meetings offer an interesting window into Shafi Armar's efforts to try and
group together what after all were excitable keyboard warriors into an actual
terror group, capable of handling weapons, organising recruits, cooking
home-grown explosives, selecting safe training areas, safe houses and finally,
committing strikes against Indian targets.
excerpt from Kabir Taneja's ‘The ISIS Peril: The World's Most Feared Terror
Group and Its Shadow on South Asia’.
(JKH) was nothing; it registered nowhere, and made no dent in anyone's
imagination as a feared homegrown terror group from India.
The rise of
the so-called Islamic State was indeed much like a fable of the promised land.
fact that the geography that the insurgency retained was short-lived, its
impact on the landscape of South Asia was sporadic yet present.
Shafi Armar's attempt to organise a group that would align itself with the
so-called Islamic State, not online, but physically.
He tried to
orchestrate like-minded people from around the country to try and develop a
group capable of conducting attacks in India.
for Armar, the problem was not the lack of people showing inclination towards
ISIS but the shifts that were taking place in the caliphate itself.
being at a peak then, 2015 onwards, ISIS was heavily involved in battles with a
kaleidoscope of entities ranging from the US-led Western coalition, Russia, the
Syrian army, the Kurdish forces, al-Qaeda, and other jihadist groups, etc.
ISIS had started to be challenged in its stronghold enclaves and had started to
lose its grip in parts of towns and cities it called its own.
This led to
more difficulties for foreign fighters to travel to Syria to join the
caliphate, forcing online recruiters such as Armar to try and convince
potential recruits to not travel to Syria, but conduct operations in the name
of the caliphate in their home territories.
not necessarily the news many potential recruits wanted to hear, as they wanted
to make this migration, or hijrah, similar to the one made by the Prophet and
his followers from Mecca to Yathrib (later renamed Medina by the Prophet).
that this journey became difficult and was advised against by ISIS handlers
themselves had an adverse effect on potential recruits -- who were more
interested in living in this 'ideal' Islamic ecosystem and be one of the
celebrated foot soldiers -- often leaving them frustrated and leading to a
decline in motivation to join ISIS.
Shafi Armar did succeed to a certain extent in trying to orchestrate some level
of cohesion amidst all those on Indian social media platforms looking to join
exist, as an entity on a very crude and simple level.
from similar geographies did get together and physically meet each other to
discuss what next steps can be taken.
In 2015, a
man named Mohamed Naser from Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, was arrested by law
enforcement agencies as part of an online surveillance programme to look at
signs of radicalisation in the name of ISIS.
Naser as well, there had been cases of arrests for pro-ISIS activities in
various parts of the country.
the interrogations conducted in Naser's case revealed data which showcased a
more organised attempt by micro-groups of pro-ISIS operatives.
case, investigations showed that the groups were working at the behest of Shafi
footprints opened a Pandora's box, with details of meetings being held in
multiple cities across the country between people who wanted to get together
and discuss the ideology of the Islamic State.
meetings took place in different places including Lucknow and Deoband in Uttar
Pradesh, Bengaluru and Tumakuru in Karnataka, Hyderabad and Vikarabad in
Telangana, and Pune in Maharashtra.
this grouping had organised nine meetings for themselves to demarcate various
jobs and duties.
involved were all in their 20s and 30s.
involvement of Armar in this attempted organisation of recruits was by most
accounts deep and detailed.
to have kept a close eye on all the plans being discussed, and gave
authoritative directions on what to do and how to go about it.
meetings offer an interesting window into Armar's efforts to try and group
together what after all were excitable keyboard warriors into an actual terror
group, capable of handling weapons, organising recruits, cooking homegrown
explosives, selecting safe training areas, safe houses and finally, committing strikes
against Indian targets.
was the month when JKH started some movement.
meeting was held in the same month, with Armar's blessings, at the
Devarayanadurga state forest near Tumakuru in Karnataka, a sparcely populated
piece of land littered with forests and shrub areas.
also Armar's home state.
Mujahid (also known as Abu Saad), then a 32-year-old small-time businessman
from Tumakuru; Mohammad Abdul Ahad, a 48-year-old resident of Bengaluru;
Mohammad Afzal, a 33 year old also from Bengaluru, along with one more person
whose identity remains unknown, attended this first conference.
was to discuss the ideology of ISIS amongst them, what they wanted to achieve,
what drew them towards the group and arrangements of finances for JKH.
meeting for JKH was held in Deoband in Uttar Pradesh.
significant in light of the fact that Deoband is home to the revivalist Sunni
Islam movement and the often controversial Darul Uloom Deoband Islamic
movement was founded in the late 19th century British India as a result of a
crackdown against Mughal emperors by the British forces, and by association,
Muslims in cities like Delhi were also targeted.
crackdown meant that the British took over religious sites, forcing scholars to
move to other places to preserve their way of religious life, away from the
revisionist and occupationist British Empire.
already thriving centre of Islamic thought and preaching, came up as one of the
main alternatives and extended-neighbour to what was to become the erstwhile
capital of the Mughals, Delhi.
