By Tufail Ahmad
20th December 2014
On December 10, India’s junior minister for home affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary told Parliament: “There are no intelligence inputs to suggest that Al-Qaeda and ISIS terror groups are working together to target Indian cities.” Intelligence agencies are engaged in a difficult task of tracking terror networks. Let’s assume that Chaudhary was presenting a correct assessment of the jihadist threat before the nation. However, 2014 has been an extraordinary year during which the threat of radicalisation from jihadist movements like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda did enter Indian homes.
Based on jihadist sources and media reports, it is possible now to establish routes and patterns of radicalisation in India. One, several youths from Tamil Nadu based in Singapore came in contact with ISIS jihadists. The notable case here is that of Fakkurudeen Usman, who took his wife and three children to Syria. The radicalisation wasn’t limited to Singapore, as the jihadists made recruitment efforts in Chennai. Two, it emerged in April that a Kashmiri youth, Adil Fayaz, was radicalised in Australia and he travelled perhaps directly from there to Syria via Turkey. An additional point to remember is this: Several educated Kashmiri youths went missing over the past two years.
Three, after al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri’s announcement of the establishment of the al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), it was reported in September that 23 youths from Thoubal district of Manipur had left their homes in two batches to join the AQIS. Their joining al-Qaeda shouldn’t surprise, since the Northeast has witnessed anti-Muslim violence in Assam and nearby Myanmar. In the past, non-Muslim terrorists from ULFA travelled through China to Afghanistan not for jihad, but to train at Osama bin Laden’s camps. Four, from India’s viewpoint, the biggest story was that of four Muslims from Mumbai who flew to Iraq as Shia pilgrims and joined the ISIS. One of them, Arif aka Areeb Majeed, was injured and with the help of Turkish businessmen reached Turkey for treatment. He was brought to India.
Five, Arif Majeed revealed that he saw 13 Indian youths already present at a training camp in Syria. His statement indicates that these Indians had gone to work in the Middle East, probably in the UAE, from where they joined the ISIS. Six, in a worrying development, it was revealed this month that a popular jihadist account on Twitter was operated by Indian youth Mehdi, who was working for a Bangalore-based firm. Seven, Munawad Salman, a software engineer and former employee of Google in Hyderabad, was arrested for trying to join the ISIS. Also, Telangana state police stopped 15 engineering students, including a girl, from Kolkata where they had gone for an onward journey to Iraq in September. Another Hyderabadi youth was detained in Mumbai. Eight, youths wore T-shirts and waved flags in favour of ISIS in Kashmir, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand.
Nine, the footprints of Pakistan-sponsored jihadist organisation Indian Mujahideen were seen in several bomb blasts in recent years in different parts of India, though its leadership is in disarray due to arrests of some key leaders. However, many innocent youths are also languishing in jails because they were arrested by police just to prove their own effectiveness. Ten, as revealed in the videos of Ansar ut Tawheed Fi Bilad Al-Hind from mid-2013 onwards, at least nine Indian Muslims were being trained in Pakistan by a Saudi jihadist. A jihadist organisation with a similar name, Ansar ut Tawheed Wal Jihad Fi Kashmir, emerged after this year’s floods in Kashmir, offering to host al-Qaeda fighters though it noted that it faced difficulties.
From these developments, one can derive some lessons. Radicalisation is taking place both in India and among expatriate Indian workers based in the Middle East and elsewhere. The radicalisation is of two types: Muslims are self-taught in jihad and connected to jihadist groups through social media; they are also recruited by jihadist groups. Indians have gone mainly to four countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. In the past, Indian jihadists went to Grozny, Serbia and Glasgow. Also, some commentators have dismissed the emergence of ISIS T-shirts in Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and Kashmir as innocent transgressions by street urchins, but the they are an important barometer of radicalisation underway in Indian society: from Mumbai to Hyderabad, from Chennai to Manipur.
At a conference in Delhi on November 22, this writer asked national security adviser Ajit Doval to estimate the number of Indian youths who got radicalised and migrated for jihad. Doval skipped the written question but noted that five-six youths were inclined to join the jihadist groups but their parents contacted security agencies which helped them. However, from jihadist sources and the Indian media, it is possible to estimate the number of radicalised youths. Various media reports have put the number of such youths in scores, up to 300. It appears definitive that nearly 50 Indian jihadists are based in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. As long as Jihadism in Pakistan survives, India will continue to face threats. Arif Jamal, a New York-based author, recently warned that the global Jihadism has expanded to three poles: Nigeria, Iraq-Syria and Pakistan-Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, an erroneous belief is held by Indian government leaders that not talking publicly about radicalisation in India could curb Jihadism. India is a free society, deriving its strengths from openness and law. This strength can work only in a public way, when media and citizens debate the causes and extent of radicalisation. It is also essential that while pushing Pakistan for justice in the 26/11 case, India must deliver time-bound trial of terror cases on its soil, including the 2007 Samjhauta Express case. A dysfunctional India cannot be a great republic. Authoritarian systems like China and Saudi Arabia can crush the jihadists, but being a free society means that India has an additional task: to catch the jihadists as well as to protect their rights guaranteed under the Constitution, the source of liberty for Indians.