Under a gigantic tree, a sombre looking heavily built Mohammad Ashraf Dar is surrounded by several jihadis with their faces blurred. Wearing a bushy beard, Ashraf sings a nasheed in Urdu, eulogising jihad and the sacrifices. Cut to a stream, and Ashraf is seen smiling, perhaps after ablution for namaz.
A 4.01-minute video featuring Ashraf, a chirpy village boy, has rattled the security establishment and his family at Nagaam hamlet in the scenic Kokarnag resort of Anantnag district. Uploaded by As Sahab, the media wing of Al Qaeda, the video introduces Ashraf as shaheed (martyr) Mohammad Ashraf, alias Umar Kashmiri, who died in North Waziristan. Ashraf has perhaps become the first Indian operative of newly formed Al Qaeda Indian Subcontinent to have been killed in a US drone attack in North Waziristan in January this year.
Back home in Nagaam, his family is reeling under despair. Since 2001, when Ashraf went missing and crossed into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) for arms training, the family has been suffering in silence.
When this correspondent first spoke to the family on Friday, Ashraf’s aged father, Ghulam Mohammad Dar and elder brother Nazir Ahmad Dar were groping in the dark about his well-being. Perched in a small house, the Dar family identified Ashraf in the video, but were worried about his fate. However, by Saturday evening they were convinced that he was dead. They have now scheduled a funeral prayer in absentia in their village on Monday.
“He left for Pakistan in August 2001 to take arms training along with two other youngsters from the village, Abdul Rashid and Ghulam Nabi. Nabi returned to Kashmir and got killed in an encounter, while Rashid stayed back and got married in Pakistan and has two children,” Nazir told The Sunday Guardian.
For the last 14 years, Ashraf has been living a jihadi life, shuttling between Pakistan and Afghanistan. “He has never returned since he went missing. Our mother died of shock because she could not bear Ashraf’s separation. She was very attached to him since he was the youngest of five siblings,” said Nazir.
A Class 6 dropout, Ashraf was never interested in studies or schools. He was just helping Nazir to manage a small grocery shop in the village. However, his family said, Ashraf was always inclined towards religion. He would offer namaz regularly and recite the Holy Quran whenever he had free time.
What has confirmed Ashraf’s death is that he has never spoken to his family since December 2014, although he used to call them up once in two or three months.
“He used to call us once in two-three months. He made the last call in December 2014 and we told him to try to come back. On some occasions, when we pestered him, he told us that he was away in Afghanistan. He also shared some pictures with us,” Nazir said. The family was trying hard to convince Ashraf to get married in a last ditch effort to bring him back from the life of a jihadi wanderer.
“The family tried hard to convince Ashraf to get married and settle down. But he wouldn’t agree. He would say that he had embarked on a path of jihad and wanted to embrace martyrdom,” said Ghulam Ahmad Dar, Ashraf’s father.
Following the reports on Ashraf, security and intelligence agencies are investigating the matter. However, top security officials have dismissed that it could have any major ramifications on the security scenario in the valley and have said that too much should not be read into the development.
“Even if he is proved to be a Kashmiri, it is just an isolated case. Twenty years of Al Qaeda and one Kashmiri guy do not make for much,” said a top security official.