By Ajit Kumar Singh*
On March 25, 2019, personnel from the Bihar Ant-Terrorism Squad (ATS) arrested two terrorists, identified as Khairul Mandal and Abu Sultan, from Patna, the State capital. A Police statement disclosed, “Many suspicious documents related to the Security Forces posted in Jammu after the Pulwama attack have been recovered from the arrested. Both the men are said to be active members of Bangladesh’s banned militant outfit Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Islamic State Bangladesh.”
On the same day, Rajasthan Police arrested a 42-year-old man, identified as Mohammed Parvez, from Delhi, for allegedly spying for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). During questioning Pervez revealed that he was in contact with ISI handlers and had travelled to Pakistan 17 times in the last 18 years.
On February 21, 2019, two Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorists, identified as Shahnawaz Teli and Aqib Ahmad Malik, were arrested from Deoband in the Saharanpur District of Uttar Pradesh (UP).
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (STAP), at least 2,688 persons have been arrested since 26/11 attacks (Mumbai 2008) in connection with Islamist extremism and terrorism, including terrorist cadres, Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agents, and Bangladeshi, Nepali and Pakistani nationals (data till April 7, 2019). 312 of these arrests were made in 2018 as against 249 in 2107. 91 of these arrests were made in 2019 (data till April 7, 2019).
As in past, arrests made by the Security Forces (SFs) across the country in 2018 resulted in the neutralisation of several terror sleeper cells. Most prominently, in an early morning action on December 26, 2018, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) carried out searches at 17 locations in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh in a major crackdown on an Islamic State (aka Daesh)-inspired module styled as Harkat-ul-Harb-e-Islam (Movement the War of Islam), with active support from Delhi Police and UP Police/UP Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS). At least 10 cadres of the outfit were arrested and the Daesh-cell was neutralised.
Most recently, the SFs identified and neutralised a terrorist module purportedly ‘inspired’ by Daesh when they arrested nine members of the self-styled Ummat-e-Mohammadiya (Community of Mohammad) from Thane and Aurangabad in Maharashtra on January 21-22, 2019.
Specifically, according to the SATP database, a total of 167 Daesh sympathizers/recruits have been arrested and another 73 persons have been detained, counselled and released, in India (data till April 7, 2019). Another 98 Indians were believed to have travelled to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to join IS – microscopic numbers in terms of the country’s huge Muslim population. Of the 98 who travelled abroad to join Daesh, 33 are confirmed to have been killed.
Moreover, the pressure on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI)/Indian Mujahedeen (IM), which suffered major losses in 2008 and thereafter continued through the year. According to SATP data, since March 11, 2000, at least 716 SIMI/IM cadres have been arrested in 135 incidents (data till April 7, 2019). Six of these arrests were in 2018.
Due to these operational successes, Pakistan-backed Islamist terror formations, as well as Daesh and Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the last two of which have been attempting to make inroads since 2014, have failed comprehensively in their ambitions. There was just one Islamist terrorist attack in India, outside Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), through 2018. On September 14, 2018, a policeman sustained a minor injury in a blast at the Maqsudan Police Station in Jalandhar city, Punjab. The NIA is currently investigating the case. In 2017 as well, a single Islamist terror attack was recorded: nine persons were injured in a blast in a train near Jabdi Railway Station in Shajapur District of Madhya Pradesh on March 7, 2017. The next day, a terrorist involved in the blast was killed by SFs in Lucknow, UP. It is useful to recall that, in 2008, Islamist terror formations operating out of Pakistan had carried out 10 terrorist attacks in India, outside J&K, resulting in 352 fatalities. the largest number recorded in a year since 2000. These attacks resulted in the death of 352 persons (310 civilians, 30 SF personnel and 12 terrorists). This was the largest number of attacks and fatalities in a single year since 2000. The last major attack (resulting in three or more fatalities) by Islamist terrorists in India outside J&K, took place on October 27, 2013, when terrorists carried out bomb blasts in Patna, killing seven civilians. One of the attackers was also killed.
Cooperation from friendly countries has also helped India in its fight against Islamist terrorism. In total, at least 71 fugitives have been extradited by foreign governments to India since February 20, 2002, till date, according to the Ministry of External Affairs Website, including 21 from UAE, nine from USA; six from Canada; four from Thailand; three each from Germany and South Africa, two each from Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Indonesia, Mauritius, Portugal and Singapore; and one each from Bahrain, Bulgaria, Hong Kong, Morocco, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, and UK. At least 19 of these 71 fugitives were extradited for offenses related to terrorism (mostly attacks outside J&K), while the remaining 52 were extradited for other criminal offenses, including 15 for murder.
Further, Governments at the Centre and in the States have taken certain measures to deal effectively with Islamist terror. Significantly, while replying to a question,“whether any effective steps have been taken by the Government to check the increasing terrorist activities” the Government informed the Parliament on February 12, 2019, that it has taken various measures to counter the menace of terrorism, prominently including “establishment of observation posts, border fencing, flood lighting, deployment of modern and hi-tech surveillance equipment; upgradation of Intelligence setup; strengthening the coastal security.”
Nevertheless, several worries remain.
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) in a January 31, 2019, notification, disclosed that the government had decided to continue its ban on SIMI for another five years for its “subversive activities”. UMHA noted,
|[SIMI] has been indulging in activities which are prejudicial to the security of the country and have the potential of disturbing the peace and communal harmony and disrupting the secular fabric of the country.|
It is useful to recall that the SIMI/IM complex was mobilized by Islamabad in the early 2000s due to increasing international pressure on Pakistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US. Not surprisingly, a large proportion of major terrorist attacks in India’s hinterland, thereafter, had the signature of the SIMI/IM complex, allied to various Pakistan-based terrorist formations.
However, though Daesh has failed to inflict significant harm so far, given intermittent incidents of ‘lone wolf attacks’ by IS-inspired individuals across the globe, it remains a threat. The increasing trend of fringe Islamist terror formations in several countries getting associated with the IS is a source of concern for India as well. Significantly, on February 12, 2019, the Jharkhand Government banned the Popular Front of India (PFI) for its suspected links with Islamic State. A Government statement noted,
|The state has banned the Popular Front of India, which is active in Jharkhand, under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1908. The Home Department had recommended the ban. The PFI is very active in Pakur District. The members of the PFI, which was set up in Kerala, are influenced by the IS. According to Home Department report, some PFI members have even gone to Syria from southern states and are working for the IS.|
Clearly, though SFs have manged to keep Islamist terrorism in India in check for a long time now, complacence of any kind would be unwarranted. Regrettably, as the SAIR has noted repeatedly in the past, little has been done to augment the capacities of the security establishment engaged in fighting terrorism across the country.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management