Islamic State threat is real: Rajnath Singh should read the signals fast before it grips India
The non-lethal blast in a Bhopal-Ujjain passenger train on Tuesday, eight subsequent arrests across two states and a 12-hour dramatic siege in Lucknow – that ended with Anti-Terror Squad commandos neutralising a suspected Islamic State (IS) operative with a huge cache of arms and ammo early on Wednesday – should wake up Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh from his self-induced stupor.
Rajnath has been busy peddling homilies about the syncretism of Indian culture and how it insulates our nation from the terror tentacles of IS. Denying recent history and weight of evidence he has, on more than one occasion, claimed an irrational link between 'love of country' and radicalisation.
"I’m sure the threat of radicalisation by IS won’t be an issue in our nation because people who follow Islam in India, love the country," he had stated last November.
If patriotism was enough to stop youths from getting radicalised, then Pakistan – where 88 percent adults say they are ready to fight for their country in the event of another war (Gallup Pakistan survey, June 2014) – wouldn't have been the world's leading producer of terrorists.
On the other hand, there is enough empirical data to suggest that patriotism plays no part in preventing a youth from getting radicalised, because IS proposes a different kind of nationalism – one that transcends the boundaries of Westphalian sovereignty and, according to Dylann deSousa (ISIS and Nationalism, Academia.edu), "encompasses many individuals with a new national identity based upon lifestyle, common religion, the same region, and a shared set of goals."
Last month, the Union home minister reiterated his false optimism. He asserted that "the government has kept an eye on the IS, and that it won't be allowed to become a major challenge for the country." It is clear from the events in the past 24 hours that either Rajnath's earlier assessment about IS's influence was wrong, or the NDA government is failing in its duty to resist the IS infection.
Denial is a dangerous trait in a man tasked with looking after homeland security.
Much as Rajnath would like us to believe, reports are emerging with alarming regularity about Indian youths getting hypnotised by Islamic State's poisonous agenda and planning subversive attacks on home soil, or setting sail to join the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.
In fact, as IS stands on the brink of being driven away from its last territorial strongholds of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, the group is now functioning more as an ideological mouthpiece, operating through social media to influence youth worldwide into carrying out more and more home-grown attacks. In this latest avatar, IS is even more dangerous than ever before.
Importantly, the threat is not limited to IS alone. Al Qaeda, which through its sub-continental wing AQIS (Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent) frequently targets secular bloggers in Bangladesh, last year released a 15-minute audio clip inciting Indian Muslims to rise against their Hindu brethren. US-based terror watchdog SITE Intelligence Group ferreted out the clip from the deep web and deciphered the hateful message.
The National Investigative Agency suspects that the 22 youths who 'disappeared' from Kerala last year, are busy training with IS operatives in Afghanistan, a region where Khorasan module of IS is most active. The Khorasan module, which owes allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi-led IS, is a witches' brew of different terrorist operatives active in the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Turkmenistan region and has of late claimed responsibility for deadly attacks near the Kabul Supreme Court (killing over 20) and Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in Pakistan (killing over 80).
Worringly for India, this module is reportedly behind the low intensity blast near Jabri railway station in Madhya Pradesh, that Indian investigative agencies reckon was just a trial run for a more lethal attack later, maybe in Uttar Pradesh.
The passenger train explosion, which injured 10, is said to be the handiwork of home-grown operatives like Saifullah, who was cornered in Lucknow's Thakurganj area on Tuesday and was ultimately eliminated after a 12-hour encounter.
While eight others with suspected IS links have been arrested, cops suspect the module to be about 12-strong and are on the lookout for more. Two others, who had been sharing Saifullah's rented place in Haji Colony for the past two months, are on the run. They are also thought to be part of the module.
Uttar Pradesh Police have reportedly recovered black IS flags, manuals, eight pistols, 650 rounds of ammunition, 50 fired rounds, explosives, raw materials for bombs, gold, some cash, passports, SIM cards, train time-tables, a diary detailing Saifullah's daily schedule and flags of India and Israel. Saifullah was believed to be getting directions from a handler abroad.
Though Tuesday's blast marks the first successful IS operation in India, the entire operation has an eerie similarity with last year's botched attempt in Hyderabad, where a small group of self-radicalised youth, under active guidance from an IS handler, tried to effect Islamic State's first strike in India.
In a marvellously detailed article, Rukmini Callimachi of New York Times went through interrogation records of the Hyderabad case to show how IS terror operatives guided a young Indian engineer named Mohammed Ibrahim Yazdani every step of the way, for 17 months, to launch the attack which ultimately didn't materialise. Explosives , arms and ammunition were sent from abroad using local criminal networks and each step was detailed and discussed through encrypted channels of social media.
The plot, according to the report, unravelled when the Indian operatives failed to follow instructions in bomb making and used unsecure cellphone networks to discuss their travails, leading cops to their doorstep.
Many experts believe that this remote-control model is the future of IS, as they rapidly lose their territorial gains.
The unravelling of the plot goes to show the depth of the problem facing India and why our ministers could do a lot better than appearing smug and delivering homilies before the media. It's time to increase our vigilance and surveillance manifold. IS is here.