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India: Low Grade Threat Of Islamist Terrorism – Analysis

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By Ajit Kumar Singh*

The global terror outfit Islamic State (IS, Daesh) has been relentless in its efforts to make some inroads into India. In 2020, it has already made at least five clarion calls to carry out attacks in India:

  • In an article written in the third issue of the Voice of Hind magazine released on April 21 it suggested multiple ways to its ‘supporters’ in India to carry out attacks in the country.
  • In the second issue of the magazine released on March 24 it had urged its ‘supporters’ in India to carry out strikes, exploiting the preoccupation of the Forces in their fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • On May 24, Daesh denounced the ‘revocation‘of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and called for jihad.
  • On February 27, Daesh called on India’s Muslims to join its Jihad.
  • The inaugural issue of the Voice of Hind magazine released on February 24, included a piece titled, “So where are you going? A call to Muslims of India.”

The IS online media outlet Al Qitaal Media Center launched this new online magazine in February 2020.

Similarly, another global terror outfit, Al Qaeda, has already made two separate calls for jihad in the current year,

  • Responding to ‘anti-Muslimism violence’ in India, the Al Qaeda in Indian Sub-Continent (Al Qaeda’s regional wing) on March 27 called for ‘lone wolf’ attacks in response to the communal flare up in the national capital, Delhi, in February 2020, which resulted in death of 52 persons.
  • On January 23, AQIS decried the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA 2019) and urged Muslims to revolt and embrace jihad.

There were at least five similar calls by these two global terror outfits – three by Al Qaeda and two by IS – through 2019. Moreover, the IS on two separate occasions called for attacks on Indian interests in Indonesia and the Arabian Peninsula.

These calls, however, failed to have any noticeable impact on Muslims in India. Since 2014, when the IS announced its ‘interest’ in India and the Al Qaeda followed, announcing the opening of its regional chapter, the AQIS, these two outfits have succeeded in ‘inspiring’ a minuscule number of supporters. Indeed, (Al Qaeda has been making attempts to establish some sort of influence in India since 1996, when Osama bin Laden first referred to India as a legitimate target of jihad.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of 99 persons from India are confirmed to have joined Daesh in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Of these, 48 are already confirmed dead and 35 have returned to the country. In October 2019, the National Investigation Agency disclosed that 127 Daesh sympathisers had been arrested across India for criminal conspiracies or criminal activities linked to Daesh; and 70 others were ‘detained’, counselled and released. Thus, a total of 296 individuals have been ‘inspired’ by the IS ‘ideology’ to engage in some sort of associated activity. There are roughly 207 million Muslims in India.

Meanwhile, as in the past, some activities associated with these two terrorist formations were recorded in India through 2019. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) registered three cases against these global terror outfits in 2019. These include:

  • On January 1, 2019, the NIA registered a case for “Criminal conspiracy and waging war against Syria; an Asiatic power at peace with the Government of India, by joining the terrorist organization Jund-al-Aqsa and Jabhat al Nusrah and committing terrorist case.” The NIA said it had received credible information that from 2013 onwards, some youth, originally from Kerala and Karnataka but based in Qatar, had hatched a criminal conspiracy to wage war against Syria. The youth conducted preparation or travelled to Syria and joined the terrorist organizations Jund al-Aqsa and Jabhat al Nusrah with the intention to commit terrorist acts. Both these terrorist formations are affiliated to Al Qaeda and operate in Syria.
  • On May 30, 2019, the NIA registered another case, “That Muhammed Azharuddin resident of Coimbatore and his associates are propagating the ideology of the proscribed terrorist organization ISIS/Daesh recruiting vulnerable youths with a view to carry out terrorist attacks in South India especially in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.”
  • On July 9, 2019, the NIA registered a third case, “The Central Government has received credible information that a group of Pro-ISIS and Al Qaida organisations variously called as Wahadat-e-Islami, Jarnaat Wahadat-ul-Islam-al-Jihadiya, Jihadist Islamic Unit and Ansarallah have been formed to establish Islamic rule in India by resorting to violent Jihad. A Hasan Ali Yunusmaricar @ Abu Dujana of Tamil Nadu who is closely associated with ISIS is actively recruiting individuals to strike terror in India. The information also indicates that Syed Bukhari who heads Wahadat-e-Islami organization in Tamil Nadu is also the head of now underground Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) which is a proscribed organization. Credible information makes plain that Hassan Ali @ Abu Dujana and Syed Bukhari have entered into a conspiracy to destabilize the democratic polity of India to establish Islamic rule in India by violent Jihad against the Government of India.”

NIA has already registered two such cases in 2020. The first case was registered on January 19, 2020, while the second was registered on January 21, 2020. 

Apart from these two global terror formations, the Bangladesh-based transnational terror group Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) also attempted to create trouble in India. The NIA registered two cases against the outfit in 2019: on July 29, 2019 and December 21, 2019. The first of these related to “seizure of 05 improvised hand grenades, 03 fabricated grenade caps, 03 circuits of IEDs, 01 timer device, 02 rocket bends, one body of rocket, one 09 mm bullet, one air-gun, suspected explosive powders and various other incriminating materials used in fabrication of hand grenades/IEDs, from the place rented by members of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), in Chikkabanawara, Bengaluru on 07.07.2019”. The second case related “to arrest of a Member of Proscribed terrorist organization of Bangladesh, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) namely Najir Sheikh @ Patla Anans, son of Lalu Sheikh of Dighir Pahar, Murshidabad, West Bengal, on Charges of conspiracy to commit terrorist act”.

