of cases from judging whether a peak has been reached.
The minister said Delhi is conducting 3,000 tests per million, adding that no other state has matched these numbers.
On the city’s rising mortality rate, Jain said, “When winters begin, mortality rate among old aged people does increase. If you check the data, overall deaths are not increasing. You take the monthly death figures, and compare the same to that in the previous years month-to-month, and they are not increasing. If a person is sick and also has Covid, the death is attributed to Covid,” he said.
On average, more than 900 people a day are dying with the virus, and the overall death toll is now at least 246,210.
The Trump administration struck an optimistic tone on Friday, saying they hoped to distribute 20 million doses of an approved vaccine in December, and for each month after that – although vaccines have yet to get official approval.
President Donald Trump again ruled out putting the US into lockdown, but many states are introducing their own restrictions as fast rising cases threaten to overwhelm their healthcare systems.
How worried are the state governors?
Both Michigan and Washington State have seen covid cases double in recent weeks.
Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer said the state was “at the precipice” and could soon suffer 1,000 coronavirus-related deaths a week unless action is taken.
“Today, Sunday, November 15, 2020, is the most dangerous public health day in the last 100 years of our state’s history,” Governor Jay Inslee said.
“A pandemic is raging in our state. Left unchecked, it will assuredly result in grossly overburdened hospitals and morgues; and keep people from obtaining routine but necessary medical treatment for non-Covid conditions.”
California on Friday became the second state, after Texas, to hit one million Covid cases, prompting local officials to hit pause on reopening efforts.
In other developments:
Republican governors in Iowa, Ohio, West Virginia, Utah and North Dakota issued mask mandates
Ohio’s governor threatened to shut bars and gyms if the outbreak worsens
In Minnesota, bars and restaurants must shut by 22:00 local time
Wisconsin and Nevada residents were asked to stay at home for two weeks to avoid a return to restrictions
The Democratic governors of California, Oregon and Washington State issued a travel advisory, discouraging non-essential travel and requesting people to quarantine post-travel
New York ordered bars and restaurants that serve alcohol to close by 22:00 local time; gatherings are limited to 10 people; the city could also close schools on Monday
The city of Chicago has a stay-at-home advisory, and non-essential businesses must close by 23:00 local time; gatherings are limited to 10 people
The city of Detroit moved all students to remote learning due to the virus spikes
Indiana halted reopening and limited social gatherings and events
Maryland ordered restaurants to reduce indoor capacity to 50%
Concerns as another holiday approaches
Outbreaks in the spring and summer followed US schools’ spring breaks and the national Labor Day holiday weekend – and now experts are concerned that as Thanksgiving approaches on 26 November, the spikes will again worsen.
That is the situation playing out across the border in Canada, where people celebrated their Thanksgiving a month ago. The country’s top doctors say that the holiday is partly why cities and provinces are now seeing record infections.
Data shows that the majority of the US has rising “community spread” of the virus – situations where people get the virus without any known contact with a sick person.
Indoor gatherings pose a large risk to spreading the virus, and as the holiday centres around eating together, wearing masks is not feasible.
One analysis from Georgia Institute of Technology researchers found the risk of having a Covid-positive individual at even a gathering of 10 people could be close to 100% in the worst-hit parts of the US.
Back in October, Dr Fauci cautioned that the “sacred” American tradition of gathering together at Thanksgiving was “a risk”.
“You may have to bite the bullet and sacrifice that social gathering, unless you’re pretty certain that the people that you’re dealing with are not infected,” Dr Fauci told CBS News.
The Democratic challenger said he was feeling “very good” about Pennsylvania, although the campaign of Republican President Trump said it was “declaring victory” in the state on the count of “all legal ballots”.
Senior Trump campaign aide Jason Miller said: “By the end of this week it will be clear to the entire nation that President Trump and Vice-President Pence will be elected for another four years.”
Can Trump still win?
Mr Biden has the edge in the race to accumulate the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. The Democrat has 243 votes, while the Republican has 214.
In the US election, voters decide state-level contests rather than a single, national one. Each US state gets a certain number of electoral college votes partly based on its population and there are a total of 538 up for grabs.
If Mr Trump does lose Wisconsin (10 Electoral College votes), he must win Georgia (16 votes), North Carolina (15), Pennsylvania (20) and either Arizona (11) or Nevada (6) to prevail.
