Homeland Security

Kerala-Kashmir-Kabul and the Islamic State
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 31 Dec , 2019

Jihadi ideology route in India

Reports regarding emergence of a new terror group ‘Base Movement’ has been making rounds for some time. The ramifications, reach and consequences of this terror group, however has not been analyzed to any degree. Least to say, the ramifications are pernicious.

The Base Movement, which has been carrying out revenge blasts, came into existence in January 2015 at Madurai in Tamil Nadu. This group is affiliated to the Al-Qaeda.

It is pertinent to mention here that the Al-Qaeda continues to be the umbrella organization of all jihadi groups rooted in the Wahabi / Salafi philosophy. It includes outfits like Haqqani group, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Jundulah, JMB, Al-Nusra, Boko-Haram etc. Hafiz Saeed was put in under preventive detention on 17 December 2008, this was a week before the US Security Council designated Jamat-ul-Dawa (JuD), the parent organization of LeT as an associate of Al-Qaeda.

The arrival of the Islamic State or the inroads by Al-Qaeda in India poses danger not only to the Hindu-Muslim fabric of the country but more grievously on the Shia-Sunni harmony.

Significantly, the Islamic State is also under the same umbrella. This is a loose conglomeration andmost jihadi groups do not necessarily take all the orders from the Al-Qaeda. To that extent they are autonomous.

The autonomy is imperative because respective groups have their respective catchment, and operational areas, given their local / regional expertise. For example, the catchment area of LeT is the Sialkot region and that of JeM is the Bhawalpur region. This architecture of global jihad cannot sustain without this arrangement. The Islamic State catchment area is the entire globe, wherein it attracts educated, English speaking, media and social network savvy youth, cutting across nationalities. Curiously a medical student from Hyderabad in Pakistan joined the Islamic State in Syria. She was in contact with a boy on social media for quite some-time, who transformed her mindset. Interestingly, two of Leghari’s friends were Hindus.

All jihadi groups in the world have some basic commonalities, i.e. opposition to the West, extremist narrative, designation of US and Israel as primary enemies, and the concept of Caliphate. The difference between the Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State on territorial issues is that the former has no immediate concern for ‘Caliphate’, while the latter has been insisting on its immediate establishment, and accordingly carved a territory for itself in Iraq and Syria. Also while the Al-Qaeda believes in large scale dramatic attacks to mobilize the Muslims of the world, the Islamic State seeks targets that are closer to home. The other major difference is that though both Al-Qaeda and Islamic State are anti-Shia, the Al-Qaeda believes in postponement of its anti-Shia agenda, but looks the other way when other affiliates like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi carries out terrorist attacks against Shias. On the other hand, the Islamic State believes in immediate and total annihilation of Shias.

The biggest beneficiaries of Hindu-Muslim clashes in India are the jihadi groups because it provides them a rich crop to harvest jihadis from.

It is instructive for Indians to know the mindset of the Islamic State. Significantly it was Jama’at al-Tawhidwal-Jihad (Al-Qaeda in Iraq), which had morphed into Islamic State. The leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (killed in 2006) and later Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ignored the Al-Qaeda’s main leader Aymanal-Zawahiri’sadvise against killing of Shias. In a letter to Al-Zawahiri in 2004, Al-Zarqawi wrote that he would continue targeting the Shias to provoke them to retaliate against the Sunnis in order to compel the latter to gravitate to the fold of Islamic State. Till this day, the Islamic State follows the same strategy.

The arrival of the Islamic State or the inroads by Al-Qaeda in India poses danger not only to the Hindu-Muslim fabric of the country but more grievously on the Shia-Sunni harmony. The rise of the Islamic State has made the Shias in India restive to the extent that about 300 Shias had gathered in Lucknow clamoring for a special flight to Syria so that they could fight for the protection of Shia Shrines in West Asia.

Zakir Naik therefore not only posed the Wahabi menace in India, he was a serious threat to the sectarian balance amongst Muslims. Moreover, the Islamic State philosophy of provoking other sects / groups to draw Muslims to its brand of jihad may already have been tried in India manifesting in communal clashes. The biggest beneficiaries of Hindu-Muslim clashes in India are the jihadi groups because it provides them a rich crop to harvest jihadis from.

