Danger lurking at doorsteps
Last few days had been very disturbing for the whole world. From Europe to Bangladesh, ISIS has claimed lives all over. It’s a long way from the Turkish city of Istanbul to Baghdad in Iraq or to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh – but in the brutal ideology of Islamic State, the three are strongly connected.
Recent triple suicide-bomb attack on Ataturk airport, one of the worlds busiest and a symbol of Turkey’s faltering economic and regional ambitions, is assumed to be the work of the so-called Islamic State, and the organisation also claims the hostage crisis at a restaurant in Dhaka where at least 20 people are killed. The outfit also claimed around 250 lives in Baghdad the latest attacks in an expansive global terror campaign, as the territory that is the Islamist movement’s supposed caliphate shrinks, most notably with the recent freeing of the Iraqi city of Fallujah by the Iraqi forces.
In Dhaka, at least 20 hostages died in an 11-hour siege that ended when Bangladeshi security forces stormed the up-market Holey Artisan Bakery, killing six of the gunmen who had hacked the mainly foreign breakfast patrons to death and capturing a seventh alive. IS claimed the attack almost immediately. “Islamic State commandos attack a restaurant frequented by foreigners in the city of Dhaka in Bangladesh,” according to a news link associated with IS, which also posted photographs of what purported to be the bodies of foreigners who had been killed – apparently transmitted to IS from the restaurant.
In his final State of the Union address, Barak Obama mentioned that the ISIS does not pose a threat to the US. This comes at a time when we have witnessed three back-to-back attacks, one in Istanbul then in Dhaka and then Baghdad. Over the past six months we have seen a string of ISIS-led attacks in Paris and Brussels — all proving the serious threat the group poses. Looking at what has transpired over the last six months; Obama’s statement cannot be farther from the truth.
The three dastardly attacks are a proof that ISIS, the only terrorist group to create a state with borders, is becoming a larger and more sophisticated version of its rival Al- Qaeda. It has become a much bigger threat than the Al-Qaeda. What increases the ISIS’ global outreach is the vast number of foreign fighters joining them. A UN report, tabled on March 2015, stated that there were up to 22,000 foreign troops, from around 100 nationalities fighting for the ISIS. It is to be noted here that even Al-Qaeda had its fair share of international fighters but the ISIS’ strong propaganda and superior capabilities completely radicalise their foreign fighters and hence they pose much bigger threat. This will create massive security threat once these fighters’ returns to their homeland. If reports are to be believed ISIS has started sending its foreign fighters back home. Several foreign fighters have been asked to return home following the spate of defeats the outfit has faced in both Iraq and Syria. Since its losing its battle in both Syria and Iraq, it has adopted a plan B. While the decline of the ISIS is indeed very good news for both Syria and Iraq, it could emerge as a problem for the rest of the world. The ISIS’ intent in sending the foreign fighters back is not exactly a retreat, but a ploy to execute revenge. The ISIS has instructed its foreign fighters to gain entry into their home countries and stage attacks and as can be seen in last few weeks, Europe is likely to be the hardest hit in such a scenario. While the ISIS would try and win back lost ground in both Iraq and Syria, the idea for now is to extend its global reach. Sensing this already countries across the European Union, India, the US and Australia are coming up with strategies to detain returning fighters.Reaching our doorstepsAttacks in Dhaka have once again brought up the question which security agencies are always putting up in the public domain: Does India risk a Dhaka like attack in near future? The risk is real and is seen as a possibility by the security agencies with online propaganda motivating radicalised youth to travel to Iraq and Syria to train in jihad and return to carry out terror strikes in the name of a so-called ‘Caliphate’. Also, as evident from the busting of three IS inspired modules in Roorkee and Hyderabad over the past 6-7 months, there are attempts by self radicalised youths to organise themselves and plot terror attacks here, driven by not only Syria-based handlers but also some home-grown preachers as was evident in the Dhaka attacks.
If the reports are to be believed the security agencies are monitoring around 400-500 radicalised youth from all over country who may perpetrate such lone wolf attacks in the country. According to a report, the head of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) Asim Umar, issued a statement “inciting Indian Muslims to rise up and to follow the example of lone-wolves in Europe and kill administrative and police officers in India”. US-based SITE Intelligence Group tracked the AQIS statement, putting Indian intelligence agencies on alert. Both Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) have been trying to recruit Indians to carry out attacks in the country. So far, this has yielded little fruit as Indian intelligence has been cracking down on suspects diligently. Till now, NIA and state police forces have arrested 54 ISIS members at the stage of planning.
Incidentally, IS’s influence is growing steadfastly in Bangladesh. Local terror elements linked to Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), frustrated with their own failure to prevent hanging of leaders such as Motiur Rahman Nizami, have reportedly aligned with IS. Only recently, IS Bangladesh chief Shaykh Abu Ibrahim Al Hanif declared IS’s intention to use fighters from Pakistan and Bangladesh to mount “guerilla attacks inside India” by partnering local mujahideen. Indian agencies fear attacks by JMB in Assam and West Bengal in the coming days. These are the two states where JMB has set up bases and training facilities. This makes it clear that India is facing an increasing danger of attacks within its territory by the ISIS.
Looking back at what has transpired over the last few weeks, it is important for us to recognise that the ISIS is a much larger threat for the country. With the presence of foreign fighters in the ISIS and several regional outfits pledging allegiance to it, the ISIS’ global outreach is far more dangerous. The fact that it directly controls oil-rich territory in Iraq and Syria means that it has access to financial resources which help it carry out attacks in Dhaka or elsewhere. The battle against the ISIS is by all means going to be a long-term battle. This battle is going to be far more complex and will involve taking some tough decisions regarding regional alliances.
by Nilabh Krishna