The president has a one-point lead in both North Carolina and Georgia and the two candidates were neck-and-neck in Nevada with most votes counted. The Trump campaign is hopeful it can still take Arizona.
Mr Biden has a three-point advantage in the once reliably conservative sunbelt state with nearly 90% of votes counted, and CBS has categorised it as a “likely” win for the Democrat.
But the state’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey said in a statement on Wednesday that “the results have shifted greatly hour by hour” with hundreds of thousands of votes outstanding.
What legal challenges are afoot?
The Trump campaign said the president would formally request a Wisconsin recount, citing “irregularities in several Wisconsin counties”.
Incomplete results indicate the margin between Mr Trump and Mr Biden in Wisconsin is less than one percentage point, which allows a candidate to seek a recount.
The campaign also filed a lawsuit in Michigan to stop counting there because it contended it had been denied “meaningful access” to observe the opening of ballots and the tally.
In Detroit, Michigan, police were called on Wednesday afternoon to guard the doors to a vote-counting facility as some protesters outside demanded access to monitor the process. According to the Detroit Free Press, there were already some 200 people observing the vote inside the building.
Officials were seen covering up the windows to the TCF Center, where postal ballots were being tabulated.
The Trump campaign also filed two lawsuits in Pennsylvania to halt all vote counting “until there is meaningful transparency”.
The president has a three-point lead in the Keystone state, but many thousands of votes remain to be counted.
Mr Trump is also suing Georgia to halt the vote count there. His campaign said a Republican poll observer in the southern state had witnessed 53 late absentee ballots being illegally added to a pile of votes in Chatham County.
Mr Trump won Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania in his against-all-odds 2016 victory.
In the early hours of Wednesday, he announced from the White House that he had won his re-election bid and was prepared to take the matter to the Supreme Court.
The Trump campaign is asking Republican donors to help fund legal challenges.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said: “The fight’s not over. We’re in it.”
Mr Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, tweeted asking supporters to contribute $5 to help pay for litigation that could “stretch on for weeks”.
Biden campaign senior legal adviser Bob Bauer said there were no grounds for Mr Trump to invalidate lawful ballots.
What were the other key results?
Mr Biden’s hopes of a decisive early victory on election night were thwarted as Mr Trump defied pollsters’ predictions by over-performing in key battlegrounds.
The president held several important states, including Texas, Ohio and Iowa.
He also comfortably won his adopted home state of Florida, the most hotly fought battleground of the night, despite two visits there by Mr Biden’s ally and former boss, ex-President Barack Obama.
But Mr Biden fended off his rival’s attempts to pick up New Hampshire and Minnesota.
What did the exit polls reveal?
Some political analysts were surprised by data that showed Mr Trump doubled his support among black voters to 12%, compared with four years ago.
He also boosted his vote share among Hispanic men to 36%, according to the exit polls, compared with 28% in 2016.
African Americans and Latinos are two vital electoral blocs for Democrats.
The president shed votes, though, among white men, the demographic that propelled him to the White House four years ago.
However, Mr Trump also increased his support significantly among white women (55% on Tuesday versus 47% in 2016).
What about the congressional races?
Democrats dreamed of an electoral blue wave sweeping away a Republican party that has been recast in Mr Trump’s image. But those hopes were dashed.
Their chances of winning Senate control appeared to be dwindling as the dust settled from election day. Democrats won two seats in Colorado and Arizona, but lost another in Alabama.
“There should be a separate CBI inquiry on Rohit Sharma injury” – one user tweeted this in jest on Tuesday after Rohit Sharma, who had missed Mumbai Indians’ last three games owing to a hamstring niggle, was back leading the side for MI’s final league game against Sunrisers Hyderabad. And that tweet pretty much sums up the saga surrounding Rohit’s injury. This very injury niggle had seen Rohit miss out on the tour of Australia and even lost out his vice-captain position to KL Rahul. But, on the day the national selectors announced the squad, Rohit was seen hitting the nets – in a video posted by MI social media team – fuelling speculations and conspiracy theories about his injury and his omission. Ranging from BCCI playing politics to Virat Kohli’s dirty tricks, social media users had a field day, but without any substantial evidence.
Adding more fuel to the fire on Tuesday, Saurav Ganguly, the BCCI president, had this to say about the player. “Rohit is injured at the moment. Otherwise, why would we leave out a player like him. He is the vice-captain of the national (limited-overs) team,” Ganguly told PTI in an exclusive interview. A few hours later there was Rohit walking out for the toss and stating that it looks (fitness) loos fine. Rohit was asked post-match about his hamstring and again the Mumbaikar replied in an affirmative tone.
