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ISIS sympathizers are anti-nationals, not misguided youths

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ISIS

By Nithin Sridhar

The threat posed by the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) to the safety and security of India is continuously increasing day after day.

On 22 January, the National Investigation Agency, or NIA arrested 14 people from various cities for planning attacks on different parts of India. Jihadi literature, cash, and circuits for detonating bombs were among the items found in their position. According to the media reports, they belonged to a group that called themselves ‘Janood-ul-Khalifa-e-Hind’ (Army of Caliph of India), suggesting their links with the Islamic Caliphate.

The crackdown clearly brought forward four facts:

  1. Terror networks with links with ISIS has already been established in India. These networks may be working directly under ISIS or they may have borrowed the ideology of ISIS and working in conjunction with them.
  2. These terror networks are very widespread and not limited to any particular region or state. The NIA had arrested those 14 people from six cities spread across four states–Bangalore, Tumkur, Mangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Lucknow.
  3. The group has reportedly said that they had plans to topple the Indian government and impose Sharia rule. They had further planned to obtain huge amounts of weapons and were in constant touch with ISIS.
  4. The arrests also revealed the return of the Indian Mujahideen (IM) into India under the banner of ISIS. Those who were arrested revealed that they had been guided by Mohammad Shafi Armar alias Yousuf from Bhatkal who handles Ansar-ul-Tawhid (AuT), formed by IM militants.

Add to this the Zee News report brought out on January 28. The report stated that at least 30,000 people in India are in contact with ISIS and they were all ready to wage war against India. The report further noted how ISIS has created an underground community of hackers who are trying to retrieve sensitive data, which ISIS plans to use in its attacks on India.

In my previous article- ‘Why India should not ignore IS threat’, I had mentioned about the three possible threats from ISIS: Indian youths joining ISIS, ISIS giving new lease to militancy in Kashmir, and ISIS joining hands with other terror groups to infiltrate and destabilize India.

It appears that ISIS has already achieved a fair amount of ground on all the three counts. Its influence on Kashmiri youth in increasing and If the Zee News report is indeed correct, then ISIS has not only managed to bring outfits like IM under its fold, it has already started creating a huge network of its own in India. After all, 30,000 sympathizers is no small number.

The threat of ISIS to India is real and non-ignorable and it needs measures that are strict and non-compromising. Thus, the arrest of 14 ISIS activists who were planning to plant multiple bombs across India is a welcome step. The arrest also shows how Indian Intelligence agencies are deeply monitoring ISIS related activities. Yet, there are few areas where more stringent actions are required.

Regarding the arrest of 14 people, NIA officials have been quoted as stating: “They have been under the radar for past few months. When we came to know that they are in the process of procuring explosive material and weapons, we arrested them.” Though, this reveals that agencies are minutely monitoring various activities, it also reveals how an arrest was made only at the last moment when the group was in the process of procuring explosive material. In other words, if the agencies had failed to nab the group at the last moment, these people may have succeeded in carrying out their attacks and killing hundreds of people.

The Indian government must implement a policy wherein anybody who is being contacted by ISIS recruits and/or who is being exposed to Jihadi and ISIS literature and/or who in any way exhibit sympathy for ISIS must be detained, questioned, and de-radicalized immediately. If, de-radicalization is doubtful to succeed, such suspects must be arrested and tried.

More importantly, India has shown a lenient attitude towards people who are being deported back to India from countries like UAE, where they were either found to be planning to go to Syria or were linked to ISIS in some other way or had sympathies and affinity towards ISIS ideology. Just two days ago, UAE detained three such Indians, who were allegedly planning to carry out terror attacks on India and few other countries. In 2015, around 30 people were sent back from UAE on similar grounds.

The Indian establishment has largely treated them leniently by simply questioning them, making them undergo De-radicalization process, and letting them off. Though, they have kept a watch of such people, the threat from these people are very high. Despite of all the counseling, there is no surety that these people have been sent back to India to act as sleeper terror networks that may become activated few years down the line.

In the light of the grave risk posed by these suspects, India should explore the option of revoking their citizenship and not allowing them to land in India. But, such a move may come with humanitarian issues, and may lead to further radicalization among the families of such suspects. An alternate to this option could be to arrest all such deported people and try them and send them to jail, where de-radicalization programs can be conducted. They must undergo punishment and de-radicalization together. This will ensure that those who return back are isolated from the rest of the society so that they do not exert any influence on the rest and also not work as part of any underground movement.

The government should also consider taking up a few long term measures to fight increasing extremism among the Muslim community. Two such measures could be enrolling of Muslims into Police forces and deploying them in Muslim dominated areas, and paving the way for Muslim communities to take up various vocational businesses and become economically prosper.

