The terror group now has 'sure links' in the country
Afghan security force members take part in a military operation in Kumar province in eastern Afghanistan on March 26, a day after 33 Islamic State militants were killed in Afghan air force action in the eastern Nangarhar province. (Photo by IANS)
Despite the politics of secularism being cherished and practiced in India, often superficially, various factors block authorities from checking the spread of Islamic radicalism.
Two such roadblocks stand out. First, the absence of political will among most provincial governments. Secondly, a mood of denial prevails among political parties and even among security agencies, helping the so-called Islamic State (IS) extended its influence in India.
So far, IS has not claimed responsibility for any violent incident in India. However, its activities took a different path in the country, leaving the state government and even security agencies to take the wrong path in dealing with the terror threat.
In 2016, media began to report "suspected IS activities" in Kerala, in southern India. The other base for its activities were parts of Uttar Pradesh, not very far from the national capital New Delhi. Notably, IS activities were reported not from the insurgency-hit Jammu and Kashmir state.
The reports did not surprise top echelons in the country's security agencies but some analysts were stunned that IS chose Kerala, "the most diverse, cultured and best-educated state."
Unlike other hardcore militant organizations engaged in outright terror activities, IS attracts followers by offering them an ideology to change an unjust world. Special literature and brain-washing instills in them the need to avenge injustice done to the poor by establishing just Islamic rule. Their first goal in India was to attract workers, not engineer violence.
According to security experts, the only way to keep a check on IS activities in India is to have enhanced and round-the-clock surveillance of suspects. It should be physical, technical and online.
In 2016, media reports said scores of young people were missing in Kerala. Some 20, all of them Muslims or converted to Islam, were recruited by IS and at least 11 of them arrived in IS camps in Syria, media said quoting intelligence reports.
However, by the end of 2016, India, with the third largest Muslim population in the world, had contributed a paltry 90-100 members to IS, officials said.
Although small, the recruitment increased the concern that IS has spread beyond the Arabic region. India is worried that the terror group is trying to expand bases in South Asia and that includes hubs in Bangladesh, some northeastern Indian states and parts of Uttar Pradesh and Kerala.
IS work on various levels. Many young people leave India on pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia only to be caught in the net of IS. They also target Indian Muslims who work in the Persian Gulf. India cannot prevent young people being lured or misguided by the radical elements.
The threat is real considering that "there has always been a section of Islamic extremists in Bangladesh. They have also tried to cultivate pockets in states like Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and northeastern states with porous borders," says a former Mumbai police commissioner.
States like Assam and West Bengal, where sizable numbers of Muslims live, might turn out to be "vulnerable hubs." In fact, prior to the Dhaka siege on June 1, 2016, India had cautioned Bangladesh of the reprehensible designs of IS.
Sakshi Maharaj, a parliamentarian from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu-nationalist party, says "the elements" that plague Bangladeshi society as manifested in attacks on secular writers, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians "are in action in some parts of India too."
Security experts tend to agree and say the "influx of Saudi money" is responsible for IS influence in Kerala or in vulnerable pockets in Uttar Pradesh, Assam and West Bengal.
With men and money available, IS has been planning action in India. A major terror act was averted when 10 suspected IS operatives were arrested on April 20 in different cities in a multi-state police operation, media reports said.
In February, Gujarat anti-terror officials reportedly arrested two suspected IS terrorists who were targeting Hindu religious places in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
So far India has arrested 75 people suspected of having links with IS, India Junior Home Minster Hansraj Ahir told the Indian parliament last month. The arrests, in 11 states, shows that IS has a presence all over India.
The government is now convinced of the problem. "From time to time, the government is closely monitoring cyberspace which is often used to radicalize and recruit individuals," Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju told me recently.
The terror operations are a pan-Asian operation and cover other nations in the sub-continent. There are people in India who believe the inspiration for the Dhaka attack came from elements in IS or even Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) which is reportedly focused on India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal.
Security forces say Mohammad Asif, arrested by Delhi police in April 2016, is the suspected "Indian in-charge" of AQIS. A resident of Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh, Asif had links in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and parts of West Bengal and Bangladesh.
In yet another major intelligence operation last year, authorities arrested 11 suspects which led to averting a major attack in Hyderabad. During interrogation, some of them confessed that the group was being directed and guided by a common handler from IS, based in Syria.
Events show that IS has sure links and operatives in India. The options before the government are only to accept the truth, keep vigilant and act individually and in collaboration with neighboring nations to avert the sinister designs of this misguided group.
Nirendra Dev is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.
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