ISIS wake-up call to India

S Madhusudhana Rao

The initial reaction to the kidnapping of four Indians in Libya by suspected Islamic militants on July 29 was, it could be the opening chapter of an ISIS plot to attack India. That could be a weird guess or trying to read too much between the lines. However, when the media reports circulating at that time and the abductions were juxtaposed, they didn’t look like a mere coincidence. On the day the four were seized by armed men, the US press had reported that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was hatching plans to hit targets in India to drag Americans into the conflict with an eye on internalizing the ongoing war between the US, its allies and ISIS in Middle East.

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S Madhusudhana Rao

The 32-page document in Urdu, said to have been prepared by Islamic State militants, obtained through a Pakistani contact and verified and translated into English, was first published by USA Today newspaper on July 28. A detailed report that appeared in the Indian media the next day has confirmed intelligence suspicions that IS terrorists have cast their evil eye on India. In recent days, IS flags have started appearing in some areas of Kashmir, strengthening the feeling that IS sympathizers are becoming active in the Muslim-majority state.

Though it is a known fact that IS propaganda machine is active in recruiting Indian youth through its web sites to train them as jihadis to fight in Iraq and Syria, this was the first time an ISIS document of this nature to surface and appear in the media.

Titled, “A Brief History of Islamic State Caliphate, The Caliphate According to the Prophet,” the document detailed a strategy to attack India in such a way as to draw the US into the theatre of war along with its allies which would ultimately lead to a US-IS confrontation. The booklet didn’t say whether the conflict would be confined to Indian soil or extended to other parts of the world where US interests lay.

Nevertheless, it is a chilling warning since ISIS is spreading its footprint in Iraq and Syria as well as other countries like Yemen and establishing links with militant outfits such as Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan in a bid to unite them and wage a war together against ‘infidels.’ The IS document has also revealed a plot to attack American diplomats and soldiers as they withdraw from Afghanistan.

The fact that American intelligence networks have not dismissed the IS document as a red herring underscores the need to take Islamic State’s threat to India seriously. Whether it is a perceived or real threat, unfortunately, its importance was lost in the din of hanging or not of 1993 Mumbai serial blasts convict Yakoub Memon. Now, the kidnapping of four Indians – two Hyderabadis and one each from Raichur and Bangalore – and release of two later should serve as a wake-up call to New Delhi.

According to the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi, all the four are academic members of University of Sirte. They were returning to India via Tripoli and Tunis when they were detained at a checkpoint 50km from Sirte, slain dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s stronghold. The four Indians were believed to have been brought to Sirte by gunmen either belonging to IS which is controlling the second important city after Tripoli or its affiliates in that area.

Though it was not clear whether the kidnapping of Indian nationals was the handiwork of Islamic State militants or some other outfit for ransom, two teachers hailing from Karnataka – Lakshmikant and Vijay Kumar – had been released and are said to be returning whereas the fate of the Hyderabad duo –Gopikrishna and Balram – is not known. Latest reports had suggested that the Indian government was trying to secure their release through its contacts in that region.

Whatever the outcome may be, it is clear that Middle East countries where ISIS is active and has occupied swathes of land are no longer safe to work. A few months ago, thousands of Indian nationals had been evacuated by our Navy and Air Force after ISIS had run over parts of Yemen. Earlier, many workers were brought back from Iraq where ISIS had started its campaign to set up Islamic Caliphate. Despite its success in Yemen, the Indian government is still to locate and bring back 39 Indians believed to have been kidnapped from Mosul by IS fighters more than a year ago. (New Delhi insists they are safe).

Although Saudi Arabia is bombing IS strongholds in Yemen and US and its allies are trying to cripple the terrorist organization in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State is going strong, occupying and imposing its tyrannical rule  on vast territories across Muslim countries. There are enough indications to suggest that IS has India in the crosshairs. It’s time to take a serious note of it by the government as complacency will cost the country heavily.

As a first step, the central government has unveiled a moderate plan to wean Muslim youths from being radicalized through counseling in 12 states, including Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and Union Territories that are considered vulnerable to IS digital propaganda. Is it the carrot before using the stick?

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