Another problematic area is media’s discourse on the issue. Their entire discourse aims to portray ISIS sympathizers as ‘misguided youths’. It is very important for Indian society to recognize the Islamic State as a Caliphate and thus any sympathies, any allegiance shown by Indians towards ISIS automatically translates into them becoming anti-nationals. Add to this how ISIS has already called India as its enemy and in a sense has declared a war on it.

Thus, it is high time that public discourse about ISIS sympathizers stop treating them as misguided youth and start treating them as enemies of the State who have allegiance to the Islamic Caliphate. As long as the Indians remain under the false impression that Islamic State is just a terror organization and not a Caliphate, Indian society will not be able to develop a proper response mechanism. (Photo: abcnews.go.com)

Next Story

Here’s Everything you Need to Know About the Increasing Islamic State Terror Activity in Syria

Surge of IS Violence and Terrorism Seen in Syria

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Smoke Syria
Smoke rises while people gather at a damaged site after two bomb blasts claimed by Islamic State hit the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli near the Turkish border, Syria. VOA

By Sirwan Kajjo

Islamic State militants have increased their terror activity in recent weeks in Syria, carrying out deadly attacks against Syrian regime troops and U.S.-backed forces.

Since early December, the terror group has conducted at least three major attacks on Syrian government forces and their allied militias in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, local sources said.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor that has reporters across the country, recent attacks claimed by IS against Syrian military forces have killed at least 30 soldiers and wounded more than 50 others.

Last week, at least three fighters with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces were killed in what local military officials described as a suicide attack carried out by IS militants in the province of Raqqa, IS’s former de facto capital before it was freed in 2017 by the SDF and its U.S.-led allies.

Islamic State Syria
Islamic State militants clean their weapons in Deir el-Zour city, Syria. VOA

‘Threat to our forces’ 

IS “terrorists still pose a threat to our forces, especially in the eastern part of Syria,” an SDF commander told VOA.

“They have been able to regroup and reorganize in some remote parts of Deir el-Zour, where there is a smaller presence of our forces or any other forces,” said the commander, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to journalists.

He added that despite the declaration of the physical defeat of the terror group in March 2019, IS “still has hundreds of sleeper cells that have the capability to wage deadly attacks on civilians and combatants alike.”

In the town of Tabqa, in western Raqqa, local news reports this week said a suspected IS sleeper cell assaulted a family, killing three of its members, including a child. The reports did not say why the family was attacked, but IS has in the past targeted people whom it suspected of having ties to or working for the government or U.S.-backed local forces.

While most of the recent activity has been in areas IS once controlled as part of its so-called caliphate, the militant group has been particularly active in Syria’s vast desert region.

The Syrian Observatory reported at least 10 IS-claimed attacks in December that originated from the mostly desert eastern part of Homs province in central Syria.

Baghdadi’s death

Islamic State Syria
The Islamic State group’s leader extolled militants in Sri Lanka for “striking the homes of the crusaders in their Easter, in vengeance for their brothers in Baghouz,” a reference to IS’ last bastion in eastern Syria, which was captured by U.S.-backed fighters. VOA

Despite the death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in October in a U.S. operation in northwestern Syria, IS still represents a major threat in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, experts say.

“As ISIS returns to its original decentralized structure, members of the group are trying to show ISIS still poses a threat, even after the defeat of its caliphate and the recent death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” said Kaleigh Thomas, a Middle East researcher at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, using another acronym for IS.

Sadradeen Kinno, a Syrian researcher who closely follows Islamist militancy, echoed Thomas’ views.

“IS is now living a period of stability, so to speak. After the death of Baghdadi, their objective is clearer now. They try to stay focused on carrying out assassinations, ambushes and suicide attacks, and they have been successful at that,” he told VOA.

Kinno said IS “really believes in a recurrent cycle of violence, so for them the territorial defeat they experienced this year is just a phase of their ongoing jihad.”

US withdrawal 

U.S. vehicles Syria
A convoy of U.S. vehicles is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump in October announced a withdrawal of troops from Syria, which was followed by a Turkish military offensive against U.S.-backed SDF fighters in northeast Syria.

Some experts say the U.S. troop pullout allowed IS to regroup, and thus its terror attacks have increased.

“The U.S. decision sent a signal to [IS] that the U.S. is not interested in a long-term presence in Syria,” said Azad Othman, a Syrian affairs analyst based in Irbil, Iraq.

IS “now feels that its low-level insurgency in Syria could be even more effective as long as the Americans don’t have a significant military presence in the country,” he told VOA.

The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency said in a report in November that “ISIS has exploited the Turkish incursion and subsequent drawdown of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria to reconstitute its capabilities and resources both within Syria in the short term and globally in the longer term.”

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“The withdrawal and redeployment of U.S. troops has also affected the fight against ISIS, which remains a threat in the region and globally,” Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general, said in the report.

But the U.S. has decided to keep about 500 troops to secure oil fields in Syria to prevent IS militants and the Syrian regime forces from accessing them. (VOA)