Coming back to ‘Base Movement’, this new terror group has carried out five blasts in different Court premises in southern part of India. These, as per the admission of its members were carried out in revenge against so-called victimization of Muslims in rest of India. The first bomb attack on 15-June-2016 was carried out in Kollam Court against the encounter killing of Ishrat Jahan. The second attack was carried on 01-August-2016 in the Mysore Court because of hanging of Yakub Menon and killing of eight terrorists of SIMI in Madhya Pradesh. The third attack was in Nellore Court on 12-September-2016 following the killing of Burhan Wani.

…this is the first time that the judiciary has been under threat as part of a comprehensive design. It adds a new dimension to India’s threat perception.

As per the NIA charge-sheet, the jihadis of the organization were asked to identify offices in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi and Mumbai. It indicates that the targets being explored by the Base Movement are not confined to South India but Mumbai and Delhi as well. In fact, the entire India for them is an arena of revenge. Also on their target is the French consulate in Bengaluru.

The NIA has very timely exposed this dangerous development of Base Movement. Earlier, the targets were parliament and legislative assemblies or security forces or infrastructure, but this is the first time that the judiciary has been under threat as part of a comprehensive design. It adds a new dimension to India’s threat perception. Also, on their hit-list are the Prime Minister, Home Minister, LK Advani and Gen VK Singh.

Significantly, it is not only the French Consulate in Bengaluru under threat, but the Embassies of US, Russia, France, Israel and Myanmar located in Delhi as well.

This jihadi threat to foreign embassies must be assessed in the backdrop of the massive bomb attack in the diplomatic area of Kabul on 31-May-2017 during Ramadan. More than 100 people lost their lives and more than 300 were wounded. Since the emergence of Islamic State, jihadi attacks during Ramadan has become an essential feature. An official Taliban spokesman said: “our fight is jihad and is an obligatory worship, reward for every obligatory act of worship is multiplied 70 times in Ramadan.” Islamic State has recently called for bloodshed during Ramadan exhorting its cadres ‘attack them in their homes’. The Islamic State emphasis on attacks abroad during Ramadan is to galvanize their followers and demonstrate their reach.  In 2015, the ISIS killed nearly 400 people across the globe during Ramadan.  In 2016, the figure ratcheted to nearly 480 and this year till today attacks attributed to the ISIS directly or indirectly include Britain (2 attacks), Kabul (2 attacks), Baghdad (2 attacks), Kashmir (4 suicide attacks), and Manila. 

The threat to consulates and embassies by the Base Movement must draw lessons from recent attack in Kabul. Being a diplomatic area it was heavily fortified. The bombing was only 100 meters away from the Indian Embassy in Kabul. The French, German and Japanese embassy suffered damages. The jihadi group responsible for this attack has not been identified but its philosophy is no different from Base Movement.

If setback to jihadis in Kashmir or in Madhya Pradesh, has reverberations in the judicial courts in South India or foreign embassies or consulates, surely then we are in throes of global jihad. It is not merely Kashmir and Kerala (euphemistically speaking for South India) connection or pan-Indian phenomenon but the alignment is Kerala, Kashmir and Kabul, and other co-laterals of global jihad extending to West Asia, Southeast Asia and even Maldives.

The impact of a jihadi attack or incident in Kashmir is not limited to J&K region, it triggers chain reactions throughout India and of course amongst jihadi outfits in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

To these three ‘K’si i.e. Kerela, Kashmir and Kabul can also be added another one, i.e. Kokrajhar. In may be remembered that in the year 2012, communal clashes in the Arakan region of Myanmar, wherein the Rohingyas suffered had its ugly reverberations in Kokrajhar in Assam, which in turn incited communal violence in Mumbai and then there was a chain of communal incidents in Pune, Hyderabad and Bengaluru. Boys and girls from Northeast had to flee the city of Bengaluru in fear, such is the pan-Indian and global dimension of jihad in the Indian context.

Therefore, it would be suicidal for India to treat jihadi terror in the perspective of ‘law and order’. It is a grave security problem, which has external and internal dimensions with the dividing line getting increasingly blurred. The impact of a jihadi attack or incident in Kashmir is not limited to J&K region, it triggers chain reactions throughout India and of course amongst jihadi outfits in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

It is thus, all the more pressing that Article-370 be removed.