Naturally, this had Rohit Sharma fans up in arms again with many questioning the BCCI and his omission from the Australia Tour. Here’s how they reacted:
@BCCI@SGanguly99@mipaltan who is culprit here to spoil career of Rohit Sharma…@bcci is playing in the hand of few people… If a player is fit enough to play for club in a BCCI tournament only but not fit enough to play for country after 20 days…what a irony.. politics pic.twitter.com/Beg3jdjqMj
If the injury wasn’t serious, why didn’t he get picked for the Indian team for Australian tour ? He is playing in the IPL now and BCCI thinks that he won’t be fit enough to play in the next month. #RohitSharmahttps://t.co/YHVrs2hQ1b
2. It wouldn’t be the 2020 election without celebrities getting political: Lady Gaga and John Legend turned up for Joe Biden and Lil Pump appeared at a rally with Donald Trump, who mistakenly called him Liddle Pimp (the rapper did not appear to mind).
3. An early result is already in from the tiny town of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, and it gave its five votes to Joe Biden, but do not read too much into this because a candidate with an early lead could lose it as postal votes are counted – here’s our guide to the night.
Those are just a a selection of words taken from today’s headlines in US news outlets across the political spectrum.
On Google, people are searching for news of cities being boarded up and “how to cope with election anxiety”. But despite the virus and a campaign unprecedented in its bitterness, there have been moments of humanity, dancing, dogs and cookies.
Dixville dog kills the cynicism
Dixville Notch is always one of the first towns to declare. It’s easy because there are only 12 residents. They all vote in a special “ballot room” just after midnight and then the result is announced hours before that of most other places. You might be tempted to roll your eyes at some hokey political theatre, but a dog in the ballot room killed the cynicism of at least one journalist.
Trump supporter replaces neighbour’s Biden sign
“It’s just nice to know that neighbours can treat each other with love and respect.”
In a little Trump-supporting neighbourhood of Wisconsin, a lone Biden supporter had his Biden sign stolen… which is when his Trump-supporting neighbour stepped in to go out and replace the sign.
As citizens lined up to vote in Philadelphia, there was music and dancing – arranged by non-partisan group Joy to the Polls, which says it aims to de-escalate tension and bring music to polling locations.
The group can also be found on Spotify with celebrity-curated playlists and it has called on ordinary voters to add their own too.
In Portland, eat lobster while you wait
It’s voting day, and there is lobster in Portland, Maine. There have been some very long queues and some very hungry voters, but Chefs for the polls has been delivering food to waiting voters – one of several similar initiatives.
ICYMI, we’re bringing together 2 of our favorite things: greens + democracy. To help everyone get out & guac the vote, we partnered with our friends @WCKitchen to give out free bowls at select polling centers today & tomorrow. Let’s all make an impact together. #ChefsForThePollspic.twitter.com/Jo3mPZy1bb
And if you are just looking for escape while you wait:
One Twitter user has offered to draw your cats in undignified situations, based on photographs you submit.
This election feels heavier than any I’ve ever experienced. So, I wanted to create a thread for all of my friends out there who have already voted or will vote tomorrow. If you are looking for a bright spot and break from doomscrolling I hope this thread of many cats helps 💖 pic.twitter.com/6u4Gt5rHxY
Little but fragments remain of the story, stored in police records, in intelligence files, and inside the minds of two elderly couples who are still struggling to understand what happened, and why. In September 2013, Mohammad Ikramuddin left his family home in Hyderabad’s Mehraj Colony, along with his wife and their two small children, to board Saudi Arabian Airlines fight SV873 to Riyadh.
Then, the entire family disappeared into the ugly dystopia Ikramuddin had imagined to be an earthly paradise, the so-called Islamic State. Mohammad Moizuddin, Ikramuddin’s elderly father, recalls that a message then came in 2018: Ikramuddin had been killed, and his wife Arjumand Banu was in a prison camp in Syria along with her children—part of the human detritus left behind by the collapse of slain jihadist Ibrahim Awwad al-Badri’s caliphate.
Forty more Indian citizens—half of them women and children—are missing, government records show. Intelligence officials who spoke to News18 believe many may be in the camps, registered with camp authorities under false names and identities in the hope of evading eventual prosecution.
