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The rise and rise of ISIS in India

On 7th March 2016, 10 people were injured in an IED blast on-board the Bhopal Ujjain Express on 7th March. One of the suspects who had refused to surrender was finally killed in the early hours of Wednesday. The biggest shock about the attack came on 8th morning when MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan claimed in MP state assembly that the conspiracy was pre-planned and that the assailants who carried out the blast were influenced by the ideology perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS.

The ISIS angle to the whole story is growing, with reports coming out which claim that the bombs recovered from the accused had ‘ISIS-we are in India’ inscribed on them. It was also reported that the terrorists had even clicked a photo of the pipe bomb they had placed in the train and sent it to Syria. The MP police further arrested 6 more members of the ISIS module from whom 8 pistols and 1 ISIS flag was recovered. 4 other members are believed to be on the run. The motive behind the train blast is being reported as a practice attack in order to test the effectiveness of the explosives. The members of the ISIS cell were planning to carry out serial blasts at the shrine of Sufi Saint Haji Waris Ali Shah in Dewa Sharif, UP on 27th March.

This is the first time the name of ISIS has cropped up in a terror attack in this country. The warning signs about ISIS and its poisonous ideology gaining a foothold in this country have been out there for quite some time with various instances of people in this country leaving for ISIS controlled territories, modules getting busted, flags getting raised, so called lone wolfs getting intercepted being out there in the public domain. Here are a few key instances of the terror group’s influence in this country in reverse chronological order:

  • In January 2017 a temple in Himachal Pradesh was defaced with ISIS coming soon signs and similar slogans were smeared in that Army area which falls under the Solan district of the state.
  • In July 2016 the Kerala CM had announced that 21 youths from the state had left the country in order to join ISIS in Afghanistan. One of those youths was killed in a drone strike this February.
  • In June of 2016 a Hyderabad module of the ISIS was busted by the NIA leading to 11 people getting arrested. Arms, explosives and 15 lakh in cash was seized from the suspects. They reportedly wanted to carry out attacks in Hyderabad to proclaim the arrival of ISIS in the city. The true magnitude of the problem was reported in this NYT piece and this instance also somewhat busted the myth of ‘lone wolf’ attacks. As it turns out, for 17 months before the module getting busted, the main kingpin Mohammed Ibrahim Yazdani was in contact with one of the most influential ISIS recruiters named  Abu Issa al-Amriki via the internet using a variety of apps which they changed at regular intervals. This contact with Amriki not just supplied Yazdani all the ingredients down to the bullets but also aided in the vetting of the new members. The group’s virtual agent organized the delivery of weapons as well as the precursor chemicals used to make explosives by directing the Hyderabad men to hidden pickup spots. These virtual contacts also acted as confidants and coaches who incited the recruits to embrace violence leading people to term such association as remote control attacks. Amriki was killed in April 2016 when a bomb hit his apartment in Syria.
  • In February 2016 a pro ISIS cleric Abdus Sami Qasmi was arrested by the NIA for delivering provocative and inflammatory speeches in favor of the Caliphate.
  • The anti-national activities inside JNU in February 2016 had also reportedly caught the eye of some ISIS recruits who wanted to infiltrate some of the subsequent protests calling for freeing jailed Kanhaiya Kumar and burn vehicles plus oil tankers under the garb of prostesting.
  • Apparently the profession of journalism too didn’t remain untouched. In August 2015 a man who claimed to be a journalist was intercepted in Delhi after he had put up social media posts, professing his intention to join the Islamic state. At the same time, there were reports of another journalist from Kerala joining ISIS. He though didn’t directly go from India, around 8 months prior to that report he had taken a job in the Gulf and from there gone to Syria.
  • Jammu & Kashmir, the place in this country most associated with radicalization and dissent has also seen fair share of ISIS sympathizers. ISIS flags had first appeared in the state in June 2014. Since then there were instances of flags flurried after Friday prayers. In June 2015 when VHP people burned a flag of ISIS, the incident triggered protests in J&K because the flag had Shahada ascribed on it.
  • In April 2015, the first ISIS module was intercepted in the city of Ratlam in MP after the arrest of 5 reported operatives.
  • One of the earliest signs of growing ISIS influence in India were found in December 2014 when a Hyderabad youth was arrested for running a prominent ISIS supporting handle on Twitter. The handle named ShamiWitness was being run by a Mehdi Masroor Biswas who worked as an executive in some Indian conglomerate and had been living a dual life. Apparently before the ISIS thing came to the forefront, Shami was described as an activist by The Telegraph and The Daily Mail.
  • In May 2014, it was reported that 4 youths mostly from Kalyan, Maharashtra had traveled to Iraq on 23rd May 2014 to join the ISIS. It was reported that three of them were engineering students. One of the youths named Arif Majeed was killed in Iraq sometime in August of that year. It was also reported that when the youths reached Iraq they saw 13 Indians already working for the Islamic state.

Apart from these there are other similar instances of people getting intercepted for ISIS related activities, it remains to be seen if we get to see further arrests in the coming days.

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