In the first convictions in India of suspects linked to Islamic State (IS), a local court on Friday sentenced two men to seven years each in prison for raising funds and recruiting for the Middle East-based terror group.
The verdict by a special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court in Delhi triggered a debate among analysts over the punishment doled out in the case. The NIA is India’s top counter-terrorist agency.
The convicts – Azhar-ul-Islam, 24, a native of Jammu and Kashmir, and Mohammed Farhan Shaikh, 25, from Maharashtra – pleaded guilty to being active members of IS.
Islam and Shaikh were arrested along with a third suspect, Adnan Hassan, after they were deported from the United Arab Emirates in January 2016. Hassan’s trial is continuing separately.
As a result of their arrests, the NIA claimed at the time that it broke up a major Indian IS cell called Junood-al-Khalifa-e-Hind, which planned to carry out attacks across India in 2016.
“They (Islam and Shaikh) are remorseful of the acts alleged against them. There is no prior criminal record against them and they want to join the mainstream and want to be productive for society and want to rehabilitate themselves. The applicants are pleading guilty without any pressure, threat, coercion or undue influence,” they said through a plea filed by their lawyer.
Islam, Shaikh and Hassan hatched a conspiracy to raise funds for IS and were recruiting people for the terror outfit while in the UAE, according to the prosecution. Shaikh and Islam were working in the UAE since 2012 and 2015, respectively, while Hassan had been working there since 2008.
The trio used to fund potential recruits who were keen to head to Syria to fight alongside IS, according to the NIA charge sheet. Funds were sent using channels such as Western Union, and the trio transferred the money from the UAE to recipients from Tunisia, the Philippines and India.
They also were in regular contact with Syria-based Indian national Shafi Armar (alias Yousuf al-Hindi), believed to be IS’s chief recruiter in India, the charge sheet said.
Mixed reactions to sentences
Some analysts favored the leniency shown toward the pair, considering their crime could have brought a sentence of life in prison.
“Every sinner needs an opportunity to reform. Islam is only 24 and Shaikh only 25. Young men this age can be moved by sentiment and emotion to act in ways that defy reason, logic and even the law. They must be given a second chance if they are to genuinely repentant,” retired Brig. S.K. Chatterjee, a strategic affairs commentator, told BenarNews.
“That said, the crime they were accused of is grave and does warrant punishment. Under the circumstances, the seven-year sentence is fair and does in fact act as a deterrent for others who may be on the same path,” he added.
Although Indian government officials have denied the presence of IS in the country, about 75 people have been arrested and are facing trial for alleged links with the outfit.
More than 50 Indian Muslims have left for the Middle East and Afghanistan to fight alongside IS. Among them, at least eight are believed to have died in battle, according to intelligence agencies.
Neeraj Kumar, former chief of Delhi Police, also supported the court’s decision to give the minimum seven-year sentence to the convicts.
“Given the tender age of the convicts, it is a very good judgment. I am sure the judge considered the overall circumstances of the convicts – their background, their upbringing, etc. Justice is truly served when the criminal is not only punished but also given an opportunity to reform,” he told BenarNews.
“The judgment also sends a strong message to any other youth caught in similar situations – that you may have been radicalized, but now if you are having second thoughts, you can come back to the fold,” he said.
But advocate Vikas Pahwa disagreed.
“Young age and a guilty plea are not mitigating circumstances for lenient sentencing. The sentence needs to be pronounced based on the gravity of the offense. Here, the two men charged have accepted that they were actively inciting others to join IS and raising funds to support the terror group. The punishment should have been exemplary,” Pahwa told Benar.
[Written by Soni Sangwan and Rohit Wadhwaney and originally published by Benar News, under the title “India: Court Sentences 2 IS Recruiters to 7 Years in Prison“.]