NEW DELHI: Islamic State (IS) is fast emerging as the new choice of jihadist-leaning, radicalized Muslim youth in India and its immediate neighbourhood, threatening to undercut more established terror outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad as its success in acquiring territory touted as the “caliphate” gives it significant appeal.
While Lashkar and others like Indian Mujahideen and SIMI have a demonstrated capacity to carry out jihadi attacks, these are seen to be temporary in nature compared to IS fighters who are holding on to land, despite recent setbacks, in Syria and Iraq in the face of the combined might of the US, Russia and West Asian powers like Saudi Arabia.
The IS’s denunciation of Pakistan army as an “apostate” force allied with America and its harsh and uncompromising interpretation of religious tenets threaten to do to Lashkar what the terror outfit did to its rivals: label it as a theologically suspect adjunct of the state lacking the will to recreate a 7th century caliphate.
Indian intelligence sources said there was a trend of radicalized Muslims, who till recently gravitated towards Pakistan-based outfits or their Indian affiliates, looking at IS with favour.
“Many IS-inspired youth arrested recently were earlier with Jaish or SIMI. Also, those under surveillance for following IS elements online had earlier been under the influence of Jaish, IM or SIMI. They now find IS more attractive due to its ability to acquire and hold territories in Iraq and Syria,” a senior officer said.
Asked if the growing preference for IS was for better or worse, an intelligence analyst said with IS having lately weakened in Iraq and Syria, the organisation’s appeal might not be “much of a concern”. But agencies are taking no chances. “We are more or less able to track radicalized elements in touch with IS, and intervene as and when we learn they have acquired arms/explosives or are planning a strike,” the officer said.
“However, if IS does strengthen its grip and ‘liberates’ new territories, its following among Indian youth may pose a threat,” he warned. The lure of IS for potential jihadis is worrying top terror masterminds like LeT founder and Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed who has asked the Nawaz Sharif government to “take steps to control the spread of IS in Pakistan”.
LeT’s anxiety is understandable, given that IS had, through a post in online magazine Dabiq last year, slammed Lashkar and other anti-India terror outfits as al-Qaida allies who were “puppets in the hands of an apostate Pakistan army”. The post evoked a sharp reaction from Saeed, who declared in JuD publication ‘Jarrar’ that IS did not represent Islam or Muslims and called for a global effort in dealingwith the group.
Incidentally, IS’s influence is also growing in Bangladesh. Local terror elements linked to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), frustrated with their own failure to prevent the hanging of senior Jamaat leaders such as Motiur Rahman Nizami, have reportedly aligned with IS. Only recently, IS chief for Bangladesh Shaykh Abu Ibrahim Al Hanif declared IS’s intention to use fighters from Pakistan and Bangladesh to mount “guerilla attacks inside India” by partnering local mujahideen.
Indian agencies fear attacks by JMB cadres in Assam and West Bengal in the coming days. These are the two states where JMB has set up bases and training facilities. Sources said surveillance has been stepped up in the two states and along the India-Bangladesh border, to track and intercept JMB elements.