ISIS recruits in India tried to take the advantage of the student movement that raged in several cities after the arrest of JNU union president Kanhaiya Kumar on sedition charges.
On February 19, when Kanhaiya was behind the bars of Tihar jail and several students were protesting and demanding the release of Kanhaiya, ISIS’s Ahmed Ali asked 19-year-old Ashiq Ahmed aka Raja of Hooghly, West Bengal to intrude the movement and burn vehicles and oil tanks with petrol.
This has been unveiled in the statements of three recruits of India’s ISIS wing — Junud al Khalifa-e-Hind (JKH) —Ashiq Ahmad aka Raja Mohammad Abdul Ahad and Mohammad Afzal.
Their statements, made under Section 164 of CrPC, was exclusively accessed by TOI. The statements of three IS members have been recorded for the first time by any agency.
The NIA concludes that the idea was to further stir the students and make the situation even more chaotic. Their testimony proves the creation of JKH and their meetings in Tumukur and Bengaluru (Karnataka), West Bengal and Punjab.
Ashiq told NIA that Ahmad Ali, who claimed himself the boss of Ansar-ut Tawhid fi Bilad al-Hind (AuT), contacted him through his ID on Trillion App on February 19.
“He told me that agencies are keeping a tab on us. He told me that a student movement is happening in the country and that we should enter and put vehicles, oil tankers on fire,” Ashiq revealed.
Agencies doubt that Ali and Shafi Armar, the leader of ISIS department in India is the same person who is believed to have died in a recent US drone attack.
NIA captured Ashiq on February 22, AuT is connected to ISIS and the outfit opened JKH in India and planned to have a unit in every state, as claimed by Bengaluru- based Ahad.
Ashiq told that he was asked to ”learn spying, swimming and drawing maps”, and that their first target would be “Shias”, while they also planned to “free former IM chief Yasin Bhatkal from jail”.
Ashiq further said that “When I asked Ali for a pistol and sent him a picture of a temple near my place (in Hooghly) where we could have carried out a blast to impress him, he told me that we will not do anything small,”
Ashiq, who was studying mechanical engineering, said he was attracted towards ‘Jihad’ since his girlfriend broke up with him citing the reason that she couldn’t leave her religion for him. “I was thinking of changing my religion and then going to her parents,” he said.
Ahad said that he “was against the idea of jihad as he wanted to help poor people of Muslim community, which was not JKH’s plan”. Ahad was a science graduate from US . Before joining ISIS he worked in Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and UAE.
He further said “In December 2014, I visited Turkey as I wanted to go to Syria and see the reality on the ground. I was looking at the possibility of opening an NGO to help the victims of war but I was deported to India.”
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on Sunday said India and China have “great potential” and they could work together at a “practical level”.
“I think, a great potential… India and China combined are doing more compassionate work… At a practical level also. Imagine two billion people working together,” he told reporters here after inaugurating Smile Foundation’s initiative, The World of Children.
The spiritual leader, who has lived in India in self-imposed exile since 1959, said neither country had the “ability to destroy the other”.
“Whether you like it or not, you have to live side by side,” he said.
Underlining the ancient spiritual connection between the two countries, he said Chinese Buddhist Hsuan Tsang visited Nalanda (now in Bihar) and brought Nalanda Buddhist traditions to China.
“All thinkers of Nalanda are Indian. So Nalanda’s tradition is India’s tradition,” he said.
The Nalanda traditions had turned Tibetans, who were warriors, into more compassionate, peaceful and non-violent nation, he said.
“So sometimes in Delhi, teasing my Indian friend, (I say) if Tibet still remained in the previous way of life, like Mongols, Chinese invasion may not have taken place,” the Dalai Lama said in a lighter vein.
He said nobody in the world wanted violence but it was happening “because our minds are dominated by destructive emotions due to short-sightedness”.
“Nobody wants problems. Yet, many problems are our own creation.”
The Dalai Lama said the existing modern education was oriented to material values. India can take lead in improving the education system by combining modern education with ancient knowledge, he said. (IANS)
When Doundou Chefou first took up arms as a youth a decade ago, it was for the same reason as many other ethnic Fulani herders along the Niger-Mali border: to protect his livestock.
He had nothing against the Republic of Niger, let alone the United States of America. His quarrel was with rival Tuareg cattle raiders.
Yet on Oct. 4 this year, he led dozens of militants allied to Islamic State in a deadly assault against allied U.S.-Niger forces, killing four soldiers from each nation and demonstrating how dangerous the West’s mission in the Sahel has become.
The incident sparked calls in Washington for public hearings into the presence of U.S. troops. A Pentagon probe is to be completed in January.
Who is Doundou Chefou?
Niger Defense Minister Kalla Mountari poses for a portrait after an interview with Reuters, in Niamey, Niger Nov. 1, 2017.
Asked by Reuters to talk about Chefou, Nigerien Defense Minister Kalla Mountari’s face fell.
“He is a terrorist, a bandit, someone who intends to harm to Niger,” he said at his office in the Nigerien capital Niamey earlier this month.
“We are tracking him, we are seeking him out, and if he ever sets foot in Niger again he will be neutralized.”
Like most gunmen in so-called Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, which operates along the sand-swept borderlands where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet, Chefou used to be an ordinary Fulani pastoralist with little interest in jihad, several government sources with knowledge of the matter said.
The transition of Chefou and men like him from vigilantes protecting their cows to jihadists capable of carrying out complex attacks is a story Western powers would do well to heed, as their pursuit of violent extremism in West Africa becomes ever more enmeshed in long-standing ethnic and clan conflicts.