These numbers are on top of 22 Indian citizens—most of them women and children, as revealed by News18 early this year—held in Kabul’s Badam Bagh prison.
“I’ve written letters to politicians, ministries and the police,” 69-year-old Moizuddin told News18, “and I’ve knocked on every door possible, but I haven’t had a single reply from anyone. Even if my son was a terrorist, why should my grandchildren suffer? I want them to come home, and live the kind of life every child should have”.
In New Delhi, government sources have told News18, intelligence services and officials have debated how these cases should be handled—but, like governments across the world, remain divided on the right course of action. Police officials handling counter-terrorism cases, though, have begun warning the delay could have dangerous consequences.
Families of Jihadists
Like Ikramuddin, many of the Indians in Middle-Eastern camps ended up there after their husbands decided to resettle in Islamic State territories in Syria and Iraq.
An engineering degree from the Rizvi College; a career that began with helping build the metro system in New Delhi; a high-paying job in Bahrain; marriage; a son: Naseem Khan appeared to be living the middle-class dream. Then, for reasons his relatives insist they do not know, Khan left Bahrain and disappeared.
In the summer of 2016, a call came from the bowels of the Islamic State: Khan’s wife Amani Fatima, and her child, Khizar Huzaifa Khan, were in the al-Hawl prison camp in Syria. Family members declined to discuss the case, but one said off-record that periodic messages have arrived, suggesting Fatima and her child are still there.
Former Islamist political activist Shajil Pallikkal Chirattantakath, similarly, left Kerala with his family in 2016, telling kin that they intended to go on a pilgrimage, before he took up a job in Dubai. His family was told, soon after, that he had been killed in an air strike. Hafziya Puthen Puryil, and her children—one a year old when the family left, and the other just three months old—are thought to have survived the fighting.
Fabna Nalakath, who followed her husband Muhammed Mansoor Perunkalleeri into Islamic State territory, along with their 2013-born daughter Hanyya Perunkalleeri, is another of the possible survivors now in a camp.
Like Nalakath, Shazia Ahmed Tabassum lived in the Islamic State with her three small children. Her husband, Muhammad Thayyib Shaik Meeran, originally from Vellore in Tamil Nadu, had immigrated to Canada over a decade ago. He held a well-paid position at Hewlett Packard when he decided to migrate to the Islamic State in 2015 with his family.
Although no conclusive evidence of the Meerans’ whereabouts is available, two separate police sources told News18 that the Canadian intelligence services believe that the Meeran family is now in a prison camp.
There are several other cases where families are even more unclear about what happened to their loved ones. Living and working in Qatar, Ritika Shetty met, and married, Mohammad Kamil Sultan—an Indian-origin man with a stellar record as a school athlete. In December, 2013, both ended up travelling to Syria, through Turkey. There has been no confirmed news on their whereabouts, though intelligence services believe they may still be alive.
Early in 2017, similarly, Kannur-origin Rizwana Kalathil shut her Dubai home, and left for Turkey with husband Mohammed Zuhail, and children Rayan, Raihan and Bint Zoha. Like in many other cases, there is no verifiable word on the family’s whereabouts, but a police official familiar with the case told News18 the silence suggested Kalathil might have survived the fighting.
“Families have usually been told about the deaths of kin by their associates in Syria,” the officer said. “Not hearing anything might well mean they’re alive”.
In 2016, for example, relatives of former PFI activist Mohammad Samir received text messages reporting his killing in an air raid, along with wife Fousiya Samir, and their children Salman, Safwan and Naziya.
For dozens of relatives, not receiving such a message has led to just as much pain as getting one.
Like many countries across the world, New Delhi has been reluctant to bring home its Islamic State detainees, fearing they could form the nucleus of jihadist mobilisation and online propaganda back home. In addition, highly-placed intelligence sources say, the Indian government believes their crimes will be hard to successfully prosecute, given the near-impossibility of finding evidence and witnesses.
The Ministry of External Affairs did not respond to a request for comment from News18 on whether consular officials have met Indians held in prison camps in the Middle-East. However, a senior government official said, “The government is aware of the situation, and is working on an appropriate strategy”.
Imprisoned and missing jihadists together make up about half of the 135 individuals — not counting children — believed by the government to have joined Islamic State formations in the Middle-East and Afghanistan. Ninety came from a single state, Kerala, court records, First Information Reports, and interviews with officials show.
