Student dreams soon turn into jihadist nightmare

Student dreams soon turn into jihadist nightmare
Turson was forced to join a criminal gang to smuggle people from Xinjiang abroad.

Turson was a just step away from the university place he had dreamed of when he fell under the spell a jihadist had weaved for him. It drove everything in his life off track and became a nightmare from which he cannot escape.

He has just spent his 23rd birthday in a detention house and only smiled when thinking about the old times when he was a student.

Turson was arrested in February. He is now full of regret and has confessed his wrongdoing. He missed his parents the most. "They love me very much although I didn't call them for a whole year while I was abroad. They thought I was studying in college. I feel so sorry," he said.

When Turson was a teenager, his family had high hopes for him. He studied hard and had been admitted to a high school aiming to help Xinjiang students have better quality education than in local ones.

It is his best memory. A clean, four-person dormitory with an air conditioner, halal cafeteria and patient lecturers filled Turson's college life with happiness.

Languages proved his biggest challenge. He put great effort into learning Chinese and English as his mother tongue is Uygur.

"My English tutor said I had the potential to learn and believed my essay was the best of the class, which was really encouraging," said Turson, who could not conceal his pride when recalling old times.

He was longing to enter medical college or study abroad before returning home to do medical research.

He initially failed his college entrance examination but decided to give it another go and began working and studying in Hotan city.

The following year, his exam score exceeded 30 points, better than the average to apply to top-ranked universities. But he didn't submit an application and his nightmare began.

A man called Mahmut had been brainwashing and radicalizing him under the guise of passing on religious knowledge and Turson trusted him as a mentor. Mahmut promised to help him study religion in Egypt rather than general universities.

But Mahmut soon revealed his real self, forcing Turson to join the jihad in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria by threatening his life if he did not.

Turson had to lie to his parents and handed a tuition fee of almost 30,000 yuan (S$6,606) to Mahmut, who arranged for him to stowaway.

"We were far from home, worrying about being smuggled and killed. We only had fruit rather than real food to keep ourselves alive. People who controlled us didn't care a bit about our lives," he said.

More than 30 people were on the trip, crammed into a vehicle with only a dozen seats. They were hungry and the air was thin.

Turson was soon forced to join a criminal gang to smuggle people from Xinjiang abroad. Eight parties were sent while another four groups were captured.

Turson was told music is forbidden according to doctrine and he had to listen to it secretly and the gang also prohibited romantic relationships, something Turson longed for and was missing out on.

He also heard other people's stories. A man from Xinjiang went to Afghanistan to wage holy war, or yijilate, but had been set up and was regularly beaten by other team members. He said they had run away from ISIS in Syria while others were killed.

A person who made video tapes for terrorists abroad has also left. He said: "Those videos are fake. I can't do it anymore and I don't want people in Xinjiang to be swindled by it".


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