For now, analysts say the local IS affiliate remains small, at fewer than 80 fighters. But that was also the case at first with al-Qaida-linked factions before they tapped into local grievances to expand their influence in Mali in 2012.
The United Nations this week released a report showing how IS in northern Somalia has grown to around 200 fighters from just a few dozen last year.
The U.S. military has ramped up its presence in Niger, and other neighboring countries, in recent years as it fears poverty, corruption and weak states mean the region is ripe for the spread of extremist groups.
A map of Niger with the capital city, Niamey, highlighted.
Genesis of a jihad
For centuries the Tuareg and Fulani have lived as nomads herding animals and trading — Tuareg mostly across the dunes and oases of the Sahara, and the Fulani mostly in the Sahel, a vast band of semi-arid scrubland that stretches from Senegal to Sudan beneath it.
Some have managed to become relatively wealthy, accumulating vast herds. But they have always stayed separate from the modern nation-states that have formed around them.
Though they largely lived peacefully side-by-side, arguments occasionally flared, usually over scarce watering points. A steady increase in the availability of automatic weapons over the years has made the rivalry ever more deadly.
A turning point was the Western-backed ouster of Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. With his demise, many Tuareg from the region who had fought as mercenaries for Gadhafi returned home, bringing with them the contents of Libya’s looted armories.
Some of the returnees launched a rebellion in Mali to try to create a breakaway Tuareg state in the desert north, a movement that was soon hijacked by al-Qaida-linked jihadists who had been operating in Mali for years.
Until then, Islamists in Mali had been recruiting and raising funds through kidnapping. In 2012, they swept across northern Mali, seizing key towns and prompting a French intervention that pushed them back in 2013.
Turning point in 2013
Boubacar Diallo, president of the livestock breeders association of north Tillaberi on the Mali border, goes through a list of more than 300 Fulani herders killed by Tuareg raiders in the lawless region, during an interview with Reuters in Niamey, Niger,
Amid the violence and chaos, some of the Tuareg turned their guns on their rivals from other ethnic groups like the Fulani, who then went to the Islamists for arms and training.
In November 2013, a young Nigerien Fulani had a row with a Tuareg chief over money. The old man thrashed him and chased him away, recalls Boubacar Diallo, head of an association for Fulani livestock breeders along the Mali border, who now lives in Niamey.
The youth came back armed with an AK-47, killed the chief and wounded his wife, then fled. The victim happened to be the uncle of a powerful Malian warlord.
Over the next week, heavily armed Tuareg slaughtered 46 Fulani in revenge attacks along the Mali-Niger border.
The incident was bloodiest attack on record in the area, said Diallo, who has documented dozens of attacks by Tuareg raiders that have killed hundreds of people and led to thousands of cows and hundreds of camels being stolen.
“That was a point when the Fulani in that area realized they needed more weapons to defend themselves,” said Diallo, who has represented them in talks aimed at easing communal tensions.
The crimes were almost never investigated by police, admits a Niamey-based law enforcement official with knowledge of them.
“The Tuareg were armed and were pillaging the Fulani’s cattle,” Niger Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum told Reuters. “The Fulani felt obliged to arm themselves.”
‘Injustice, exclusion and self-defense’
Gandou Zakaria, a researcher of mixed Tuareg-Fulani heritage in the faculty of law at Niamey University, has spent years studying why youths turned to jihad.
“Religious belief was at the bottom of their list of concerns,” he told Reuters. Instead, local grievances were the main driving force.
Whereas Tuareg in Mali and Niger have dreamed of and sometimes fought for an independent state, Fulani have generally been more pre-occupied by concerns over the security of their community and the herds they depend on.
“For the Fulani, it was a sense of injustice, of exclusion, of discrimination, and a need for self-defense,” Zakaria said.
One militant who proved particularly good at tapping into this dissatisfaction was Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, an Arabic-speaking north African, several law enforcement sources said.
Al-Sahrawi recruited dozens of Fulani into the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), which was loosely allied to al-Qaida in the region and controlled Gao and the area to the Niger border in 2012.
After French forces in 2013 scattered Islamists from the Malian towns they controlled, al-Sahrawi was briefly allied with Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an al-Qaida veteran.
Today, al-Sahrawi is the face of Islamic State in the region.
“There was something in his discourse that spoke to the youth, that appealed to their sense of injustice,” a Niger government official said of al-Sahrawi.
Two diplomatic sources said there are signs al-Sahrawi has received financial backing from IS central in Iraq and Syria.
How Chefou ended up being one of a handful of al-Sahrawi’s lieutenants is unclear. The government source said he was brought to him by a senior officer, also Fulani, known as Petit Chapori.
Like many Fulani youth toughened by life on the Sahel, Chefou was often in and out of jail for possession of weapons or involvement in localized violence that ended in deals struck between communities, the government official said.
Yet Diallo, who met Chefou several times, said he was “very calm, very gentle. I was surprised when he became a militia leader.”
U.S. and Nigerien sources differ on the nature of the fatal mission of Oct 4. Nigeriens say it was to go after Chefou; U.S. officials say it was reconnaissance mission.
One vehicle lost by the U.S. forces was supplied by the CIA and kitted with surveillance equipment, U.S. media reported. A surveillance drone monitored the battle with a live feed.
The Fulani men, mounted on motorbikes, were armed with the assault rifles they first acquired to look after their cows. (VOA)