By Shantanu Mukharji
April 4, 2017
In the last few years, the National
Investigation Agency (NIA) has cracked a series of cases where it has come to
light that a number of Indian youngsters are straying towards Islamic
radicalisation. The youth are encouraged to go to Syria and adjoining
battle-torn regions to join ranks with ISIS.
The probe into the IED explosion on the
Bhopal-Ujjain passenger train has revealed a few of the names of the accused.
It would be interesting to know the background of these youngsters as also
factors influencing them to convert to radicalism.
Kanpur based 23-year-old Atif Muzaffar is
one such person. His elder brother Asad Muzaffar is an Aleem of Nadwat ul
Madrasa. Most significantly, Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and ex
Indian Mujahedeen ( IM) cadres were highly influenced by ideology of the Nadwat
ul - the owner of the Nadwat ul Madrasa. Further, Nadwat ul had posted a letter
on social media in favour of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and also recommended the
raising of an army of Sunni Muslims to help establish an ISIS-like caliphate.
A college dropout from Aligarh, Atif was
under the spell of Dr Zakir Naik. Naik’s propaganda literature and his sermons
on Peace TV were a crucial factor in Atif’s radicalisation. He and his
affiliates also joined Tablighi Jamaat on a full time basis with additional
education in Ahle Hadith. It would also be pertinent to state that most of the
IM recruits had undergone motivational courses by Tablighi Jamaat and
subsequently adhered to Ahle Hadith. Atif and his colleagues also learnt how to
make IEDs and other explosives.
Buoyed by ultra Islamic doctrines
influencing the youth, Atif Muzaffar was appointed Ameer of the group owing
formal allegiance to the ISIS. His immediate associates were Saif (killed in
the Lucknow encounter), Md Danish (arrested), Junaid, Asif, Imran and Ahsan.
Notably, all were/are in their late twenties.
Later, they formed a core group and
proceeded to Jammu and Kashmir with the aim of contacting a Pakistani terrorist
group that would not only help them abet terror in Kashmir but also facilitate
their eventual migration to Syria to join ISIS. For this, they made desperate
attempts to go to Pakistan and even tried access through Jaisalmer when going
via Kashmir looked tough.
This group also attempted to radicalise
more youngsters by visiting Gujarat, Bengal and Kerala. They even tried to gain
access to Bangladesh. One ex Indian Air Force officer, referred to as GM Saheb,
remained the principal motivator of this group and imparted training on
handling of fire arms and choosing targets. Firing practice was brazenly held
on the banks of Ganga and they were already in possession of weapons and live
ammunition procured through clandestine means. What’s even more confounding is
why these firing sessions did not attract attention of the authorities? This
must have further emboldened the group to carry on their radicalisation agenda.
On October 11 last year, the group under GM
Saheb made a plan to target the Prime Minister as their ‘intelligence’ knew in
advance about PM’s plans to address a Dashehra rally in Lucknow. It’s,
therefore, clearly evident that this group apart from being well versed in IEDs
and the use of fire arms, was focusing on garnering hard intelligence and was
clearly thinking of targeting the PM in an obvious attempt to get international
attention and publicity.
Fortunately , the PM was not harmed thanks
to the impregnable security arrangements, though the group did manage to plant
IEDs on the roadside to target the crowd. There was an explosion but did not
cause much impact. The perpetrators were, however, disappointed to see scant
media coverage of the detonation.
These revelations are based on a thorough
NIA interrogation of the arrested youngsters. We don’t quite know how many more
Atifs are waiting in the wings to strike, but it is clear that radicalisation
of youngsters is actively on and their nexus with the ISIS leadership appears
The NIA is already working towards
dismantling such groups. What we also need is for members of civil society to
intervene and use their good offices to prevail upon such youngsters to refrain
from becoming extremists. It isn’t and cannot be allowed to remain the sole
responsibility of the state. Society must rise to meet the challenge.
Shantanu Mukharji, a retired IPS officer, is a security analyst who
contributes on core security issues.