The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Indian student went to join the Islamic State, but all he got was this lousy job cleaning toilets

Islamic State fighters parade in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in June. (Associated Press)

A young engineering student from the suburbs of Mumbai is now in the custody of India's counterterrorism authorities after spending six months in Iraq alongside fighters of the Islamic State.

According to reports in the Indian media, the suspected militant, Areeb Majeed, was compelled by his parents to come home. He told investigators that he spent most of his time in Iraq doing menial jobs, including cleaning toilets used by the jihadists.

Majeed, 23, is one of four young Muslim men from Kalyan, a city east of Mumbai, known to have journeyed to the Middle East to join the extremist outfit, which controls chunks of territory in both Iraq and Syria. Like many foreign fighters in the Islamic State's ranks, Majeed was recruited online and aided by a network of local contacts and travel agents, who helped him reach the Iraqi city of Mosul. The Islamic State's capture of Mosul this summer was the most stark sign of its emergence as a regional force and global threat.

But once he arrived there, Majeed soon discovered that jihad wasn't all that it's cracked up to be. According to details leaked by anonymous officials in India's National Investigation Agency (NIA), the country's top counterterrorism unit, Majeed was made to fetch water, tend to other fighters and clean out their latrines.

He also suffered a bullet wound in the neck — in circumstances unexplained in the media reports — that was left untreated for three days until he pleaded for help. "Only after I begged them, I was taken to a hospital. I was treating myself, but the injury was worsening as there was no proper medication or food available in the camps," the Times of India quoted Majeed as telling investigators.

Disillusionment set in, according to the NIA. "There was neither a holy war nor any of the preachings in the holy book were followed," Majeed is quoted as saying during his interrogation. Islamic State "fighters raped many a woman there," he reportedly said. Given the sometimes sketchy standards of Indian news outlets, it's worth regarding these quotes attributed to Majeed with a degree of skepticism.

Majeed was arrested on charges of "conspiring to commit a terrorist act and being a member of a banned foreign terror outfit." He said he was taught how to use an AK-47 and rocket launchers while in Iraq but was considered too "physically weak" to serve in the front lines, according to the Times of India.

The main priority for NIA investigators will be to dismantle the local network that recruited Majeed and others, and enabled their travel to the Middle East. Both the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have looked to South Asia — home to huge populations of young Muslim men, some coping with poverty and a sense of disenfranchisement — as a fertile ground for recruits.

Still, the flow of foreign fighters from South Asia to Iraq and Syria is thin, especially when compared with the numbers of recruits from Europe and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.

In its attempts to recruit more fighters, the Islamic State has made no secret of the importance of domestic chores to the cause. Al-Zawra, a propaganda wing of the organization, has reached out to women and encouraged them to join the Islamic State as wives, cooks and seamstresses. In a post published this week, it even offered up a recipe for pancakes that would "extend the energy and power of the Mujahideen."