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Thousands of Islamic State sleeper cells active in India

Kerala, Islamic State, ISIS, Delhi, National Investigation Agency, Kashmir, Sleeper cells

Counterterrorism

Thousands of Islamic State sleeper cells active in India

Each of these cells has around 10 members, which translates to the presence of 32000 Islamic State jihadists in the state, with at least 40% of these being women. Writes Ashlyn Davis

Interrogation of two female suicide bombers named Shifa Haris and Mizha Siddique of the Islamic State’s Kerala module has revealed that around 3200 ISIS sleeper cells are operating in Kerala, India. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) team from Delhi arrested both of the women from a residence at Thana in Kerala’s Kannur in August of this year.

Each of these cells has around 10 members, which translates to the presence of 32000 Islamic jihadis in the state, with at least 40% of these being women. Many of these women have been converted to Islam from other faiths through narcotics jihad or grooming jihad. The charge sheet presented by the NIA states that Mizha Siddique had travelled to Tehran with her accomplices and intended to cross over to Syria illegally, but failed. Mizha was working under the direction of the Kerala ISIS kingpin, Mohammad Ameen, and recruiting Muslim youth for ISIS. Mohammad Ameen is now behind bars. Mizha had recruited her cousins Shifa Harris and Mushab Anwar for jihad and inspired them to join ISIS. Shifa had sent funds to their Kashmir module; they were planning Hijra, Islamic religious migration, to Kashmir. About seven young jihadis were set to migrate to Kashmir from Kerala.

This large-scaled permeation of sleeper cells suggests that the ideologues of the Islamic State are now embedded across Kerala, and its growth is difficult to monitor or check. Most of the members of the ISIS sleeper cells are part of its cyber brigade, are incorrigibly indoctrinated, and could pick up arms at any moment to fight for a caliphate led by the Islamic State.

These jihadis are mostly modern, highly qualified, and adept at using the latest technologies and gadgets. Apart from grooming, many were lured into this cause with promises of sex, money, positions, drugs, or foreign jobs. The Kerala brigade also involves people from the film and media industries, who are working closely with each other.

These members promote the jihad ideology, albeit covertly. They commonly use social media to transmit information and spread propaganda; they often hold meetings and assist their “military brigade” (a kill squad) stealthily. They are the main mediators between the Islamic State and foreign intelligence groups such as Pakistan’s ISI.

The Talibanization of this southern state of India and the growing tendency among well-educated people in recent years to turn to jihad is not a fluke. It is the well-planned strategy of Pakistan-based jihad outfits that plan to use India’s home-grown jihadis, such as the ones in Kerala, to launch jihad terror attacks all over the country.

The Kerala-based jihadis, along with their Pakistan-based handlers, are operating in Kabul, and their next target could very well be Kashmir. In light of the repeated recent targeted killings of non-Muslims in Kashmir, the possibilities of a renewed jihad  terrorist insurgency in the valley cannot be dismissed. The Kerala-based ISIS sleeper cells may move to Kashmir to advance the cause of the jihadis in case of such a planned insurgency.

In March 2020, a group led by Mohammed Ameen was arrested by the NIA for their links with the Islamic State. Ameen was from Kerala; he reached Kashmir to meet another accused jihad terrorist, Mohammad Waqar Lone, and his associates, soon after returning to India from Bahrain.

They were caught distributing pro-ISIS propaganda through social media channels, recruiting members for their ISIS module, and raising funds. Ameen was holed up in the national capital area, awaiting directions from his jihadi masters, when he the NIA apprehended him and his accomplices.

This was a highly dedicated outfit that, under Ameen’s leadership, owed its loyalty to ISIS and had planned targeted assassinations in Karnataka and Kerala, as well as religious migration to Kashmir.

The victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan was impossible without the support of the Pakistani military. In between May and June of this year, Pakistan started to position the Taliban with a renewed image on the international stage. Pakistani federal minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi publically claimed that “the Taliban might wear baggy dresses but they have intelligent brains,” and Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed asserted that the current Taliban leadership is a moderate one compared to the Taliban of 1996 that had publicly displayed the dead bodies of the then-Afghan president Najibullah and his brother. Again, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan denied the US airspace for attacking the Taliban.

The Taliban commanders, on the other hand, were functional in Peshawar and Quetta in Pakistan, much like how Osama bin Laden was operating out of their backyard. They were transferring both their troops and those of Pakistan towards Kabul and other major Afghan cities. The Pakistani agency ISI was overseeing these jihad terror cells, and has provided a fertile breeding ground for Islamic terrorists. When the most opportune time arrives, they may reach out to the jihadis-in-the-making in Kerala’s sleeper cells and order them to carry out massive acts of terror.

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