Intro:The first indication of Indians fighting with ISIS came through a 20 second audio of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS Chief. The immediate concern of Indian intelligence agencies is to identify thus and neutralise the Jihadists in India.
The nation was shocked when media flashed the news that four young men, residents of Thane District, Maharashtra were reported to be fighting in Iraq along with the Sunni jihadists of ISIS. Their parents reportedly met the Union Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj in Delhi to request her to get back their wards.
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Is this incidence only a tip of the iceberg? Are more shocks in store? Are there many more such parents who are grieving quietly with the hope that their sons would return one day? The very thought is scary and alarming.
Out of the four young men in their early twenties from Thane, three are reportedly engineering students and the fourth one is an undergraduate call centre executive. As per some intelligence inputs there are about 18 such young people fighting in Syria and Iraq. The exact number may be much more and is being ascertained by the intelligence agencies. Surprisingly, the 18 youth identified so far belong to the South Indian States of Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh (could be Telengana) and Maharashtra. Interestingly, none from North India have been identified to have joined ISIS. It is further assessed that they do not belong to any particular group but have been radicalised through internet and literature and video on social media. Intelligence agencies also have confirmed inputs of a group of youth from Uttar Pradesh owing allegiance to Indian Mujahedeen (IM) fighting jihad in Afghanistan along with Al Qaeda and Taliban.
In my earlier article titled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (‘ISIS’)- A bigger threat than Al Qaeda’, I had dwelt upon the issue of ISIS attracting many foreign jihadists because of its spectacular and lightening successes as well as the huge reserves of cash it holds. The foreign jihadists confirmed to be fighting with ISIS belong to prosperous European countries and Australia. It is also likely that they would have now been joined by those foreign jihadists who were nestled in North Waziristan and have now been forced to escape consequent to launching of Operation Zarb-e-Azb by the Pakistan Army. These foreign jihadists include Uzbeks, Chechens and Uighurs of China. And these jihadists in the ranks of ISIS are estimated to vary from 2000-10,000.
The first indication of Indians fighting with ISIS came through a 20 second audio of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the ISIS Chief, released at the beginning of the month of Ramzan. In his recorded message he exhorted the jihadists all over the world to kill the enemies of Islam. He goes on to appeal to the believers to ‘take up arms and terrify the enemies of Allah’ in various countries he termed as anti-Islam. India was listed by him as one such country. In the same audio he also enumerated the nationalities of fighters who constitute ISIS. In that he mentioned Indians among the host of other nationalities including British, American, French, German and Australian.
The Indian intelligence agencies are still working overtime to assess the number of Indian jihadists in Syria and Iraq. The Agencies are reported to be finding it difficult to keep a track of the Indian youth to the Middle East, as some of them land up there through Singapore and other routes. As per them a large number of Indian youth migrates to these countries every year. It is difficult to assess as to who are actual ‘job-seekers’ and how many of them are ‘potential jihadists’?
India is on the radar screen of all international jihadi terror outfits, is a well-established fact by now. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi alias Abu Ibrahim self-styled Caliph of the Caliphate of Islamic State has called upon Indian Muslims to wage jihad against India. In the proposed World Dominion of Caliphates, part of North West India has been included in the Caliphate of Khorasan. ISI has once again let loose its pawn cum trump card Hafiz Saeed who is openly giving a call for jihad against India. A little known Pakistani terror outfit Tehreek-e-Khilafat has also pledged allegiance to Khalifah Abu Ibrahim and has vowed to raise the flag of Islamic State in South Asia.
In a press release the Group has said, “Sheikh Abu Bakr al Baghdadi shall consider Tehreek-e-Khilafat and jihad mujahedeen fighters of Pakistan as one of the arrows among his many arrows which he has kept for his bow.” The press release goes on to read “We are praying from the Almighty Allah to give us chance in our lives to see the expansion of Islamic State boundaries towards the subcontinent and Khorasan region in order to hoist the flag of Islamic State here.”
In a recent protest in Srinagar some Kashmir University students while protesting against Israeli attacks on Gaza were seen carrying the black flag of the Islamic State. Is it a mere coincidence or part of a bigger ‘Grand Design’ needs to be ascertained? The government agencies so far have been denying the presence of Al Qaeda only, but what about ISIS?
Issues that need Concern
The fact that the Indian youth is fighting jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan is a reality now. Only their number needs to be determined. While it is hard to believe that the sole source of motivating and radicalising the youth is social media and internet. It is alleged that there is also a network of sleeper cells, sympathisers and over ground workers of these jihadi organisations working in different parts of the country—They are engaged in motivating, radicalising and recruiting the youth for jihad. We need to identify such nurseries of Indian jihadists and act against them. The network has spread deep into our country across the Vindhayas as well. We need to know what is luring and motivating the youth of these relatively peaceful states towards jihad. And examine the increasing influence of social media and the uncensored propaganda on young Indian minds.
There is no doubt that intelligence agencies are working overtime to keep under surveillance the Indian jihadists fighting alongside ISIS and Al Qaeda. But the threat they pose is not immediate. The immediate concern is to identify their handlers and sympathisers inside the country. They need to be identified and neutralised. At the same time we need to review security of all our vital installations and strengthen their security on war footing. In all our previous responses to acts of terror, one of our main weaknesses has been the lack of coordination among the various agencies. Unfortunately, it still continues to be a major cause of concern.
-Brig (Retd) Anil Gupta (The author is a political commentator, security and strategic analyst and can be contacted at [email protected])