The killing of Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi comes as a relief to the world, but the terror outfit’s decentralised structure would mean that his death may not have that much of an impact on its operations, especially in India
US President Donald Trump on Sunday confirmed that the worlds most dreaded terrorist, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed. The death of the Islamic State chief does come as a relief to the entire world, but the question is what does that change?
Looking at this from the purely Indian perspective, it is clear Baghdadi’s death is unlikely to change anything much especially in states such as Kerala, Kashmir and Tamil Nadu, which have been bitten by the ISIS problem.
One of the key reasons why the ISIS will continue to pose a problem is because it is decentralised in nature and not a concentrated one. The Al-Qaeda too became a decentralised outfit after 9/11 and hence it continues to operate in different parts of the world despite the death of its supreme commander Osama Bin Laden.
The Indian problem:
The ISIS too started out like the Al-Qaeda and was not a decentralised outfit. However today it is modelled in such a way that even if the headquarters is bombed or its leader dies, the other units do not suffer.
The question is, will the death of Baghdadi ease out the ISIS problem in India? Former officer with the Research and Analysis Wing, V Balachandran tells MyNation the units in India may not suffer. They may be physiologically affected, but their operations would continue. This is because of the high rate of radicalisation that one witnesses in the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Kashmir, Balachandran adds.
There were rumours in the past about Baghdadi’s death, but that did not stop operations. The Sri Lankan bombings took place and a large number of people from Kerala and Tamil Nadu joined the outfit, he further says.
Moreover, over the years, the geographical spread of the ISIS has only increased in India. The modules are particularly strong in Kerala, West Bengal and Kashmir. Further the ISIS has also set up very strong outfits in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
If one looks at the manner in which the ISIS operates in India, it is clear that it is tying up with local radical outfits. For instance, take the case of Sri Lanka, where the outfit carried out the Easter Bombings with the help of the National Towheed Jamath.
Further, the ISIS while allying with local groups tends to take up the local issues. For instance, an issue in Kashmir that it would rake up would be different from the one in Kerala. However, the overall agenda would continue to remain supremacy of Islam and the exaggerated and perceived humiliation of Muslims.
The problem in Kerala:
Unless and until the appeasement stops and a thorough de-radicalisation problem is undertaken in Kerala, the problem of the Islamic State is unlikely to stop. Kerala and Tamil Nadu have in fact set the tone for ISIS operations in India. The first known Indian ISIS recruit Haja Fakruddin was from Tamil Nadu. Further, in Kerala, thanks to the spread of Wahhabism and rapid radicalisation, nearly 21 left the country and joined the Khorasan in Afghanistan.
Balachandran explains that the problem in Kerala grew to such an extent owing to a variety of reasons. The ISIS looks in particular for educated operatives and hence Kerala and other parts of South became a preferred destination.
The old pattern of roping in uneducated terrorists has stopped now. The ISIS like the Al-Qaeda moved towards recruiting the educated. Kerala, which is a 100% literate state has witnessed some highly educated people joining the ISIS, Balachandran points out.
Further, if one studies the problem in these states, it is clear that the humiliation of Islam is cited very heavily. It is easier to brainwash an educated person on this ground. They tap the sensitivity of the educated person and brainwash them says Balachandran.
Further when a person is being brainwashed, the recruiter tends to exaggerate the issue. However, what I have seen is that the Hindus, Muslims and Christians have been treated equally. The Muslims too get jobs. In fact, the Kerala Muslims are better off than most financially. Despite this, there is a high rate of recruitment in the state, the former R&AW officer explains. In fact, the problems that they cite may not be existent at all, he further adds.
The death of Baghdadi is not going to change the mindset of these people in Kerala or Tamil Nadu or Bengal for that matter. There is a need for a de-radicalisation programme to change things. For this there needs to be help from the local government and also the community as a whole, Balachandran says.
Intelligence Bureau officials explain that it is the propaganda that drives the ISIS and its recruits. It is not as though Baghdadi would post the material. There are many to do that and as long as that continues, the problem from this outfit would persist, the officials explain.
It is a well-known fact that Baghdadi had been down over the past three to four years. Despite not making any call or releasing an audio clip for long, attacks took place in Sri Lanka and Paris. He did not even post a congratulatory message, but the recruitments continued, and the attacks took place unabated.
In fact, the outfit even went on to announce its Indian branch called the Wilayah of Hind. Officials say that the plan to establish a Global Islamic Council is still intact and India is very much a part of the plan.
In fact, Baghdadi himself had said after suffering heavy losses in both Iraq and Syria that the ISIS fighters would have to return to their homeland and continue with the attacks over there. This was a clear indication he wanted the ISIS to become a global outfit and not just restricted to Syria or Iraq.
In the Indian context too, the big worry is about those who have left the country. Intelligence Bureau officials have repeatedly warned that these persons would look to return one day and strike in India. Hence, it is the returnees who would be more lethal, the intelligence had also warned.
When one speaks about the propaganda of the outfit, it is clear that the ISIS is not operating as a separate entity in India. There are splinter groups which subscribe to its ideology and carry out its activities. In Maharashtra it was the Ummat e Mohammadiya. In the northern part of the country, it was the Harkat-ul-Harb-e-Islam. In Bengal, the group operates with the help of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, Bangladesh. In fact, in Bengal, the outfit even announced an emir to oversee operations in that part of the country.
Balachandran explains that the ISIS has modules that are self-sufficient. There is nothing called as a centralised command anymore. The ISIS had a structure as long as they controlled Iraq and Syria. However, with the outfit losing territory, it no longer had a structure and instead spread to other parts of the world. Basically, the outfit had stopped depending on Baghdadi all together and had become self-sufficient, Balachandran also says.
The new chief is equally lethal:
Baghdadi had in fact declared a few months back that his successor would be Abdullah Qadarsh. The 40-year-old new chief also known as professor was a key officer in Saddam Hussein’s army.
He had met with Baghdadi while in jail and after their release they formed ISIS. The material on Qadarsh suggests that he is ruthless in nature, a good policy maker and excellent at logistics. He was in fact tasked with uniting the ISIS all over the world and ensure that the ideology of the outfit never dies and continues to attack radical Muslims.
With his strong radical ideology and an eye for logistics, experts say that he would look for precision attacks. He would also convey messages very loudly so that their goal to set up a Caliphate is not derailed, the experts also say.
Last Updated 1:46 PM IST