Out of 142 Indian citizens who have been suspected of links with the Islamic State, 85 have either been arrested or interrogated by government agencies, and 11 have been killed. Only 42 are possibly still active abroad — 16 of them in Afghanistan. These are part of the findings of a research project undertaken by Dhruva Jaishankar and Sara Perlangeli at Brookings India, which examined and collated official statements and press reports for all IS-linked cases involving an Indian citizen, including those outside India.
While there was just the lone case of an IS-linked individual in 2013, and 6 cases in 2014, the number shot up to 35 in 2015, and 75 in 2016. Until the end of April 2017, a total of 35 ISIS-linked cases involving an Indian citizen had been identified. The researchers have been able to identify 132 out of the 142 individuals by name, using more than one reliable source in each case.
“Naturally, ISIS claims a much larger number of Indian recruits, but these are only the ones we could verify, often by name and origins,” said Jaishankar, a Fellow at Brookings India.
Among the 142 Indian citizens, there were only five recruiters and one propagandist; 38 were conspirators and 10 were sympathisers. Fifty-eight individuals were attempted to be recruited, or were successfully recruited.
At least 66 Indians are known to have attempted to travel to Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya to join ISIS efforts. This includes not just fighters, but others who pledge allegiance, including family members of fighters. Of these 66, 12 were arrested, detained, or intercepted (3 in Nagpur, 2 each in Delhi and Karnataka, 1 each in Mumbai, Jaipur and Hyderabad, and 1 each in the UAE and Sudan); 2 returned to India on their own before they had reached their destinations; 10 IS fighters are confirmed dead (6 in Syria, 3 in Afghanistan, and 1 in either Iraq or Syria).
This means at least 42 Indian IS recruits are possibly still active abroad, although there are unconfirmed reports that many of them have been killed. Sixteen of them are in Afghanistan, 15 in Iraq or Syria, 8 in Syria, and 1 in Libya. The locations of 2 individuals are not known. Most estimates of foreign fighters with IS say the numbers of recruits from Europe, North America, West Asia, former Soviet Union, Southeast Asia and Australia are far higher than from India.
For Jaishankar, there are five main takeaways from the survey.
“One is that the numbers in India are still very small. Two, while ISIS appeared to have made some inroads in India between 2013 and 2016, their success may be levelling off, for now. Three, well-networked and more prosperous regions of India (Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana and Maharashtra) appear particularly prone to ISIS radicalisation, more than say, Bihar or Jammu and Kashmir. Four, India has a relatively good record of intercepting potential ISIS recruits. And five, as ISIS becomes more of a global network, there is a prospect of other radicalised individuals and cells claiming allegiance to ISIS, rather than the group itself establishing a major direct presence in India. This is not unlike al-Qaeda in the 1990s and early 2000s.”
The state with the highest number of cases is Kerala (37 individuals), followed by Telangana (21) and Maharashtra (19). Four individuals are from Gujarat, and only 2 from J&K. One 24-year-old Kashmiri recruiter and propagandist was deported from the UAE to India last year, while another was based in Australia. Data also show that some of the reported ‘IS’ cases in Kashmir turned out to be the work of non-Kashmiris, such as a 26-year-old man from Bengal.