A police officer inspects the site of a gun battle between troops and suspected Islamist militants, on the east coast of Sri Lanka, in Kalmunai. Photograph:( Reuters )
ISIS is now too close to Indian shores and a well-defined intelligence sharing mechanism is needed
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday blasts and released photographs showing the eight suicide bombers who blew themselves up at three churches and four hotels.
It is the worst violence that Sri Lanka has witnessed since the end of the civil war a decade ago. As per official sources, nine suicide bombers of whom eight, including a woman, have been identified, are members of a local Islamist group called National Thowheed Jamat (NTJ).
Incidentally, the Wahabi-aligned NTJ has a significant presence in Tamil Nadu, particularly in districts close to the maritime boundary with Sri Lanka. State minister for defence, Ruwan Wijewardene, acknowledged that advance intelligence received about these blasts had suggested that the attackers were motivated by the Christchurch shootings.
It may be recalled that on March 15 this year, a lone white supremacist from Australia, Brenton Tarrant, attacked two mosques in Christchurch in New Zealand killing 50 worshippers and injuring another 50 while they were offering Friday prayers. India’s intelligence services are said to have alerted Sri Lankan officials at least three times on April 4, April 11 and two hours before the blasts on April 21.
Very specific information regarding churches to be targeted was shared on the basis of information allegedly obtained from an ISIS suspect arrested in Hyderabad by the NIA. Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan authorities did not act on these inputs. This is not the first time that Sri Lanka has ignored specific Indian intelligence inputs.
Even the assassination of the then Leader of the Opposition, Gamini Dissanayake, on October 24, 1994, by a female LTTE suicide bomber in which he and 55 others were killed in a virtual rerun of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, was said to have been shared in great detail and well in advance by Indian intelligence agencies with Sri Lanka, but no preventive action was taken. Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the so-called Caliph, had declared the official existence of ISIS from the now- destroyed Al Nuri mosque in Mosul on June 29, 2014.
After initial successes, it finally ceased to exist as a geographical entity only on March 23, 2019, when the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces officially declared its end by taking over the village of Baghouz and its roughly three-km boundary, which fell to the Kurds. Although officially the ISIS ceased to exist, but as anticipated, the ‘post Caliphate’ face of the ISIS is going to be difficult to tackle.
This is because the ISIS has an ideology that remains attractive to Islamist groups. Thousands of ISIS fighters have dispersed from Iraq and Syria to protect themselves and are trying to return to their countries of origin and so remain a potent threat. Further, the ISIS has very effectively used the internet and social media to create global support. It has succeeded in creating an international terrorist brand, one that anyone from an Islamist terrorist group to an individual, could brandish and conduct violence in its name attaining instant global interest.
So while the fight against the ISIS is over, the fight against its ideology is likely to be a long-drawn war where people, states and leaders will have to come up with better alternatives. The bombings in Sri Lanka show that the threat from ISIS is very real and at our doorstep. There have been a number of reports of Indian youth, particularly from Kerala, Karnataka, Hyderabad, Tamil Nadu and Jammu and Kashmir, being attracted to the ISIS to the extent of going to Syria to fight on their behalf.
Most of them have been radicalised through the internet or through certain Imams belonging to Wahabi extremist ideology. In mid-2014, the ISIS had issued a map depicting parts of north and western India to be a part of the Islamic State of Khorasan. These are areas, which had been ruled by Muslim rulers in the past.
India has a very large Muslim population of close to 180 million, which is the third largest in the world. Happily, most of them are well integrated in Indian society. Although poorly represented in formal jobs, they are largely self-employed or run MSME’s. The low radicalisation of Indian Muslims is attributed to the Sufi and non-Salafi nature of Islam in India. Official estimates put the number of Indian youth joining ISIS to be around 200. In sharp contrast, the neighbouring Maldives which has less than 0.4 million Muslims, has contributed nearly 700 fighters to ISIS.
Given the insidious threat from ISIS ideology, a regional, as well as global response, is urgently required. As events in Sri Lanka have shown, all SAARC countries are vulnerable to ISIS threats. ISIS has a significant presence in Afghanistan and controls a few provinces. Given Pakistan’s ambivalent attitude to terrorism, it is appropriate that India takes the remaining SAARC countries, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, into confidence and works out a multilateral protocol to combat terror and terror financing in general and ISIS in particular.
A well-defined intelligence sharing mechanism and easy deportation of suspects to member countries without a difficult extradition process should be worked out. Steps for de-radicalisation and integrating Muslim youth into society with the sharing of best practices should also be included. Monitoring of cyberspace in real time is also required so that it is not misused for radicalisation. ISIS terrorism is trans-national in character and organisations propagating hatred are building networks around the world.
India’s proposal at the UN for a convention on Countering International Terrorism needs to be revived at the earliest.
(This article was originally published on The DNA. Read the original article)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)