In Hindi Daily, MEMRI Scholar Tufail Ahmad Assesses The Current ISIS Threat To India

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September 21, 2015

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In an article in Dainik Jagran, the largest Hindi-language daily in India, MEMRI South Asia Studies Project Director Tufail Ahmad examined a series of media reports over the past year and a half regarding the radicalization of Indian Muslims vis-à-vis the Islamic State (ISIS).

Front page of article in Dainik Jagran.

The article was published September 21, 2015 with the Hindi title of "Two Types of Jihadi Threats" – referring to both the radicalization of Indian Muslim youths over the past year and more, and the Pakistani state-backed jihadism against India, especially in Kashmir.

Following is the English text from which the Hindi article was excerpted:

"There are signs that India is facing a growing threat from the Islamic State, or ISIS. On September 11, Indian officials arrested 38-year-old Afsha Jabeen, aka Nicky Joseph, as she landed at the Hyderabad airport, deported by the UAE for pro-ISIS activities. The mother of three daughters, Jabeen is accused of recruiting, among others, Salman Mohiuddin, who was arrested this year. India is a vast country, but over the past 18 months, mainly two regions have attracted attention for the radicalization of Muslims [in them]: Hyderabad and Mumbai, the former a destination for global IT firms and the latter the nation's financial capital, both with sizeable Muslim populations.

"Mohiuddin had come [to the notice of] U.S. intelligence for jihadi activities last year, and was deported to India as his visa expired. On January 16, Hyderabad police detained him as he boarded a flight to Dubai, headed to Syria for weapons training.

"The Jabeen-Mohiuddin cell is not an isolated case. Last October, software engineer Munawad Salman, a former Google employee, was detained in Hyderabad as he planned to join ISIS. Also, city police detained two men linked to the Pakistan-backed terror group Indian Mujahideen and the home-grown Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), while warning four others. Generally, Indian police do not arrest youths for pro-ISIS radicalization; the youths are detained, warned, and watched.

"In February, a teenage girl from Hyderabad who lived in Qatar abandoned her trip to Syria to join ISIS, returning from Turkey midway following a change of heart.

"The reason the Arab Spring failed was the lack of an infrastructure of liberal ideas in Muslim societies. The reason ISIS gets support is because the existing intellectual environment in Muslim societies is hospitable to jihadism. Hyderabad is the hub of Islamist politician Asaduddin Owaisi, whose All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party is finding support in Mumbai and other regions with significant Muslim populations.

"A youth from Hyderabad, Mohammad Haneef Waseem, was killed in Syria this year. On May 6, a media report noted that 14 Hyderabadi youths were prevented from leaving India to join ISIS. The police warned 11 youths against joining ISIS, detaining them at airports. It is unclear if they were in addition to the 15 engineering students from Hyderabad, one a girl, who were stopped in Kolkata last year en route to Iraq.

"Along with Hyderabad, Mumbai is the other major center of radicalization. The Mumbai-based Raza Academy, which propagates views similar to those of the jihadis who attacked the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, actively mobilizes Muslims on different issues. A December 26 article in the Mumbai-based daily Roznama Urdu Times cited the Koran and Hadith (traditions of Prophet Muhammad) and justified the killing of any person leaving Islam. In January, senior police officer Sanjeev Dayal revealed: 'We had this case where this man wanted to go to a school in Bandra [area of Mumbai] and do something.' Dayal was speaking about Anis Ansari, who was planning to carry out a lone-wolf attack on the American School that caters to children of American and European diplomats. His Facebook chats alerted U.S. intelligence.

"Last year, four youths from Mumbai flew directly to Iraq as part of a group of Shi'ite pilgrims. One, Areeb Majeed, was brought back from Turkey, where he had ended up for medical treatment. Majeed disclosed that he had seen 13 Indians at an ISIS camp in Syria. Pro-ISIS messages were noticed in the bathrooms of Mumbai's airport. In August, Zuber Khan, a journalist from Mumbai, was detained in New Delhi, for making pro-ISIS comments on Facebook. He was warned.

"In the past, Mumbai has seen large-scale terror attacks, notably in 1993 and 2006, and on November 26, 2008. The latter captured international attention as 10 Pakistani jihadis who had arrived by boat fought for three days.

"The pro-ISIS radicalization is not limited to Mumbai and Hyderabad. A journalist from southern Kerala state joined ISIS. On September 15, four Keralite men deported by the UAE were detained as they arrived at the Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode airports. Last December, police in Bangalore arrested Mehdi Masroor Biswas, who used the Twitter handle @ShamiWitness, for mass-scale pro-ISIS activities. Youths have waved ISIS flags in Kashmir to protest against India, while in the states of Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu, Muslims were photographed wearing ISIS t-shirts.

"Over the past year, media reports have put the number of affected youths varyingly: four, five, six, 11, 13, 15, 18, 23, 25, 33, 80, 100, and 300. Very few went to Syria. A special case is Kashmir. On July 26, journalist Bashaarat Masood reported that in the first half of 2015, 33 youths had become militants in Kashmir Valley, not necessarily ISIS – bringing the total number of active militants to 142, of them 54 foreigners, mainly from Pakistan. On August 3, a media report said that seven Indians are currently with ISIS in Syria, while six have died fighting there.

"India faces two types of jihadi threats. The first emanates from the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, which are backed by the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). India has the experience of dealing with ISI-backed jihadis, especially in Kashmir. Currently, it is holding two Pakistani jihadists. The second is the self-radicalization of Muslims. Indians have taken two routes to join ISIS: Four Muslim youths flew directly from India while others have been prevented from flying out of India; and expatriate Indian Muslims based in Australia, Singapore, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Oman, UAE, and other countries moved to Syria.

"The four who flew from Mumbai for Iraq in May 2014 did so over a month before ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi declared himself caliph on June 29 of that year. Now, India is learning to deal with self-radicalization. A Home Ministry meeting on August 1 indicated that Muslim youths in a dozen states could be influenced by ISIS.

"Should India take this threat seriously? One must learn from 9/11, when only 19 hijackers changed the foreign policies of several countries for over a decade, by attacking American cities, and from 26/11, when 10 Pakistani attackers in Mumbai did long-term damage to India-Pakistan relations. Also, since India is host to diverse religions, a single lone-wolf attack there could harm the country's social cohesion.

"Let's keep this in mind: Islamic fundamentalists and extremist Hindus feed each other's politics. For example, this year, the issue of 'Love Jihad' in Delhi and in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh has impacted Hindu-Muslim relations.

"For Indian youths, their only religion should be the Indian constitution. I believe that youths should marry across religions, but not that they should convert in order to marry. This is the only way to safeguard India's cohesion and undermine jihadi forces in our social milieu."

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