By Dr Adil Rasheed
13 August 2015
“India does not have real Muslims capable of jihad,” Mehdi Masroor Biswas reportedly told a senior police officer during an interrogation late last year. The typical ‘Takfiri’ disdain towards both India and its Muslims is unmistakable in the statement of this former executive of a multinational company, which belies his court plea against being a key ISIS operative on Twitter.
It is noteworthy that with the rise of the ISIS, Salafi Jihadism has become less tolerant of the orthodox Sunni sects (as exemplified in its rivalry with the Hanafi-Deobandi Taliban), due to its doctrinal opposition to ‘Taqlid’ (following any of the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence) and its support for conditional ‘Ijtihad’ (independent reasoning to justify terrorism). In fact, even Al-Qaeda finds this ‘Takfiri’ ultra-extremism of ISIS to have gone beyond the pale.
It is into this ultra-radical ideological fold, that a new breed of educated Indian youth (like the engineering students who left for Syria to join ISIS last year - Areeb Majeed, Aman Tandel and Fahad Sheikh) is now getting trained and indoctrinated. Therefore, it is important to recognize and understand this new threat - its worldview, aspirations and goals - for not only getting a proper grasp of its ideology and modus operandi, but also for developing effective counter-terrorism strategies.
Although steeped in religious scholasticism like other orthodox Islamic schools, Salafi jihadism likes to dabble in contemporary socio-political matters as well. By exaggerating certain anomalies in modern political and economic systems, most Salafi jihadist organizations call for the revolutionary overthrow of the existing global order, as they claim to have found answers to almost all socio-economic problems facing mankind.
To their young and credulous initiates, these groups hand out the works of Taqiuddin Nabhani, Syed Qutb, Mohammad Farag, Abul-Hasan Al-Mawardi, Ibn Taimiyya etc, as a prescription against the ills afflicting the Westphalian model of nation states, democratic governance and the globalised capitalist order. For example, in his book ‘The Economic System of Islam,’ Taqiuddin Nabhani details the ‘inherent structural’ problems dogging the debt and speculation based financial system of our times and advocates replacing the fractional reserve system of banking with his ‘non-usurious’ theoretical construct. In his infamous book ‘Milestones’ (Ma’alim fi Al-Tariq), Sayyid Qutb speaks of the incompatibility of Islam with the ideals of nationalism, capitalism and socialism and calls for the violent overthrow of most Muslim potentates. Similarly, the ‘Laws of Islamic Governance’ (Al-Ahkam As-Sultaniyyah) by Al-Mawardi enunciates the tenets of Islamist polity and administration for an ideal caliphate, while Abu Bakr Naji’s ‘Management of Savagery’ explores ways of employing terrorism to whittle down Western armies in a protracted war of attrition.
Much of this radical Salafist literature, often accompanied with manuals on combat training and other propaganda material (like the ISIS’ slick magazine Dabiq), is accessible in the English language on the Internet. Until now, the average Indian Muslim has remained largely unaware of this literature and opposed to the barbarity of this jihadist movement, which seeks to instigate an apocalyptic war against the entire world in order to establish its dystopian version of a caliphate.
And yet the ISIS and other extremist groups have managed to garner some support within India and wean away a few impressionable minds to their cause. In fact, the threat is metastasizing. Within months of the emergence of ISIS on the international stage, it was reported that four men from the Maharashtrian town of Kalyan had joined the so-called Islamic State and were operating in Syria. By the end of November 2014, Areeb Majeed (mentioned above) was said to have returned to India and upon on his arrest was handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Following interrogation, he has been charged with conspiring to commit a terrorist act and for waging war against the nation.
According to Iraq’s ambassador to India there may be at least 20 Indians fighting for the ISIS, but their identities are not yet clear. Earlier this year, it was reported that 39-year-old Sultan Abdul Qadir Armar (from the town of Bhatkal in Karnataka) was killed in the Syrian city of Kobane, while fighting for the ISIS. Armar is said to have belonged to ISIS-affiliated the Ansar-al-Tauhid group, which is said to have several members from Bhatkal, including a 41-year-old former businessman Afif Hassan Siddibapa.
Then in May 2015, an ISIS-linked terror module was busted with the arrest of five men (by the names of Imran Khan, Waseem, Rizwan, Anwar Qureshi and Mazhar) in the city of Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh. According to intelligence sources, the group was being persuaded by its ‘Syria-based handlers’ to target Indian politicians and senior police officers in and outside Madhya Pradesh. The group is also reported to have learnt online techniques to assemble IEDs from locally available explosives. The arrested members of this module, all residents of Ratlam, were radicalized through the Internet during the course of the last one year.
Clearly, it is important to realize the major difference and thereby the greater threat that this new form of terrorism poses to the security of the country. Earlier, members of the Indian Mujahideen, SIMI or other extremist outfits were mainly preoccupied with Indian issues. Their motivations and activities were directed and focused on matters Indian and their worldview or area of operation was not global or pan-Islamist per se. Again, the handful of homegrown Indian Jihadis might have earlier received some support from foreign terrorist groups and intelligence agencies, but they never travelled to the Middle East to be tutored in the ideology and the fourth generation warfare of their mentors.
With the coming of the ISIS things have changed. Now, India potentially confronts a new crop of educated and techno-savvy Jihadis with a global and millenarian outlook. As the Biswas case illustrates, these operators may have extensive and direct links with various international terror organizations, and maybe wired up for conducting real time operations in the most advanced forms of asymmetric warfare. Some of them may even be disaffiliated lone-wolf operators, or non-Muslim anti-national groups benefitting from the terrorist training available on the Internet. There is also the possibility of at least some Indian ISIS members, having real battlefield experience in foreign lands, snaking their way back into the country. Therefore, the threat posed by this new transnational jihadi from India could prove to be more daunting and intractable in the future.
Dr Adil Rasheed is the author of the newly released book ‘ISIS: Race to Armageddon’
Courtesy: West Asia Monitor, a journal published by the Observer Research Foundation.