The Islamic State’s latest threat to India: Should we be worried?

There is no simple answer. The numbers of Indians who have responded to the Islamic State’s call is tiny, especially compared to much smaller European countries, or neighbours like the Maldives.

Written by Praveen Swami | New Delhi | Published: December 2, 2015 5:51:55 pm
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Last summer, as the Islamic State’s victorious armies swept across Iraq and Syria, self-proclaimed Caliph Ibrahim al-Badri held out a grim threat to the world.

“Muslims’ rights”, he said, “are forcibly seized in China, India, Palestine, Somalia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Caucasus, Sham, Egypt, Iraq, Indonesia, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Ahvaz, Iran , Pakistan, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Morocco, in the East and in the West” .

Now, The Indian Express has revealed that the Islamic State has reiterated its threat in a new publication released online on Tuesday—this time, with specific criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, references to communal violence in India, and instructions on how to wage covert war.

Is this something Indians should be worried about?

There is no simple answer. The numbers of Indians who have responded to the Islamic State’s call—less than two dozen, by most accounts—is tiny, especially compared to much smaller European countries, or neighbours like the Maldives.

Islamic State sympathisers have also tried to set up cells inside India, with a plot being uncovered in Madhya Pradesh but the organisation hasn’t come close to staging an actual strike.

Yet, the fact is some of those fighting with the Islamic State have been involved in past acts of mass terrorism, notably the Indian Mujahideen’s urban terrorism campaign. Having been trained in actual combat conditions, the lethality of these individuals will have significantly increased.

The bottom line is: it doesn’t matter how many individuals participate in the Islamic State’s jihad—it’s how many get past India’s intelligence and police services.

It’s not coincidental that Islamic State propaganda includes India among its list of enemies—which also includes Pakistan and Bangladesh. Home to a large part of the world’s Muslims, South Asia is key to the organisation’s expansion strategy.

The Islamic State also knows it could be driven out of its heartland in the Middle East, and be forced, like al-Qaeda, to wage a subterranean warn from South Asia’s crowded cities.

Already, the organisation has a not-insignificant presence in Afghanistan, and a fledgling one in Pakistan. It’s also attempting to establish itself in Bangaldesh.

However, to succeed, the Islamic State will need to show would-be jihadists it is willing to take on India—the arch-enemy for jihadists across the region. Like al-Qaeda, the group would hope to tap the anti-India sentiment that has drawn so many Pakistanis and even Bangladeshis to organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba or Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami.

That makes an attack on India a tempting option—and the rising tide of hate in the country might just give the Islamic State the pool of angry young people it needs to feed its ugly cause.

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