Islam,Terrorism and Jihad(06 Oct 2016 NewAgeIslam.Com)
Does India Need To Worry About Islamic State?

By Yogita Limaye

 5 Oct 2016

In India, there have been reports of a handful of young Muslim men and women travelling to Syria to join the Islamic State.

Earlier in August, the so-called Islamic State was driven out of Manbij, a city in northern Syria. Scenes of jubilation followed on the streets. Men began to cut off beards they had been forced to grow, and some women burnt Niqabs. People were keen to get rid of every symbol of the two year-long IS rule. A US backed coalition led by Kurdish fighters along with some Arab forces, took over Manbij after a two-month long offensive.

For Islamic State it was a big loss. The city is on a road that links the Turkish border to the group’s stronghold in Syria, Raqqa, which the US has said will be its next target. Less than two weeks later, Syrian rebels backed by Turkish forces liberated Jarablus, a town north of Manbij, from IS.

In neighbouring Iraq, we have been reporting on BBC World News how Prime Minister Haider al-Abadihas promised to retake Mosul by the end of the year. Preparations are underway to launch a major offensive. Iraq’s second largest city Mosul has been occupied by IS since June 2014.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Islamic State is facing more pressure than ever before to keep a hold on its home ground, with a host of foreign and regional powers pounding it. But the group also shows off its might by claiming to have carried out attacks all over the world. IS has said it was behind several deadly incidents in other countries of the Middle East, Europe and the US. In recent months South Asia too is seeing a growing number of attacks that the group has claimed responsibility for.

Islamic State drew first blood in Pakistan in April last year when it said its fighters had shot dead three soldiers in the country. It was seen as an unimpressive attack by a group whose public image was one of a powerful, deadly force.

But IS reinforced that perception this year when it claimed responsibility for the Quetta hospital suicide bombing on August 8, in which more than 80 people were killed. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban has also said it was behind the attack, and while Pakistan is still investigating who is actually responsible, Islamic State’s claim shows its aspirations in the country.

In Afghanistan, the presence of IS began to be noticed in 2014, when its propaganda material was found in several parts of the country, including the capital Kabul.

From April 2015, a bloody battle began between Islamic State and the Taliban in the country, each group launching several attacks against the other. Early this year, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani promised to bury Islamic State. In March, he said his forces had defeated IS in the east of the country.

Just a few months later Islamic State struck Kabul, or at least it claimed to have done so. Two explosions during protests by the Hazara minority left at least 80 dead.

In the same month, IS said it was behind an attack on a café in Bangladesh. 20 people were killed, including foreign nationals. Bangladesh insists that Islamic State does not exist in the country, blaming domestic militants instead. But in a video released shortly after the incident, the group warned of more attacks in the country. There is also evidence to suggest that young Muslims in Bangladesh are being radicalised, which could make them easy targets for IS recruiters.

In the middle of the South Asian region lies Hindu majority India, home to more Muslims than any other country in the world except Indonesia.

In my time of covering India for BBC World News, it has never been a recruiting ground for foreign jihadist organisations. Al Qaeda has struggled to gain supporters in the country, even after it launched its so called South Asia branch in 2014, seen as an attempt to counter growing IS influence in the region.

In India, there have been reports of a handful of young Muslim men and women travelling to Syria to join ARE Indian police arrested just over two dozen people last year on suspicion of pro-Islamic State activities, and more have been taken into custody this year. But the numbers are still quite small. It’s estimated that less than a hundred cases are being examined for links to IS, which could be termed almost negligible in comparison to India’s Muslim population of more than 170 million.

But both Al Qaeda and Islamic State have now been calling for ‘lone wolf’ attacks. Between the two, Islamic State’s use of social media and modern technology has made it the more powerful influencer. Sophisticated videos that have high production quality and catchy music, with messages composed specifically for the people they’re looking to target, are regularly shared online and on messaging services. People no longer have to be taken to training camps to be indoctrinated or equipped.

India has more than a billion mobile phone subscribers. 3G and now even 4G cellular services are spreading fast. Reaching out to potential recruits is not a hard task.

India is governed by a right wing party with Hindu nationalist associations. In the past two years, fringe elements have been drumming up religious tensions, although there has not been a major incident of communal violence. It is a situation however, that could lead to insecurity among Muslims who feel victimised or marginalised.

Islamic State does seem to be aiming at them. In May it released a rare video promising to avenge Indian Muslims who were killed during the 2002 Gujarat riots, and in Kashmir.

On August 20, India’s deputy foreign affairs minister MJ Akbar met President Bashar Assad in Syria. It was the first visit by a high profile Indian government official to the country since the civil war began. India has never formally backed President Assad but has always said a political solution should be found in Syria without foreign interference. With Russia’s strong support for President Assad and the US and Russia now saying they’re close to an agreement on Syria, India perhaps now feels it needs to step up engagement with the Syrian president. It is certainly an interesting time to be in Beirut.

On the agenda, of course, is exchange of security information. India is hoping to get leads on Indian nationals who have joined IS in Syria. This might give the government a starting point in its attempt to prevent Islamic State linked violence. But in a country like India with densely populated cities and inadequate security systems, even one person radicalised through their mobile phone could do a lot of damage.

Yogita Limaye is a journalist with the BBC World News, Beirut