Terrorism Threat Monitor: TTM

Transnational Jihad makes inroads to India

March 10, 2015

An ominous jihadist wave is fast reaching Indian shores as the Islamic State (formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and Al Qaeda’s new regional branch Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent’s (AQIS), evil influence dominate the Islamist discourse in the country. While the threat emanating from both the global jihadist formations remains unpredictably grave, the Abu Bakr Baghdadi led Islamic State has positioned itself at a vantage point within India in a very short time by enticing a section of Muslim youths of the region with a promise to return their so called ‘dignity, might, rights, and leadership’.


To the much chagrin of Indian agencies, a disquieting trend certainly, wherein the hitherto localized extremist groups along with a stream of radicalized or influenced Muslim youths are either pledging direct support or longing to join the AQIS or IS-led jihad at home and elsewhere. Indeed, both Jihadist formations have begun sinister outreach efforts using social networks and through infusion of propaganda materials on every available medium to galvanize support and fomenting radicalization in India. Meanwhile, disturbed by the IS ascendance, the Indian government has imposed a ban on Islamic State on December 16 aiming to rein in its sympathizers.  


Following Al Qaeda formalized its operational presence in the region in September 2014 forming a dedicated jihadist wing Al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent (AQIS), Ayman al Zawahiri exhorted all Muslims in the region to unite under the leadership of Aasim Umar, an Indian origin Pakistani cleric. Despite several Indian specific calls in the past, AQIS chief Umar’s latest call came in the form of an article in the first issue of Al Qaeda’s new magazine “Resurgence”,  In which he attacked the Hindu domination and violence in the form of communal riots aimed at the Muslim minorities in the country. These propaganda literatures could well reverberate within disenchanted Muslim youths that could trigger a fresh exodus of supporters towards AQIS’ cause. However, unlike IS, the impact of AQIS has so far limited in India, even though it has garnered support in neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh.


The aura of IS has found significant traction within India. In his first public speech on July 5 (2014), Abu bakr al Baghdadi claimed that Indians were part of the IS ranks and file at present and have been fighting alongside fighters of different nationalities like Americans, Chinese, French and Germans. Citing the issue of Kashmir, he also claimed that India is one of the countries where the rights of Muslims have been constantly violated. The words are seemingly well received in the country, where sporadic incidents like waving of the IS flag and masked men wearing fatigues with IS insignia has been noticed in various places in Kashmir, Chennai and other cities in India. 


Baghdadi’s claim was substantiated when news of four Indian engineering students from Kalyan, Maharashtra, travelling to Iraq via Turkey and joined IS forces surfaced in May (2014) last year. One of the youths Areeb Majeed who has returned to India recently confessed to have undergone training in suicide bombing there. While the remaining Kalyan youths are still inside the war zone, another event which demonstrated IS’s support base following the arrest of a Bengaluru based executive Mehdi Mashroor Biswas who had been running pro Islamic State's Twitter account presumably used for incitement and propaganda tools for Muslim youths wanting to join the Caliphate bandwagon.


These stream of supports for the cause of IS not withstanding, there is an increasing threat of lone wolves or ‘self proclaimed inspired’ jihadist who would be acting alone in India targeting foreigners as Jihadi forums affiliated with IS or AQIS are propagating the method as most effective to instill fear. Such concerns have intensified in India after the arrest of Anees Ansari in Mumbai (Maharashtra), who was arrested in October 2014. According to his confessions, he had attempted a knife attack on a US national to get support and sympathy from ISIS. Ansari too had reportedly collected details from the internet about 'Flame Throwers' and 'Thermite' bombs and hinted at a plot to target US establishments including a school in Bandra, Mumbai.


IS has so far garnered support from some India-centric militant formations, like the Maulana Abdul Rahman led Ansar ut Tawheed Fi Bilad Al Hind (supporters of monotheism in the land of India), a hybrid militant group comprising of Indian nationals, and the Indian Mujahedeen fugitives active in Pakistan and Afghanistan border areas.  The AuT has since been promoting jihadi materials and other Islamic literatures in several Indian languages, using social network platforms like Facebook, You Tube and Twitter and through its media arm Al-Isabah Media. Recently in Mid November 2014, it released an English audio speech purportedly by Abu Abdullah Al Hindi, an Indian national, who took oath of allegiance (Bai’ah) to the Islamic State (IS) and urged Indian Muslims to join and support IS.  Another Indian Mujahedeen fugitive Abdul Khadir Sultan Armar is suspected to be engaged in online recruitment of Muslim youths for Islamic States, mostly from Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka states. He is one of the IM operatives that underwent Jihadi training in North Waziristan, Pakistan and presently working under AuT banner.


These developments counter at least one existing belief, that Indian Muslims are immune to international terrorism and radicalization. As a matter of fact there is increasing awareness among India’s teeming Muslim populace about international jihad with easy access to information through tools of internet. Undoubtedly, India is presently witnessing a penchant for Islamic State and its more violent ideals that are catching the imagination of many homegrown and self taught extremists. The fear is plausibly centered around Jihadi  ideals or tenets that are reaching only through social media at present, would arrive at India’s shores when Jihadi ideologues or militants partaking in the ongoing war in Iraq and Syria return home to spread the IS brand of Islam.