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  India   India not ‘at war’ with ISIS

India not ‘at war’ with ISIS

Published : Nov 22, 2015, 1:29 am IST
Updated : Nov 22, 2015, 1:29 am IST

A woman weeps as she holds hands with others at a vigil held by the local French community in Sydney on November 14 as Australians expressed their solidarity with France following a spate of coordinated attacks that left 128 dead and 180 injured in Paris. (Photo: AFP)


A woman weeps as she holds hands with others at a vigil held by the local French community in Sydney on November 14 as Australians expressed their solidarity with France following a spate of coordinated attacks that left 128 dead and 180 injured in Paris. (Photo: AFP)

The ISIS terror attacks in France , killing atleast 130 people and injuring many others , have brought back horrific memories of the 26/11 Mumbai terror siege - warning not only India but the entire world community of the global Jihad launched by the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham), which is spreading its tentacles faster than any terror outfit in such a short span of time.

So how big is the ISIS threat to India The direct answer from India's intelligence community is "the threat is minimal till the first attack happens ". What this essentially means is that India wants to be prepared to avert any terror strikes but does not want to join the open declaration of war against ISIS yet. The reasons are two-fold.

India does not figure in the maps drawn up by ISIS which plans to spread the caliphate (a state governed by Sharia law) from Spain in the west to the border of China in the east. ISIS has declared that it will attempt control of the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Europe within the next five years and take over the world by 2020.

“We will not declare waging war against ISIS yet,” said a top home ministry official pointing out the pitfalls of such a move right now. One of the reasons for the restraint Indian government is showing is its equivalent stand and sympathetic approach towards killings in Palestine or Syria which does not pit it directly against the ISIS backlash. Also a majority of the Indian intelligence community does not favour making noises on ISIS when it firmly believes that India's "real terror threat" emanates from Pakistan and cross border terror and the Laskhar e Tayyaba remains its biggest enemy.

While India strongly condemns all forms of terrorism and joins hands with the world community to denounce such acts, any decision to extend material support in fight against ISIS will be a big decision that will have to be taken at the highest level. "So far, that is not the focus," a top official said.

What is posing a bigger threat, however, is the “radicalisation” of Indian youth who are influenced by ISIS and are even leaving the country to join them as fighters in Syria.

So far 23 Indians living in India and abroad have gone to join ISIS. Another 40 within the country were on the verge of getting radicalised but have been prevented through government intervention which is taking the help of the community elders and religious heads to wean them away. No FIRs, no cases against them but quiet rehabilitation are some of the measures all states have been asked to follow as part of india’s recently documented “counter radicalisation” strategy.

“A close watch is being kept on all ISIS activities in the country. Every person who is regularly tapping ISIS activities online is under our scanner,” a top official said who was monitoring online activities in India following the terror attacks in Paris to isolate those who maybe showing allegiance or sympathy for the outfit's terror acts.

The real worry for Indian security agencies is that “the motivated and radicalised youth” may try to launch lone wolf attacks in the country to show allegiance to IS IS. They may not travel to Syria but try something here, an official remarked.

Before the attacks on France, nearly 150 persons were put under the scanner for showing any kind of allegiance to ISIS activities. The agencies have increased their vigil and are joining hands with Saudi Arabia to detect and deport those Indians who have joined the ISIS Jihad.

The first instance of a person of Indian origin joining ISIS came from Singapore in 2013 when Singaporean authorities deported Gul Mohammad Maraikar to India. His deportation came after Indian authorities found that one of his alleged associates, another Tamil Nadu-born Singapore resident Fakruddin Usman Ali, had joined the ISIS. Later, more Indians — Areeb Majeed from Kalyan, Maharashtra, and a 20-year-old girl of Indian origin living in Qatar, returned after spending time within the ISIS fold.

Indian agencies also believe that the fugitives of the home grown terror outfit Indian Mujahideen, which was once India’s biggest terror threat, is now joining ISIS ranks. If these IM operatives plan to return to India for terror acts, the threat may double. These fugitives, however, do not have the backing of Pakistan’s ISI anymore. The IM operatives found the Al Qaeda and ISIS activities more appealing and decided to separate from ISI.

As India keeps a tight vigil against ISIS and continues to review its strategy to counter the growing threats in the region, government officials point out that it is also necessary for New Delhi to speak up and support those nations who are under ISIS siege today. foreign policy experts feel that the Indian government has made the right noises so far. It has joined nations and the world community to denounce IS IS acts of terror and also assured France of India’s support in its fight against terror. Notably, France is India’s key ally in the international forums. France has also extended support to India’s claim to permanent membership of the UNSC.

Remember, earlier this year, France had termed India’s bid for a permanent membership at the high table as “vital and urgent”.

Instrument of death Mohammed Emwazi, more notorious as ‘Jihadi John’ who carried out beheadings on behalf of IS, was the instrument of death rather than the cause. He was only a puppet of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But in starring as the coldblooded masked executioner carrying out beheadings in the organisation’s propaganda videos, John became the most hated figure in the world. A computer science graduate from West London, he had been tracked by MI 5 for years before he moved to Syria. As a highly westernised accolyte he had high symbolic value for IS although reports have it that he was a shy young man who had difficulty in moving with girls. The USA got him with a drone strike into the heart of Raqqa, the de facto capital of IS in Syria. ‘He walked out of a building and got in the car. We struck it right after with zero collateral damage,’ a counter-terrorism US official said. ‘The vehicle was on fire. It was a 100 per cent flawless, direct hit.’ Analysts suggest John had outlived his usefulness and al-Baghdadi won't fret over finding a replacement.

Paris attack mastermind Once a happy-go-lucky student at one of Brussels' most prestigious high schools, Saint-Pierre d'Uccle, Abdelhamid Abaaoud morphed into Belgium's most notorious jihadi, a zealot so devoted to the cause of holy war that he recruited his 13-year-old brother to join him in Syria. The child of Moroccan immigrants who grew up in the Belgian capital's scruffy and multiethnic Molenbeek-Saint-Jean neighbourhood, the fugitive, in his late 20s, was identified by French authorities as the presumed mastermind of the attacks that killed atleast 130 people. What's more, a French official said Abaaoud is believed to have links to earlier terror attacks that were thwarted: one against a Paris-bound high-speed train that was foiled by three young Americans in August, and the other against a church in the French capital's suburbs. DNA tests confirmed that Abaaoud was one of three killed in the siege in the Saint Denis suburb of Paris in which French forces fired 5,000 rounds. Abaaoud's cousin, Hasna Aitboulahcen, now notorious as Europe's first suicide bomber and known as the 'cowgirl' with a liking for cowboy hats, was the one believed to have blown herself up by exploding her suicide vest in the Saint Denis attack.