Darul Uloom Deoband, the prominent Islamic university in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district, has denied any linkage with Asim Umar, the India-born chief of the al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) who was recently killed during a joint US-Afghan operation at a Taliban hideout in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
Earlier, some prominent dailies had reported that Umar graduated from Darul Uloom Deoband in 1991. He later travelled to Pakistan where he studied at the Darul Uloom Haqqania in Nowshera, the seminary that is dubbed as the ‘University of Jihad’.
Sana-Ul Haq alias Asim Umar, who reportedly led the AQIS ever since its inception in 2014, was killed during a joint US-Afghan raid on a Taliban compound in Musa Qala district of Helmand province on September 23, Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) had earlier said. It said that Umar was killed along with six other AQIS members, most of them Pakistanis. Among them was Raihan, Umar’s courier to al-Qaeda leader Al-Zawahiri.
Ever since the news of Asim Umar’s killing broke, the telephones of Darul Uloom Deoband did not stop ringing, with journalists calling up and asking the educational institution’s top management about their “former student”, his background and antecedents.
Umar, who was in his early 40s, had been designated a “global terrorist” by the United States, which also placed the AQIS on the list of “foreign terrorist organisation” in 2016. He was a former member of the US-designated foreign terrorist organisation Harakat ul-Mujahidin – a Pakistan-based terrorist group with branches across the Indian subcontinent.
The Darul Uloom Deoband administration went into a tizzy on getting such calls from all sections of the media. It took two days for the administration of the institution to go through the old records of all its students.
However, the database of the institution could not find any student named Sana-Ul Haq or Asim Umar who had graduated from there in 1991. To verify the facts again, records prior to 1991 and post 1991 were also checked, but the name was found nowhere in the institution’s student database.
Mufti Abdul Qasim Nomani, the Mohtamim or Vice-Chancellor of the Darul Uloom, Deoband, has now come on record to clarify that they never had a student who goes by the name Sana-Ul Haq or Asim Umar. He said that the institution not only refutes such media reports but also condemns those.
Sana-Ul Haq was born in Deepa Sarai area of Sambhal district. His father, Irfan-Ul Haq, had disowned his son by advertising in prominent newspapers ever since an intelligence team visited his house in 2009 to enquire about his son. At that time, Sana-Ul was missing and presumed dead for 14 years. The family had told the intelligence agencies that Sana-Ul had taken ₹1 lakh from them for a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1995, and had not returned since then.
The family, at that time, was shocked to know that their son had taken to terrorism. The Haq family has built a good reputation for itself in the area. Sana-Ul’s grandfather was the village head while a few of his ancestors were freedom fighters. One of Sana’s grandfather is also said to have served as a civil servant during the British rule.
(Vivek Avasthi is a senior journalist)