If Indian Muslims from Kerala are travelling to Afghanistan to join the Islamic State and if Kashmir has reverberations on the Muslims of Kerala, then one is compelled to deduce that the global jihad in India has transcended all geographical, linguistic and cultural barriers.

Terrorist attacks during Ramadan in 2017

There is no phenomenon such as ‘local jihad’. Even the jihad in Kashmir is global. All jihadi organizations active in Kashmir are affiliates of Al-Qaeda. The Islamic State is now a reality in the Kashmir Valley. Zakir Musa underscored the phenomenon and he rightly said the fight was not for Kashmir but for Caliphate. He even threatened the Hurriyat leaders of dire consequences if they continued to emphasize on Kashmiriyat or territoriality. He exposed their duplicity by reminding them that on one hand they used the mosques to mobilize the youth, and at same time labeled the problem as a political one. Educated youth from the Valley have begun to join the Islamic State.

There is no phenomenon such as ‘local jihad’. Even the jihad in Kashmir is global. All jihadi organizations active in Kashmir are affiliates of Al-Qaeda. The Islamic State is now a reality in the Kashmir Valley.

One Afsan Pravez of old city of Sri Nagar has recently been deported from Turkey while on his way to joining the Islamic State in Syria. Another youth from Jawahar Nagar, Sri Nagar Adil Fayaz, who was in Australia after completing his MBA made his way to Syria. The denial of Islamic State presence in the Valley can no longer be sustained.

As per a recent report, 23 Keralits have joined the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Their leader Abdul Rashid Abdulla, in an interview has said the following:

“Islamic State is growing faster than you think… Islam spread by the sword… Education in India teaches you to respect nation-state and other religions, these are anti-Islamic… A job helps a secular democratic nation and is therefore un-Islamic… Here in Khorasan we have Pakistanis, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Arabs and Indians – all of us live like brothers… Thanks to internet… a new world has opened to the youth.”

The Khorasan that Abdul Rashid is referring to is actually an area comprising Northeastern Iran, Southern Turkmenistan, Northern Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of India. This was established in 3rd century AD by the Sasanian dynasty in Iran. In fact, this was the last empire of Iran before advent of Islam. Later after much struggle with the Hindu kings in 7th century AD, the Ummiyad Caliphate was able to assimilate the area. The Wahabi Muslims believe that in the course of establishing the unopposed rule of Islam the first defeat will be inflicted on the non-Muslims in this area. The other concept that the Al-Qaeda or Islamic State subscribe to is Ghazwa-e-Hind (Final Battle of India). This is a prophesized battle, after which the total dominance of Islam would be established. This battle would involve India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. In demographic terms in the present day context, it involves nearly 50 crore Muslims in the three countries or in the Indian subcontinent.

Territorially, we created Bangladesh, but ideologically we have allowed our frontiers to be nibbled by Bangladesh and Pakistan in the name of Ummah and Caliphate.

Rather a queer phenomenon of jihadi suicides by entire family has been witnessed in Bangladesh when confronted with security forces recently. Families in Sylhet, Maulvi Bazar, Dhaka and Barahati exploded themselves to avoid capture, thus taking jihadi militancy to new levels. Such collective suicide bombings have not been experienced in Middle-East and Af-Pak region. The Al-Qaeda (JMB) and its affiliate the Islamic State has become the new role model for Bangladesh jihadis. Mohd Masiruddin alias Mussa was nabbed in Burdwan in July 2016 was interrogated by FBI for his links with the top ISIS leaders of India and Middle-East.

The first post-independence generation of India will have to decide that whether independent India should consider these as inimical ideologies. Can an evolving India afford such counter-pulls or contrary pulls? Can India survive these pulls? Territorially, we created Bangladesh, but ideologically we have allowed our frontiers to be nibbled by Bangladesh and Pakistan in the name of Ummah and Caliphate. In 2007, the Border Security Force of India reported mushrooming of mosques and madrasas along the Indo-Bangladesh border. There were 955 mosques and 156 madrasas in 28 districts on Bangladesh side, most of them within 100-200 meters of the border. According to a recent study, there are 27 times as many madrasas in Pakistan as they were in 1947. In 1947 the number of madrasas were 245, which has now swelled to 8000.

