If we were to take Maldives, France and Germany as examples, it quite evident that the ISIS returnees pose a great threat to the country. Resistance by local communities in Kerala to any sort of action against this threat is not helping India's situation either
Four nations that have witnessed a rapid increase in the number of Islamic State related activities are Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Maldives.
Maldives in particular has witnessed a surge of ISIS related activities in recent years and reports state that at least 250 from the country have left the archipelago to join the outfit and four had been killed in the battlefields of Iraq and Syria.
The other worry is that 30 returned to Maldives and have been active and in June this year, Male witnessed a pro-ISIS rally featuring banners that called for the introduction of the Sharia law. Maldives has started to acknowledge the problem and has set in place a set of strict norms not to allow these persons to return.
The problem in Bangladesh:
After Maldives, the country which has witnessed the highest growth of ISIS related activities is Bangladesh. The danger here is not just the cadre, but the coming together of like-minded radicals, propagating the ISIS ideology, which in turn has a direct bearing on India.
From Bangladesh, at least 10 youth have joined the ISIS in Syria and two have died fighting.
Bangladesh has witnessed a rapid spread of radical Islam in recent years and groups such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, Ansar al-Aslam have been taking forward the cause of the ISIS. The JeI, it must be noted has a strong presence in India and coordinates with several terror groups in Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal to further its activities.
There was one particular disturbing incident that took place in Dhaka after the verdict in the Holey Artisan Cafe case was pronounced. The jihadis who were handed the sentence chanted Allahu Akbar slogans. One of the convicts, Rakibul Hasan Regan then put on a skull cap with the ISIS logo. It was found that the caps were manufactured in the jail and the authorities overlooked the issue intentionally. This is just example to suggest that the poison of radical Islam is spreading fast into the official machinery in Bangladesh.
Further the ISIS has also tied up with the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, Bangladesh, which has been a proven menace for India. The JMB is primarily responsible for most acts of terror in India. The outfit has openly propagated the ISIS ideology and demanded that the Sharia law be implemented. For this purpose, it has been using illegal immigrants from Bangladesh to further its cause. While an NRC would have been ideal to identify such persons and deport them, there has been a mindless protest over the same.
The problem with the returnees:
Kerala witnessed a major influx to ISIS. Nearly 23 left the state to be part of the Islamic State in Afghanistan. While some were killed, there were a few others who were captured. Similar incidents have also been reported from Hyderabad and Maharashtra. The question now is, should India take these persons back or follow in the footsteps of Australia, which stripped the citizenship of an ISIS operative? Australia identified this person as Khaled Sharrouf and a secret panel of intelligence officials, police officials and lawyers revoked his Australian citizenship.
Maldives, France and Germany are classic examples that highlight the dangers of allowing such elements to return. The Paris attack was carried out by a group of ISIS returnees. In Maldives, as mentioned earlier, the 30 returnees furthered their activities and propagated for the strongest Sharia law.
Security analysts tell MyNation that the ISIS problem in both Bangladesh and Maldives should worry India. On September 15, the UAE deported four Indians allegedly linked to the ISIS. In Hyderabad, one Salman Moihuddin was arrested while trying to board a flight to Dubai and then go to Syria. UAE also deported Afsha Jabeen alias Nicky Joseph who was an active recruiter for the ISIS.
Officials say that those returning through official channels can be handled. They would be tried and jailed as per law. However, it is these persons who try to return through illegal channels is what we need to worry about. An Intelligence Bureau officer said that there would be attempts to move the Indian Muslims in the ISIS to Bangladesh and then ensure that they infiltrate India. In fact, this is the specific brief that all ISIS fighters were given when the outfit began losing territory in Syria and Iraq. The foreign fighters were told that they should return to their home country and then continue with the activities of the outfit.
The routes to watch out for:
The Indo-Bangladesh border and the Indo-Nepal border is what the officials would watch closely. We are aware that these persons would try and enter the country through these routes as the security is at times lax, the IB officer said.
Through the Bangladesh border, there would be attempts made to mix these persons with illegal immigrants. Further, an attempt would be made to send them to their hometowns through road, the officer further noted. If these persons manage to succeed, then we would be staring at a very dangerous situation. Further, we have seen how easily such elements manage to get traction in states such as Kerala and Bengal, owing to the minority appeasement politics.
The Nepal route is also a matter of concern. This is the most common route that has been used by almost all ISI sponsored terrorists from Pakistan. Operatives of the Indian Mujahideen had always used this route to get out of the country after carrying out a terrorist attack.
There is a likelihood that the Kerala ISIS operatives would be first launched into Pakistan and then given a safe passage into India through Nepal, officials suspect. Similarly, there are operatives in other states as well. States like Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Karnataka have witnessed a similar problem and there would be similar attempts to get these operatives back and launch them into their home states.
Why Kerala provides the perfect fodder for radical Islam?
The biggest problem in Kerala is that the local communities resist action against the Wahhabis and their ideology which is followed by the ISIS. Assessments done by the National Investigation Agency suggest that those who return from ISIS land are extremely dangerous.
They were already radicalised when they left, but the kind of indoctrination that they undergo in a foreign land makes them even more dangerous. Further, they are also trained extensively and are brainwashed thoroughly. When they return, they need not act in a group. They are given lessons in carrying out lone wolf attacks, which are extremely lethal as they are very difficult to detect.
Abhinav Pandya, a Cornell University Graduate in public affairs, who also writes for India’s premier think-tank Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) says that the threat level in Kerala is very high. He says that many get away as the local Islamic communities often resist action against the Wahhabis.
He further adds that Islam came through the sea routes and added to this is the strong Gulf connect. There are terror groups such as the Base Movement, Al-Qaeda and ISIS which operates in Kerala. Further the ISI’s network from Colombo is also operating in several southern states including Kerala.
Pandya adds that the radicalisation in Kerala is more dangerous than Kashmir. The youth have a firm faith in the Caliphate and the religious motivation is very strong. Although there is no perceived instance of discrimination, the youth still tilt towards the Caliphate, he further states.
Looking at the scenario, one could only imagine, if the ISIS fighters return to this state. Home Ministry officials say that they are watching the developments closely and all agencies have been given a free hand to deal with the problem and ensure that these silent returnees do not make their way back to their home states.
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Last Updated Dec 24, 2019, 1:54 PM IST