Uloom seminary in its contemporary history has come into controversies over the
Deobandi school's effects on extremist activities observed in parts of South
graduates, and members of both past and present emerging from the Deoband
seminary are often observed to have ties with groups such as Taliban in
Afghanistan, and other smaller groups involved in terrorism in both Pakistan
attending the meet were, once again, found online.
forward, these meetings took place in no particular design, with the third one
happening in Karnataka again, in the Tumakuru Hills region, but this time the
agenda was significantly different.
It was Syed
Mujahid once again who was taking the initiative, and leading the group towards
the next step, that of assessing the physical fitness of the potential cadres,
similar to a boot camp, most likely inspired by the plethora of video footage
from both ISIS and al-Qaeda propaganda videos showing similar camps in remote
geographies where Mujahids train in warfare and physical preparedness.
meeting took place in Bengaluru, the nerve centre of India's great story of
economic rise, giving its diverse population a common purpose of development
and political stability.
place in the house of one Suhail Ahmad, a then 22-year-old stone-polishing
worker from Bengaluru's Mysore Road area.
was again mostly to discuss potential increase in recruitment and furthering
the cause of Khilafat.
meeting as well, the very day after the previous one in October 2015, was held
at the home of Ahmad itself.
moving forward from the day before, some members were assigned more specific
roles to move towards a more organised structure -- the insistent pressure on
the narrative that the meets were largely designed to create structure.
general assessment of the trend of why and how meetings were held up to this
point, and the arguments being presented in various charge sheets, one can
assume an increased pressure from Armar himself to find a person who could
potentially take responsibility on the ground to rally the development of JKH.
meeting, as per accounts, perhaps showcases why Armar would have been pushing
for a more structural development of the organisation, as initial cracks within
the groups and mismanagement started to show, also highlighting the general
inadequateness of talent in the people that Armar was trying to handle
remotely, mostly via the Internet.
was held in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, the second meet in the state
gathering was organised by one Mohammed Aleem, a then 23-year-old resident of Indiranagar,
place at Aleem's uncle's house and was attended by one Mohammed Nafees Khan
from Hyderabad, Mudabbir Shaikh and Mohammed Hussain Khan from Mumbai, Rizwan
Ahmed, and two others.
Azhar Khan, from Madhya Pradesh, arrived at this meet with two other unknown
people who were willing to join ISIS and JKH.
turned away the two unknowns and did not allow them to participate.
meet, in this particular series, was held in Pune, Maharashtra, two months
later in December.
saw Abu Anas from Jaipur, Nafees Khan and three other people, along with one of
their wives also in attendance.
one of the main points of discussion here was the development of a personalised
JKH app for communications between recruits and members of the intended group.
responsible for money, also was tasked to collect materials to try and make
IEDs to be used in terror strikes.
trip to Hyderabad, Nafees also visited the Narsapur forest area carrying a pipe
bomb, a crude IED he had made at home.
The trip to
the forest was to find a suitable and empty space to actually test it out
without raising alarm.
thanks to India's robust population of more than 1.3 billion citizens, Nafees
was unable to find a suitable location and the intended test did not happen.
abandoned his immediate plan to test the IED, and boarded a train, leaving
Hyderabad behind and headed towards West Bengal, where he met another unknown
person in Durgapur, about 170 km north of the capital Kolkata, and then onwards
to Burdwan where he met one Ashik Ahmmed.
handed over a Smartphone to Ahmmed with the necessary apps so that he could
communicate safely with them and others.
told Nafees precisely what he had to do on this trip, and that was, to scout
of the conversations in the region, initiated with people that Ahmmed knew,
someone said that they knew a mason who lived near the border with Bangladesh,
a popular gunrunning area, who could get some weapons.
informed Nafees and Ahmmed that weapons were not a problem, and if they wanted,
he could get them guns such as the AK-47 rifle as well, a weapon of choice for
terrorists, insurgents and states alike.
that weapons would be available for purchase in the region, Nafees announced
that he intended to build a base camp in the area for future activities.
with permission from Penguin India
Headline: When ISIS found home in India
Source: Rediff .com