Sheikh Hasina carried out a massive crackdown on jihadi groups including Jamait-e-Islami (JeI), much to the disconcertment of Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, now she has been seduced by the Saudi money. The Saudis have now again allowed Bangladesh migrant workers in the country. Bangladesh earns $3 billion a year from remittances of workers in Saudi Arabia. This was not without a price. In return Bangladesh has accepted an offer of $1 billion for construction of 550 wahabi mosques (one in every town). This magnitude of proliferation of mosques can be gauged from the fact that in 1980s there was one mosque for every 750 persons and now it is for 550. Since 2009, 50000 mosques have sprung up in Bangladesh taking the total to three lacs. The Qami-madrasas now boost off 14 lac students as against 50 lacs in government madrasas.

Ideological Journey of Asim Umar, head of Al-Qaeda, in Indian Subcontinent

The sub-continental ideological framework of Al-Qaeda or global jihad in the Indian context is best illustrated by the jihadi journey of Asim Umar, the head of Al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). Asim was born in Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh, one of the most radicalized areas in India. His first jihadi ideological education was at Darul Uloom Deoband seminary. He then studied the jihadi ideology in Jamia Uloom-ul-Islamia in Karachi, Pakistan, also known as the Binori Mosque. This institution has produced jihadi stalwarts like Mullah Umar, Abdul Aziz (Lal Masjid), Maulana Masood Azhar (JeM) and Fazl-ur-Rahman. In fact, the patriarch of jihad, Saifulla Akhtar was also a product of this institution. He later was also the military advisor to Mullah Umar. It can thus be inferred that the Binori and Haqqani seminaries serve as made feeder institutions not only for jihadi tanzeems in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India but for global jihad as well. This linkage has indeed deep ideological connections with the seminary in Deoband.

Is it not time to decide, as to which brand of Islam should be allowed to impact on India? The Chinese have decided so with regard to their Xinjiang province. Why are we not aggressive about an Indian brand of Islam?

Asim then began to provide jihadi ideological training to jihadists in camps run by Harkat-ul-Mujahideen in POK. He then travelled to Afghanistan and consequent upon his meeting with Osama Bin Laden, he joined Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HUJI). Finally, for further ideological training he attended Darul Uloom Haqqania in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is from this seminary, that the plot to assassinate Benazir Bhutto was carried out.

Is it not time to decide, as to which brand of Islam should be allowed to impact on India? The Chinese have decided so with regard to their Xinjiang province. Why are we not aggressive about an Indian brand of Islam? Why Muslims in India are shy of even discussing Indonesian brand of Islam?

It is Pakistan’s Zia-ul-Haq who single handedly took Pakistan and subsequently the rest of the Indian subcontinent towards Wahabi/ Salafi Islam to severe roots from Indian moorings. He famously said: “If Iran imbibes Indian culture, it will still remain Iran, but if Pakistan retains Indian traditions, it will over time become India.” If Zia-ul-Haq could build an Arab narrative of Islam, why can’t we do the opposite for the imperative of nation-building.

First published in June 2017.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

RSN Singh

is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW and author of books Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and The Military Factor in Pakistan. His latest book is The Unmaking of Nepal.

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4 thoughts on “Kerala-Kashmir-Kabul and the Islamic State

  1. Sir our security agencies need to keep a close tab on suspected people who are travelling outside India esp to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Saudi, UAE. If they are found involved in terror activities, best to eliminate them in secret operations. Also the society has to take up responsibility and not alllow any extremist views to cultivate or propagate

  2. First suspend and later revoke the passports not only of those who travel outside to join ISIS, but also of all the family members. Freeze the bank accounts and de-link Aadhar cards, withdraw all subsidies and entitlements of the dependents in India. No need to rescue anyone held captive.
    The scenario is alarming like metastasizing cancer which needs surgical treatment only.

  3. Keep it simple if someone is going outside of your country to fight with Daesh,, let them go, just cancel their citizenship,, they can stay there and die for whatever cause they want for. They can be taken care in foreign lands,, eliminate the threat over there. French SO doing so,, many french nationals those are working with daesh in syria,, has been detected and eliminated over there,, ofcourse its a covert but only way to deal with this cancer is just remove it. India need to do the same,, those who are outside dont let them comeback and if possible eliminate in foreign land. and for those who are involved inside,, internal security agnecies knows what to do.

    India need to fight this at 2 fronts.

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