On Wednesday, The Indian Express reported that in September 2017, Indian intelligence agents had arrested an Islamic State operative, who is an Afghan national, ahead of a planned plot to bomb New Delhi. The arrest throws the spotlight on the IS’s presence in India, seen by investigation agencies as a limited one.
How many alleged IS operatives are under investigation in India?
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) and state police have so far arrested 75 individuals with alleged IS links. The highest number is from Kerala (21), followed by Telangana (16), Karnataka (9), Maharashtra (8), MP (6), Uttarakhand (4), Tamil Nadu (4), UP (3), Rajasthan (2), Jammu & Kashmir (1) and West Bengal (1). As many as 53 were arrested in 2016.
One of the first hints of Indian individuals being influenced by the IS came in 2014, when Maharashtra youths Areeb Majeed, Fahad Shaikh, Saheem Tankhi and Amaan Tandeel travelled to Syria, reportedly to join up. Majeed was deported to India and is facing trial; the other three are reported to have been killed.
How did the IS attract these recruits?
Investigators say IS recruiters and trainers use the Internet, the phone and one-on-one meetings for indoctrinating Indian youth and getting them to travel to Syria, Libya or Iraq. A number of Indian recruits have travelled from home, or places where they are staying abroad. IS propaganda and recruitment depends largely on social media apps such as WhatsApp and Nimbus. Of late, recruiters have been using the “dark web”, a class of Internet content that is not visible to general browsing and is not indexed by search engines.
Has the IS carried out any terrorist activities within India?
So far, it has not directly claimed responsibility for any attack in India. However, the 2014 blast on Church Street, Bengaluru, where one person was killed, was allegedly triggered by an individual linked to the IS. Alam Zeb Afridi, alias Mohd Rafiq, hails from Ahmedabad and was earlier with SIMI and then Indian Mujahideen. In its chargesheet, the NIA said Afridi acted on directions from handlers in Syria associated with the IS, and that their target was Israeli tourists in Bengaluru.
Investigating agencies claim to have busted another IS-linked module, allegedly behind low-intensity blasts on a Bhopal-Ujjain passenger train in 2017. Eight members of this alleged module were arrested while a ninth, Saifulla, was killed in an encounter in Lucknow.
How are these individuals linked to the formal structure of the IS in Syria and Iraq and the Caliphate of al-Baghdadi?
Bhatkal resident Shafi Armar alias Anajan Bhai, designated a global militant by the United States, is said to be highest-ranking IS operative in India. During his chats with recruits, he has reportedly claimed to have been tasked by IS chief al-Baghdadi to set up a Caliphate in India. However, intelligence agencies doubt if he has a direct association with al-Baghdadi. Many officials suspect that Armar, who was earlier with the Indian Mujahideen, uses the name of ISIS on directions of Pakistan. According to Areeb, the Maharashtra youth who was deported in 2016, the IS prefers Arab fighters for jihad and engages Indians mostly in administrative work; Areeb claimed he was part of a team assigned to build Raqqa as a WiFi city.
The latest arrest is an Afghan national allegedly planning a suicide bombing in India. How significant is Afghanistan to IS’s India story?
With its territory shrinking in Iraq and Syria, the IS is looking for new bases and Afghanistan is one of the targeted countries. It is said to be eyeing Afghanistan’s Khorasan province, where scores have migrated from Kerala. In 2016, 22 residents of Kerala, including six women and three children, reached an IS bastion in Afghanistan. Intelligence reports claimed that four of them, including a child, were killed in bombings by the United States. Intelligence agencies have long suspected that militant groups backed by Pakistan might try to use Afghanistan nationals to carry out attacks in India in the name of the IS. In 2015, such groups had allegedly tried to make use of medical visas granted to Afghan nationals, before their alleged terror plot was thwarted on an alert from Afghan intelligence.
Is the IS, like Pakistani terror groups, active in Jammu & Kashmir?
State DGP S P Vaid said recently that four militants killed in South Kashmir belonged to Islamic State of Jammu and Kashmir (ISJK). This outfit, however, is believed to have no organisational chord with ISIS. ISJK recruits are mostly former operatives of other groups such as Hizb-ul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba. The security establishment believes that the IS does not have any defined organisational structure in the Valley or a chain of command transcending borders. In reply to a Parliament question on March 15, 2017, MoS (Home) Hansraj Ahir said, “… A few incidents of unfurling of flags of ISIS by some misguided youth were noticed on different occasions in Jammu & Kashmir in the recent past.”
Are the IS and affiliates banned in India?
In 2015, the Home Ministry notified Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as a banned terrorist organisation under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, stating that it is involved in radicalisation and recruitment of vulnerable youths. Recently, the government included ISIS-K, also known as Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) or ISIS Wilayat Khorasan.