A call for jihad in an earthly paradise and its consequences (Book Review)
Title: A Ticket to Syria; Author:
Shirish Thorat; Publisher: Bloomsbury India: Pages: 254; Price: Rs 399
Faith can move mountains. But when distorted and misplaced, it can demolish
lives, families and much more. And this destructive tendency can even manifest
itself in places far away from an area of savage religious strife. Say, an
idyllic Indian Ocean archipelago nation, whose people are being drawn into the
violent maelstrom of the Arab heartlands.
The Maldives may be a tropical paradise, but there is great trouble afoot for it
has emerged as an unlikely, but very fertile, breeding ground for Islamist
"Despite its very modest population of approximately 350,000, the Maldives has
the highest recruitment percentage when it comes to its citizen leaving to
engage in jihad either alongside the Islamic State or the Al Qaeda," reveals
author Shirish Thorat in a factual introduction to this pulsating but disturbing
And, as he shows, there are no signs that anything serious is being done to
tackle this worrying trend at the national level.
But any problem comes more to attention when it is related to actual people,
rather than being dealt in abstract terms and that is what Thorat, an Indian
policeman-turned-terrorism, money laundering and risk-mitigation expert does in
his latest book.
Thorat -- who has written a Marathi thriller on 26/11 and, in "The Scout: The
Definitive Account of David Headley and the Mumbai Attacks" (2016), co-authored
with Sachin Waze, offered a riveting and plausible reconstruction of their
preparation and course -- also bases this on a true incident he dealt with in
his vareer as a security consultant.
"The names, places and sequences of events have been changed for obvious reasons
and I leave it to the reader to determine which parts are fact and what is
necessarily fiction," he says.
The story starts with another consignment of mostly eager Islamic State
recruits, including a batch of Maldivians, being ferried across the
Turkish-Syrian border to the group's "capital" Raqqa, but its impact comes
This is when, back in the Maldives, doctor Sameer Ibraheem, just back from an
internship in India, finds all his other siblings -- two brothers and three
sisters -- have, just two days back, voluntarily and surreptitiously left for
the jihad in Syria, along with their spouses and infant children.
Also concerned is prominent businessman Ahmed Idris, whose sister Zahi is
married to one of Ibraheem's brothers and is part of the same group. As he and
Ibraheem join forces to see what they can do, they find that their government is
not only unhelpful but hostile too, and even childhood friends can turn
But Idris has another card up his sleeve -- a "Contact" in the US whom he has
seen ably deal with matters like this a few years ago. And then he receives a
call from Zahi -- who has been taken away on false pretences and had a phone she
bought in a whim on the way that the others don't know about -- to seek his help
to get her out.
The "Contact" -- whom many people who know the author will find familiar -- then
calls in a series of favours to mount a desperate rescue operation. Will they
extract Zahi, who is witnessing some harrowing situations? And what happens when
the IS learns of the "Contact" and identifies him as a threat?
Ranging across the deceptive security of the US, the violent Middle East, the
Maldives and India, and involving FBI agents, oil-smuggling tanker captains,
travel agents who can offer much other than tickets and tours, well-connected
Gulf businessmen, jihadist filmmakers, oblivious politicians, unscrupulous
preachers and more, Thorat offers an unsettling look into a deadly but
much-ignored security issue.
Alongside, there is an incisive but lucid view of Islamist movements and how
they found an outcome in the IS, a look into the vested interests which curb
eradication of terror and a perceptive look into anti-terror operations.
There are a couple of sticking points -- such as the motivations and means
behind the efforts by the "Contact", but, on the whole, it is a terrific, taut
story -- and a compelling look into an issue that is screaming for attention.
Let's hope this book does the trick.
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