New Delhi’s reluctance to bring home imprisoned jihadists is in line with the course several countries have taken; some have even moved, controversially to strip them of citizenship.
Fearing social stigma and legal consequences, perhaps, few families have used formal legal means to push the government for the return of their kin. In Kerala and Telangana, some families have lobbied Members of Parliament and police, but to little effect.
Experts like Anne Speckhard and Molly Ellenberg, though, are warning that the camps like al-Hawl are the universities in which the next generation of jihadists are forming new networks and learning their craft. There has, moreover, been a steady stream of escapes from the underfunded camps, where guards can be easily bribed.
“Leaving Islamic State prisoners in this camp is inviting disaster,” notes a senior Maharashtra Police official. “The bottom line is we have no idea who they are meeting, what they are being taught, and how active they are online. At home, we can at least keep an eye on them”.
Telangana and Maharashtra officials, who have run de-radicalisation programmes for jihadists who have returned from abroad, note that there has not so far been any case of recidivism.
Zeba Farheen, a Hyderabad-origin nurse, was recruited to join the Islamic State while working at Doha’s Hamad Hospital in 2013. Farheen, police records show, was brought back by her family the next year, with discreet official assistance.
Gufran Kaleemuddin, recruited by the Islamic State while working at the Bin Bin Fahad Engineering, in Saudi Arabia, was released without charge after being deported by Turkish authorities while attempting to cross into Syria. Mohammad Hamed-ur-Rehman, similarly, was released without charge after being deported from Turkey.
“These cases,” a senior Telengana Police official said, “are proof that the informal de-radicalisation and rehabilitation programmes some states have been running can work. If there was a national rehabilitation programme, backed by a proper law, we could achieve a great deal more”.
Inside the government, though, there is no unanimity on the issue. “The truth is it’s next to impossible to build a prosecutable case against people who might be brought back from prison camps,” one official at the Ministry of Home Affairs said. “How do we prove that somebody committed a crime somewhere in Syria five years ago,” the official asked? “And do we really have the resources to monitor dozens of people for indefinite periods of time”?
“The sensible thing”, he concluded, “is to wait this out, because there is no good option available right now”.
A Grim Future?
Fears have been mounting among police officials that time for cogitation is running out. In 2016, Tabrez Tambe volunteered to serve in the Islamic State along with his friend Saudi national Ali al-Shehri. The family heard nothing from Tambe until 2018, when he messaged them to say he was held in a prison camp in Libya, on charges of fighting alongside al-Qaeda. The family reached out to the Mumbai Police for help, but hasn’t been in touch for months.
“There’s some reasons for us to believe the family eventually secured Tambe’s release through friends in Libya,” an officer familiar with the case said. “We can’t, for obvious reasons, prove it, and even if we could, it would make no difference”.
In response to queries from News18, Tambe’s brother declined to make any comment.
“The lesson from this story is an obvious one,” one intelligence official said, “which is that we need to keep our enemies closer than our friends”. “The status-quo is the worst possible one, in the sense that we have threats to our country at large which we are in no position to do anything about”.
Evidence of the threat emerged this year, when Kerala residents Kallukettiya Purayil and Muhammad Muhsin reportedly became the first Indian nationals to participate in Islamic State suicide attacks overseas, hitting a prison and a Gurdwara in Afghanistan.
Large numbers of other young men remain in prison camps, facing an uncertain future. Adil Fayyaz Waida, a Srinagar resident who was in the second year of his studies for a Masters in Business Administration when he was recruited by the Islamic State, remains in a Syrian prison camp six years after his arrest. Talmeez-ur-Rehman—a student of engineering at Collins College in Texas, and the son of a Kuwait-based engineer—has also been held since 2016.
Taha Muhammad, the son of a Mangalore family who was born and brought up in Doha, is another of the dozens of Indian nationals suspected to have survived the fighting, and ended up in prison. Locally well-known as a cricket player—and reputed to have played for Qatar’s under-19 team—Muhammad is believed to have been recruited at a mosque he used to regularly attend.
London-based computer science student Abdul Rahim, who disappeared into Syria with his wife and child during a visit to Turkey in 2016, is another of those now thought to be in detention.
“The one thing we don’t want is for people like this to disappear from the camps,” a police officer said. “We should be doing our utmost to bring them home, if only to effectively monitor their activities”.