File photo. Photograph:( AFP )
In November 2016, India's Ministry of Home Affairs informed the country's Parliament that as many as 68 supporters and sympathisers of the so-called Islamic State (IS) had been arrested by either the National Investigation Agency (NIA) or the state security agencies. Of these, as many as 50 were arrested by the state police forces during 2016 itself.
The number of arrests may not be very big but they have surely set alarm bells ringing within India’s security establishment. While the Indian government maintains that IS has no real ground presence in India, it is not yet dismissing the IS threat to radicalise Indian youth completely.
The MHA has acknowledged that while some persons have been reported missing from some parts of Kerala and are suspected to have joined terrorist outfits like the IS, their links with IS have not yet been established conclusively. The Kerala police, though, has registered as many as nine cases in this connection.
But more than the numbers, it is the profiles and backgrounds of some of those arrested that have the security agencies intrigued.
23-year-old Mohamed Naser was charged with conspiring to recruit Muslim youth in India to join isis, transfer them to Iraq and Syria to commit terror attacks and wage war in the middle-eastern countries, as well as in India. (Image source:NIA) (Others)
In 2016, Mosiuddin was nabbed from a passenger train at the Burdwan railway station in West Bengal following a tip-off. (Image source: NIA) (Others)
Profiles of several others arrested for links with IS have made security agencies sit up and take note.
Twenty-nine-year-old Mohammed Ibrahim Yazdani alias Abu Abdurrahman worked as an electrical and electronic engineering in various companies of Saudi Arabia before he was arrested from Hyderabad in 2016. His interrogation revealed a plot to prepare improvised explosive devices under the guidance of an online handler based either in Iraq or Syria.
For those around him, 31-year-old Mohd Ataullah Rahman was an English language trainer in Hyderabad. Post his arrest in July 2016, it emerged that Rahman was the religious motivator of a group which, under instructions of IS, had plans to carry out terror strikes in Hyderabad.
Investigators trying to piece together the jigsaw of why many of these people, mostly youth and many with well-settled jobs, chose to consider joining a terror outfit like the ISIS and wage war against the state, are still trying to find answers. The common thread running through most of the IS-linked arrests in India is the recovery of incriminating documents, firearms, and articles like cellphones and laptops. Investigators are also of the firm view that while IS doesn’t have any real physical presence in India, most of those arrested for having links with it had scouted for information about IS on platforms like Twitter and Facebook and had joined Whatsapp groups where a variety of media to radicalise and indoctrinate them was routinely shared.
Investigations have also established that most of these operatives used encrypted applications like Telegram and Chatsecure to evade detection by law enforcement agencies.
India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh has, on more than one occasion, said that the threat of radicalisation by ISIS won’t be an issue in India because people who follow Islam in India, love the country. He has also underlined several times that no innocent should be troubled and that none of the offenders should be spared.
The Indian security establishment, meanwhile, is of the firm view that ISIS is using a variety of platforms to propagate its ideology in a bid to attract recruits from across the world. The Home Ministry has also told the Parliament that security agencies are maintaining a close watch to identify those trying to misguide the youth and that steps to counter radicalisation were being undertaken. The ministry, however, declined to disclose those steps, citing national security.
IS arrests in India in 2016: