What terrorists are doing in Kashmir, ISIS and Al Qaeda are doing in Africa, killing community leaders: The global SOP of Islamic terrorism
One of the biggest banes facing the world in the 21st century is the scourge of Islamic terrorism. From the upscale cities in the United States to the backwater towns in Europe, from the windswept deserts of the middle east to the snowclad mountains in Kashmir, there is practically no place in the world where Islamic terrorism has not spread its vicious tentacles. It remains the most difficult challenge that humanity has faced in centuries.
While it may appear that Islamic terrorists across the world are working in silos, they are essentially united by a common ideology and same methodology: a puritanical belief in the medieval version of Islam and a penchant for using brutal violence against their victims, which are chiefly non-Muslims, apostates, and atheists.
A report recently published in Reuters sheds light on the modus operandi adopted by Islamist terror organisations across the expanse of the middle east and Africa in their bid to establish the supremacy of Islam and pressurise the locals into following a more fanatical and exclusivist version of it.
As early as 2018, Islamic terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda, ISIS and other splinter terror outfits started attacking and abducting community leaders so as to instil a sense of terror and panic among the residents. As per Reuters’ analysis of more than 6,000 violent incidents and interviews, terrorists are increasingly taking to assassinating community leaders and society stalwarts in their attempts to discourage resistance and enable swift territorial expansion.
More than 300 community leaders have been executed since 2018, a staggering 150 times higher than the number of leaders killed or abducted in the period between 2012 to 2018. Those specifically targeted by terror organisations include chiefs, mayors, council members and religious leaders. The count, however, is still an undercount, considering that there’s hardly any data from places where Islamists operate.
This is the standard operating procedure followed by Islamic State and Al Qaeda terrorists to exert their dominance in several parts of Africa and the Middle East. Researchers who have keenly observed the rise of Islamic extremism in Africa and the Middle East, believe the strategy of eliminating village chiefs, rebel leaders, community stalwarts, is a tactic increasingly adopted by various terror outfits to expand their influence.
“If you want maximum disorder, you kill the chief,” the Reuters article quoted Rahmane Idrissa as saying. Idrissa, who is a political scientist at Leiden University, in the Netherlands, and focuses on Nigerian politics, believes the plan of the Islamic terror outfits in systematically killing village chiefs is but a small cog in a big wheel, a part of a larger agenda to replace the state.
A spate of killings in Tchombangou and nearby villages of Niger’s Tillaberi region has brought public life to a screeching halt. Residents who feared for their life stopped coming out of their homes altogether. The government imposed a ban on motorbikes, the transport of choice for the terrorists, but that did not help in assuaging the concerns among the people. Sixty village chiefs fled as a consequence, giving terrorists greater authority to control and dominate the region.
Marsadou Soumaila, the top government official in Ouallam, Niger, says by attacking the village chiefs, the terrorists are attacking and challenging state authority. “Village chiefs are an extension of our administration,” Soumaila said.
This stratagem of killing community elders is not exclusive to Islamic outfits operating in Africa. In fact, the terrorists in Africa draw on from the Islamic State, which had publicly described the plan of waging war against community elders who oppose the group’s ideology. In a newsletter issued by the terror outfit in November 2018, ISIS exhorted its followers to target tribal chiefs to make an example of those who aid and collude with its enemies.
As per Michael Knights, a researcher specialising in military and security affairs at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank, for years now, local chiefs, or mukhtars in Iraq are being subjected to targeted attacks by the Islamic State.
The aim of such attacks, Knight says, is to obviously terrorise people but to also show them that the most important person in the village could not be protected and that the link between the people and the government could be broken.
The attacks in African countries follow the same pattern. In Somalia, Al Qaeda’s off-shoot Al Shabaab wreaks havoc, with local leaders its primary targets in recent years. Similar is the predicament of tribal chiefs in Nigeria, where terrorists belonging to Boko Haram and its Islamic State affiliates have rendered the northeast region ungovernable following the targeted killings of over a dozen of leaders. Likewise, Mali is another west African country where Islamic terrorists effectively control large tracts of land by killing community leaders, village chiefs and local government representatives.
More recently, the fall of Kabul demonstrates the results that Islamic terrorists aim to achieve with their plan of targeting influential individuals. The lightning offensive of the Islamic terror group The Taliban in Afghanistan took everyone by surprise, especially by the speed with which the terror outfit yanked the control of the country from the US-backed Ashraf Ghani government.
One of the reasons why the Taliban was successful in gaining control of the country was its strategy of going after the tribal chiefs and warlords who wielded enormous influence in their respective regions. Once they were subdued, the Afghan police and American-trained Afghan armed forces fell in line, either by joining the Talibani ranks or abandoning their posts. It is through this strategy that shortly after declaring its rule in Kabul, the Talibani forces launched a military offensive against the Panjshir resistance leaders Ahmad Masood and Amrullah Saleh.
Besides the objective of terrorising the locals into submission, the killing of tribal chiefs also helps the terror outfits to recruit fresh blood in their ranks. The lack of leadership leaves the area vulnerable to unrest, making it ripe for a breeding ground of Islamic terror groups. As per military officials of Niger, such places where tribal chiefs are eliminated, ethnic and sectarian conflicts escalate, often resulting in clashes. This makes it a hotbed for Islamist groups seeking to sway disaffected recruits into joining their organisations, plunging the region further into crisis.
The correspondence between tactics employed by ISIS, Al Qaeda terrorists and terrorists operating in Kashmir
The tactics employed by Islamists in Africa and the Middle-east bear a stark resemblance to the terror activities carried out by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists in India’s Jammu and Kashmir. For years now, village chiefs, prominent individuals, youth icons and other influential personalities have been subjected to attacks and kidnapping to prevent a semblance of normalcy returning in the Valley.
Kashmir had long been afflicted by the menace of terrorism but the year 1989 was the inflexion point when the situation worsened dramatically. Rubaiya Sayeed, the daughter of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, who was then the Home Minister of India, was kidnapped by members of separatist organisation JKLF. The kidnappers demanded the release of thirteen members. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah in agreement with the Central government accepted their demands and freed the jailed militants.
Shortly afterwards, Islamic terrorism assumed its most ominous form when lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits, whose families lived for generations in the Valley, were forced to flee their homes on the back of a coordinated campaign by terrorists in conjunction with separatists to effect a demographic change in the state. Many of those who refused to give in to intimidation and stayed back in Kashmir were killed in cold blood by the terrorists.
The terrorists were driven by their motivation to secede Jammu and Kashmir away from India and integrate it with Pakistan. But they feared the public resistance and democratic ethos that were firmly embedded in the governance of Jammu and Kashmir by then. As a consequence, terrorists resorted to attacking renowned individuals, village sarpanchs and community leaders who formed a critical link between the people of Kashmir and the Indian government.
The idea was to snap this link and plunge Kashmir into chaos, thereby using the ensuing disorder and anarchy to instil fear and discourage people from aligning with the Indian government. Be it Hindus or Muslims, those who are perceived to be acting at the behest of the Indian government, were a fair game for the Islamic terrorists who harbour a forlorn hope of breaking Kashmir from India.
Strong and influential leaders hold outsize sway over their community. They are the torchbearers of the society, embodying ideas and beliefs that the community cherishes and holds dear. They also wield immense power to galvanise the local population into fighting against the forces that undermine those very ideas and beliefs. Therefore, when such community stalwarts and village chiefs are targeted and murdered, it is not just an attack against an individual but on the entire society.
Recently, two teachers, one Hindu and another Sikh were killed by Islamic terrorists in Kashmir. The teachers were reportedly killed because they had asked students to attend the 15th August function in schools. As per reports, the teachers present were segregated on basis of their religions and presumably Muslim teachers were allowed to go. The Hindu and Sikh teacher were dragged outside and shot at point-blank range. The terrorists then fled from the spot.
This attack came less than 48 hours after the killing of Makhan Lal Bindroo, the Kashmiri Pandit who stood his ground and refused to leave Kashmir even during the heights of Islamic terror in the 1990s.
In a separate incident, a non-Kashmiri street vendor was shot by terrorists near Madina Chowk Lalbazar in Srinagar. The deceased, identified as Virendra Paswan, was a resident of Bihar’s Bhagalpur. He was presently residing in Alamgari Bazar Zadibal.
In June 2020, a Kashmiri Pandit Sarpanch Ajay Pandita was shot dead by the unidentified terrorists in the Anantnag district of South Kashmir. Ajay Pandita was an elected Sarpanch of Lokbowan Larkipora in Anantnag and he had been to work in his orchard when he was attacked by the terrorists.
On August 9, 2021, BJP Sarpanch Ghulam Rasool Bhat and his wife Jawahara Banoo were gunned down by Pakistan-sponsored Islamic terrorists. The incident took place in the Lal Chowk area of the Anantnag district of South Kashmir.
BJP leader Javeed Ahmad Dar was shot dead by terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir days after Ghulam Rasool Bhat and his wife’s assassination. Dar was the BJP’s Constituency President of Homshalibugh in Kulgam. He was shot dead by terrorists this afternoon at Brazloo-jagir of the district. He was shifted to hospital after he was shot at where he succumbed to injuries.
In the same month, The Resistance Front, an affiliate of terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, attacked the home of Sarpanch Narinder Kaur in Baramulla with a high-intensity hand-grenade. The grenade fell in the compound of the house but caused no injuries. However, the compound and some portions of the house got damaged. The family of the Sarpanch is safe.
Earlier in March, a group of terrorists opened fire at the guard post of BJP leader Anwar Khan’s residence in Nowgam, North Kashmir. One sentry who was critically injured in the attack succumbed to his injuries.
In June this year, BJP leader Rakesh Pandita was shot dead by terrorists. Prior to that, in February 2021, the popular Krishna Dhaba in Srinagar was attacked, where the owner’s son was critically injured. The young man had later succumbed to bullet injuries.
There is a morbid symmetry in the way ISIS and Al Qaeda terrorists are operating in the Middle East and Africa and the terrorists carrying out their operations in Kashmir. After drawing inspiration from the same toxic ideology that calls for the death of non-believers, the Islamic terrorists of different hues seemed to have converged on a global standard operating procedure (SOP), which advocates the persecution of community leaders, village chiefs and prominent individuals, to advance their singular objective of bringing the entire world under the banner of Islamic rule and establishing the Muslim ummah.