Al Qaeda and Islamic State (ISIS) have been intensifying their activities inside India while by branding India as Dar al-Kufr (Nation of non-believers) both the jihadist outfits are trying to increase and expand networks – mostly within South India and West Bengal.
The Islamic State, in its 23rd issue of Voice of Khorasan magazine published in March 2023, has trained its focus on the Southern part of India. In a message titled “a message to the inhabitants in the land occupied by cow and mice worshipping filths”, Islamic State has claimed responsibility for failed attacks in Coimbatore (Tamilnadu) and Mangalore (Karnataka), which occurred during October and November last year. The message asks: “Do you not consider out attacks in Coimbatore (Tamilnadu) and Karnataka (Bangalore), where our brothers took revenge for the honour of our religion and terrorized kufar and its followers? (sic)”.
This jihadist propaganda material was written by an individual with a nom de guerre Abu Yasir Al-Hindi (a person hailing from Hind in Hindustan). Al-Hindi ends the passage with a sermon on jihad, “Know that Jihad is an obligation on every Muslim whether he likes it or not! (sic)”. Using the concept of defensive jihad and fard al-ayn, meaning jihad becomes a mandatory law on every Muslim when “Islam is threatened”, Al-Hindi has attempted to strike at the emotions of the 200 million Muslims in India. While propagating the concepts of defensive jihad is not something new in the global context, it is rather a fresh idea being circulated by the Islamic State in India. Al-Hindi’s ideological predecessors, Abdullah Azzam, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Abu Musab al- Zarqawi of Al Qaeda and Zahran Hashim of the Islamic State from Sri Lanka have used this concept to deadly effect, inspiring terrorist attacks at various countries, including in India.
This is ostensibly the first time South India has been directly mentioned in a media publication of the Islamic State. This new found posturing by the Islamic State with reference to South India is possibly intended to instigate more youngsters to join its rank in South India. The Islamic State’s specific message targeting South India states “our second message is to mujahedin all over the world, especially to mujahedin in south India. O brothers! O muwahhidin and mujahedin! O you who have been guided to the straight path, the path of truth, the path of triumph and the path of salvation (sic).” The message further threatens of more attacks in South India warning, “O Kuffar in South India, O BJP and police and military officers, By Allah we promise you a bloody revenge in return (sic)”. Islamic State has been attempting to make inroads into South India since 2014. There have been multiple modules which have been discovered in the past. Out of the 40 odd cases investigated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), almost 75 percent of them pertain to modules predominantly inspired by the Islamic State’s ideology, which were active in South India. This data may have prompted the Islamic State to focus on South India where it believes that it has more traction with its followers and sympathizers.
More importantly, ISIS in its 20th issue of Voice of Khorasan magazine addressed the issue of ban on Popular Front of India by the Indian government. The Islamic State had called out to the supporters of PFI asking them to join its ranks stating, “O supporters of PFI who wanted to bring change through peaceful demonstration, gather under the shadow of Khilafah”. The Popular Front of India (PFI) was started by merging three entities National Development Front (NDF) from Kerala, Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD) from Karnataka, and Manitha Neethi Pasarai (MNP) from Tamilnadu. Hence, PFI has a considerable following and presence in South India.
On April 2, 2023, a Muslim named Shahrukh Saifi, who was travelling on the Alappuzha-Kannur express train, doused his fellow Hindu passengers with petrol and set them ablaze, leaving eight of them critically injured. In the ensuing melee and chaos, three others including a child died. Their bodies were later found on the tracks while they were believed to be escaping by jumping from the burning coach. This attack was orchestrated by an ISIS affiliated Islamist terrorist group and it bears an eerie resemblance to the 2002 incendiary attack on a train near Godhra, Gujarat which killed 59 Hindu volunteers who were going for a temple construction work on a site where Babri Masjid stood.
Another terrorist attack in 2017, a blast in Bhopal Ujjain train which was carried out by an Islamic State inspired module. As ISIS did not claim responsibility for this attack, several counterterrorism experts believe – it might be an act of jihadist lone wolves.
As Al Qaeda and Islamic State are already seen having a foothold inside India, it is essential for the Indian authorities to chalk-out a massive offensive targeting jihadist outfits and lone wolves. At the same time, Indian policymakers may now actively consider banning Tablighi Jamaat, which already is known as one of the most effective recruitment vessels of jihadists. Few months ago, Saudi Arabia already outlawed Tablighi Jamaat while many more countries are going to take similar decisions.
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