The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mission of missed martyrdom
- Human shields return from war zone with tale of disappointment

Mumbai, April 17: Martyrdom doesn’t come easy to some.

A group of six left for Iraq to lay down their lives for Islam and for peace, carrying their shrouds — as human shields against Tomahawks.

They have come back alive, unscathed and heartbroken.

Three of them were turned back at the Jordan border. The three that could get into Baghdad had to be content with a visit to three shrines sacred to Sunnis.

The six men from here — Suhail Rokadia (30), Mohammad Rafiq (36), Syed Mazhar (42), Khalil Zahid (52), Syeed Noori (40) and Mohammad Arif Razvi (36) — are back with the sad story of their failed adventure.

The men were also carrying relief material — 450 kg of medicines, milk powder and some toys — that they gave to the Red Cross in Amman.

They left Mumbai in the early hours of March 30, with the wishes of their families and friends, fanfare and photo-ops, determined to bare their chests at US firing. They would act as human shields along with volunteers from other countries to protect schools, hospitals and even establishments like power plants, and become martyrs for Islam and India.

“But Iraqi and Jordanian authorities stopped us for security reasons,” says Rokadia, joint secretary of Raza Academy, an Islamic organisation that organised the effort.

They did not get Iraqi visas, so they first travelled to Jordan.

“On reaching Amman on the 30th, we contacted the Iraqi consulate. Amir Abdullah, the vice-consul general, asked us to come over the next day, hailing us as the first human shields from Asia. They gave us visas, waiving the fee of $300,” said Rokadia, a businessman who was paying for his own expenses.

“But the Jordanian authorities said they would not allow us to go. So the Iraqi consulate made arrangements for us to leave with an Iraqi transport company vehicle with their own people. But the next day, when we reported at the bus stop to be picked up, the Jordanian CID people were already there with the information, and would not let us go. The Iraqi ambassador-general, too, let us down then, saying we couldn’t go for security reasons,” he said.

But they didn’t give up. At their hotel in Amman, they were in touch with relief workers from other communities.

“It seems that there were rumours of mujahideen getting into Iraq — the reason why we were in trouble. Everywhere the Jordanian authorities had information of six Indians. But we devised a plan. Three of us, whose names were decided after a lot of discussion as this was the chance of our lifetime, got together with a team of foreigners. There were five Indonesians, four Greeks and a French man. They settled themselves in three cars, making a convoy and left for the Iraqi border,” Rokadia said.

“This time we were not stopped. But on reaching the Iraqi border, we were asked to come back within 48 hours. We were told that the war was over,” said Rafiq, who was one of the lucky three with Mazhar and Zahid.

“So we paid a visit to the three shrines and offered our prayers. The Iraqis were right. The hotel we were staying in started to shake at night. We thought we were going to die after all. But in the morning we found that there was a line of ambulances and a house close by was razed to the ground. There were many people who were wounded, we were told,” said Rafiq.

On the third day, they left for Jordan where they joined the other three. The Jordanian authorities wanted them out of the country soon, too, and they left immediately, to return on April 8.

They are unhappy that their mission ended even before it started. But they hope to go back again.

“We will try to take relief to Iraq,” Rokadia said.

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