It is useful to recall that another Bangladesh based terror outfit, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B), had been a potent threat for a long period.  Its role was under investigation in the July 13, 2011, Mumbai blasts (13/7) which killed 26 people, among several other cases. Indian agencies believe that the suspected mastermind of the blasts, Abdullah Khan of the Indian Mujahideen (IM), was hiding in Bangladesh, under protection of HuJI-B.

In the meantime, Islamist terrorist groups operating out of Pakistan, primarily the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), continued with their activities in Jammu & Kashmir, as well as their efforts to carry out attacks in the Indian hinterland through 2019. On March 15, 2019, the NIA registered a case against the JeM:

The Central Government has received information regarding Criminal conspiracy for strengthening base of proscribed terrorist organisation JeM, in India, raising funds for terrorists acts, conspiracy for carrying out terrorist acts, organizing terrorists acts, conspiracy for carrying out terrorist acts, organizing terrorist camps and recruiting persons for carrying out terrorist acts, harbouring the cadres of JeM and becoming its member.

Later, on September 16, 2019, the NIA filed a charge sheet which reads,

Further, Charge is abated against accused Mudassir Ahmad Khan @ MD (A-6) (since deceased) … This case pertains to a criminal conspiracy hatched by senior commanders of JeM to carry out terror attacks in different parts of India including Delhi-NCR. Investigation has established that the accused persons are members of proscribed terrorist organization JeM, who were planning to carry out terrorist attacks and also propagating the activities of JeM..

Despite these sustained efforts, the intelligence and enforcement apparatus in India has successfully thwarted all attempts by these Islamist terror formations – global, transnational, Pakistan based – to carry out any attack in India’s hinterland through 2019. The Pakistan-based terror formations, however, continued to carry out attacks in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) through 2019 and into 2020. The last terror attack by an Islamist terrorist formation outside J&K took place March 7, 2017, when nine persons were injured in a blast in a train near Jabdi Railway Station in Shajapur District of Madhya Pradesh. The next day, a terrorist involved in the blast was killed by SFs in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.  The last major attack (involving more than three fatalities) by Islamist terrorists (outside J&K) was recorded on January 2, 2016, when 14 persons, including the six attackers, died in an attack on the Pathankot Airbase in Punjab.

However, the threats from these terror outfits persists. On March 31, 2020, Delhi Police issued an advisory stating,

A reliable input indicates that police personnel deployed at various pickets/barricades in Delhi in connection with maintaining of law and order in Delhi in view of the outbreak of COVID-19 may be targeted by some ISIS [IS] operatives. Said attack may be in form of Lone Wolf attack like stabbing, firing or ramming the picket with a vehicle. Field staff may be briefed accordingly and pickets maybe reinforced with morchas and extra firepower in view of the above input.

Significantly, the current year has already witnessed a killing by a suspected Daesh terrorists. In the night of January 8, a special Sub-Inspector of Police, Y. Wilson, was shot dead by two suspected IS terrorists at Padanthaalumoodu Checkpost in the Kanyakumari District of Tamil Nadu. The killers were identified as A. Abdul Shameem of Thiruvithaancode (Kanyakumari District) and M. Thoufique of Malik Dinar Nagar in Kottar (Kanyakumari). The killers were also reportedly involved in the murder of Hindu Munnani activist, KP Suresh Kumar, in Chennai (Tamil Nadu) on June 21, 2014. Reports indicate that Wilson’s killers were old associates of three IS terrorists arrested in Delhi on January 9, 2020. The duo, along with Khaja Moideen, Syed Ali Nawaz, Abdul Samad and Jaffar Ali, fled to different places after killing the Hindu Munnani activist KP Suresh Kumar.

Further, there has also been a spurt of activities of radical Islamist terrorist formations like the Popular Front of India (PFI). The NIA registered a case against the outfit for its involvement in the killing of V. Ramalingam, a Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK, Working People’s Party) functionary in Kumbakonam, in Thanjavur District of Tamil Nadu on February 5, 2019.

In 2019 the NIA also registered five other cases against individuals inspired by radical Islamism, engaged in disruptive activities. The last of these cases in 2019 was registered on December 29, 2019 and recorded, that [email protected] Razak and others were engaged in “anti-national activities” and transfer of money through legal and illegal channels “for the purpose of recruiting agents for collection and communication of secret information pertaining to sensitive and vital installations such as defence establishments, space research stations etc. across the country.”

Islamist terrorist and extremist organisations, including global terrorist formations such as Daesh and al Qaeda, as well as the Pakistan sponsored groupings such as LeT, JeM and HM, continue to target India in their campaigns for jihad. They have, nevertheless, found mobilization among the Indian Muslim population extraordinarily difficult, with just a minuscule fringe outside J&K responding to their incitement and their blandishments. Nevertheless, given the patterns of politically engineered communal polarization, particularly by majoritarian political formations, that have enormously escalated over the past years, the risks of Islamist terrorist and extremist mobilization remain real. Extreme vigilance, as well as an urgent review of the mainstreaming of communal incitement by Right Wing nationalist political formations and their captive media outlets, is an urgent imperative if the simmering resentment in the Muslim extremist fringe is to be effectively contained.

*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management

SATP

SATP

SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

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