In April this year, the ISIS propaganda magazine Dabiq warned of terror attacks in “Bengal (which) is located on the eastern side of India”. Bangladesh was the base from where attacks In the Indian subcontinent would be carried out, the magazine stated. Whether the attacks in Dhaka on July 1 and July 7 were actually the handiwork of the ‘Islamic State’ or if it was homegrown terror with ISIS just claiming credit for something it had no role in, no one knows for sure. Whether the terrorists were short of arms (they were all photographed using the same assault weapon, a Kalashnikov lookalike) or if it was a smokescreen, no one knows either.
But as the blood of innocents is spilt—Istanbul, Medina, Dhaka—internal security circles are abuzz with questions: Will ISIS enter the country of ‘kafirs’ with the world’s second-largest Muslim population? Does India need to worry about 26 radicalised “returnees”, said to be now in Syria? Are more being inspired to join ISIS? Or is the enemy already inside the border?
In fact, the real questions should be: Who is the enemy? Is the enemy within? “Terrorists are no longer coming from across the border or getting trained in terror camps. They are actually men and women from middle-class or rich families brainwashed by internet propaganda, being used by the social media to get radicalised,” say intelligence experts.
A youth with suspected ISIS links is led away by the NIA in Hyderabad
The Bangladesh terror perpetrators were allegedly influenced by Mumbai-based televangelist Zakir Naik and Bangalore techie Mehdi Biswas, who used to run the Twitter handle @ShamiWitness. Anonymising software is being used to camouflage internet addresses, and it’s difficult to locate a terrorist or propagandist.
“Take the case of Sultan and Shafi Armar, the Indian face of ISIS. The Armar brothers, originally from Bhatkal in Karnataka, swore allegiance to Al Qaeda in 2013 and the ISIS the next year. The group claims it is in Syria and are able to brainwash followers that it is actually fighting in Syria. But there is no evidence to corroborate this, just as there is no evidence one of the brothers is dead,” say government sources. The worry is that countries like Pakistan can carry out an attack and credit it to the ISIS. As it is, the Sheikh Hasina government is blaming the first Dhaka attack on Pakistan’s ISI. And intelligence agencies have for long warned of “lone wolf attacks” by brainwashed individuals romanticising violence. The possibility of foreign fighters in South Asia is also increasing. Dabiq speaks of Wilayat Khorasan (Pakistan-Afghanistan) being on India’s west, and therefore, a strong jehad base in Bengal could facilitate guerrilla attacks on India from both sides, creating tawahhush (fear and chaos) and allowing ISIS to enter with a conventional army and liberate the region from mushrikin (disbelievers).
Experts say that, to sort out the problem, countries need to be on the same page. Says a government official, “Countries opposed to the Assad regime in Syria (like the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE, Qatar) are the ones that tacitly supported ISIS, till the terror came home to roost.”
Europe has done little to assimilate immigrants from north Africa; today, they are a major chunk of foreign fighters in Syria. Only 20 per cent are white converts, the rest being immigrants from countries like Algeria, Morocco, Libya. “Nothing was even done to stop them from going to Syria. No alarm bells rang till the foreign fighters returned, radicalised and ready to fight jehad. It took attacks like the ones in Paris or Brussels to bring the message home. And the problem isn’t going away. We expect more such attacks,” say officials.
Authorities say lack of internet penetration is a blessing as is the fact that India’s minorities are not rootless immigrants speaking an alien tongue. Nevertheless, ISIS is the west’s war that India will have to wage. Before that, as the following pages show, India has other battles on its hands if it wants to prevent ISIS from taking root and spreading shoots.