AQIS chief killed in Afghanistan: Feels like we never knew him, says family

Shivam Patel
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Umar’s brother Rizwan at his home in Sambhal. (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

Asim aapke kaun lagte hain? (Who is Asim Umar to you?)” That was the question Rizwan ul-Haq was asked all through Wednesday at his home in Uttar Pradesh’s Sambhal.

Hum kisi Asim ko nahi jaante, humein toh Sanaul malum hai. Sannu bulate the hum usse (We don’t know any Asim, we know Sanaul. We called him Sannu),” was his reply every time.

Umar, known to Indian security agencies as Sanaul Haq, was killed in a joint strike by US and Afghan forces at a Taliban compound in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) confirmed Tuesday.

But news of his death reached his home in Sambhal only on Wednesday morning as reports slowly trickled in. Umar last made contact with his family around 1998 before he disappeared from India and later emerged as Maulana Asim Umar, the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) in 2014.

“There’s no reason for any grief for a person who has been missing for more than 20 years. It makes no difference to find out about his death because it now feels like we never knew this person,” his brother Rizwan (51) told The Indian Express.

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Asim Umer was killed in Helmand, Afghanistan. ANI

The youngest of five siblings, Umar was described by family as being “friendly”, good in studies and fond of cricket.

His brother said Umar studied at Hind Inter College in Sambhal until Class 8, following which he prepared to become a cleric and joined a madrasa in the city. He later went to the Dar-ul-Uloom seminary at Deoband to complete his studies to become a Maulvi.

Umar would visit Sambhal on holidays but often couldn’t meet Rizwan, the eldest in the family, who studied in Delhi at the time and was later trying to find work in the national capital after getting an M.Sc degree.

“He left studies midway and sometime in 1998 he came home once asking for Rs 1 lakh to go to Saudi Arabia where he wished to work as an English translator for Arabic. A lot of people were going there that time,” said Rizwan, who is a math and science teacher at a private school in Sambhal.

When Umar’s father refused to give him the money, he grew angry and left, his brother said. He then severed ties with his family. Umar’s family still lives in the same house in the narrow lanes of Deepa Sarai in Sambhal.

After Umar went missing, his family tried searching for him. “We found that he was not in Deoband anymore. My younger brother Ittesham went looking for him there but he could not be found. We did not make a police complaint thinking he would return home eventually,” said Rizwan

In 2013, Umar delivered the first exhortations specifically targeting Muslims in India — the first of its kind in global jihadist writing. “We were informed that he was in Pakistan by Special Cell personnel in 2008 and in 2015, but he did not try to contact us during this time or afterwards. Nothing in his nature indicated to us that he would join such an organisation,” said Rizwan.

People who knew Umar as a young boy in his hometown said they would compare him to Narendra Hirwani, a leg spinner for India from the late 1980s to early 2000, because of his bowling skills.

Umar’s father, a farmer, died in 2016. His mother was informed about his death on Wednesday, but she did not react, Rizwan said. “When we have nothing to do with him, and there has been no news of him all this while, what can we say?” he said.