Page last updated at 05:00 GMT, Tuesday, 15 June 2010 06:00 UK

UK drug addict tells of Taliban recruitment

Taliban fighters
British Muslim drug addicts in Pakistan have been recruited by the Taliban

BBC Asian Network's Sanjiv Buttoo explains how a Muslim man went from being a drug addict in the UK to a militant fighting for the Taliban.

"They just gave me an AK47 assault rifle and I was taught how to strip the weapon, clean it and fire it as well as how to carry out guerrilla activities - I could not believe this was happening."

Irfan, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, recalls his experience of going to Pakistan and inadvertently being recruited by the Taliban.

His story arose because some Muslim parents in the UK send their children to Pakistan for them to beat an addiction to drugs.

In Irfan's case, throughout his late teens and early 20s he had found himself in and out of trouble with the police, while also being hooked on heroin.

When I got to Bagram I ended up with a couple from the UK who had been students at Cambridge University

In an attempt to combat his drug addiction, his father took him to Pakistan for help.

"I was taken to a village called Tangir and left in a madrassa [religious school in Pakistan] where they said I would get help to come off the drugs," said Irfan.

"During the first few weeks I was given methadone which helped me withdraw from the heroin.

''After that I started receiving Koranic lessons and was eventually taught how to use weapons and fight.''

Irfan spent 40 days at the madrassa before he was recruited by Taliban militants to go to Afghanistan.

"They chose me because I could speak English and that was useful for them.

''I'm not the only person to be recruited. I'm sure many young Muslims like myself who go to Pakistan for rehab are also being targeted.''

Digging tunnels

After his training by the Taliban in Afghanistan, Irfan ended up in Bagram with other people from different countries, including the UK.

"When I got to Bagram I ended up with a couple from the UK who had been students at Cambridge University," he said.

Once someone crosses that line they rarely come back
Imam Abdul Dayan

"I didn't know who the Taliban really were but there I was being taught how to get to the enemy and digging tunnels.

"I ended up sitting on the front line. I did say to myself: 'What the hell am I doing here?'"

Irfan decided to get out while he could and says that it was only the streetwise streak he had developed during his teenage years which helped him escape.

"They [the Taliban] told me that they would not let me go because I had so much to offer them," he added.

"But I knew I had to get out of there and get out quick. After a few days I slipped back into Pakistan and back to the UK."

'Asking for trouble'

It is an astonishing story but one where the scenario of despairing parents taking the drastic measure of taking their children to Pakistan to overcome drug addiction is an all-too familiar occurrence.

The Council for Mosques in Bradford has been warning for a number of years that the practice needs to stop because many British Muslims are at risk of being radicalised when they are sent for their treatment.

"Without family support, family care and a balanced support structure in Pakistan you are asking for trouble," said Council for Mosques spokesman Ishtiaq Ahmed.

"There are many madrassas that do offer genuine help and good guidance, but parents cannot just dump their sons at them and hope that all your problems will go away.

"We know of cases where people have been exposed to negative elements."

Abdul Dayan is a respected Imam in Aylesbury and he says these problems can and should be tackled.

When I came back from Afghanistan they (a Muslim group) tried to recruit me again ... but I said no

He also believes most mosques and Muslim communities are failing their children by merely sending them to learn how to read the Koran without any meaningful explanations and theory.

"Books don't teach, teachers teach," said Imam Dayan. "Sadly that's what's lacking.

"When young people don't understand their faith, who can blame them? So, when certain people offer an interpretation of Islam which they understand, naturally, they are tempted away.

"Once someone crosses that line they rarely come back. Mosques should firstly be a place of play not a place of pray and, once children come willingly, they will learn the true meanings of this great religion."

Until such an ideal is reached, Irfan, warns that young Muslims should be careful about who they meet and where they go.

"When I came back from Afghanistan they [a Muslim group] tried to recruit me again to go and take part in terrorist activities in Pakistan but I said no," he revealed.

"These groups are still hanging around and we all know who they are but they carry on.

"They see young Muslims from affluent backgrounds as their next target, and that's already started to happen."

You can hear more on this story on the BBC's Asian Network Reports radio show or via the BBC iPlayer.

Print Sponsor

Drugs rehab Pakistan madrassa style
03 Dec 09 |  South Asia
Who are the Taliban?
20 Oct 09 |  South Asia


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific