BY VK SHASHIKUMAR
Indian military intelligence (MI) units in Southern India are on high alert for so-called “Lone Wolf” attacks on military bases, installations, coastal and inland assets and cantonment areas. Indian intelligence agencies have credible information that IS operatives have set up OGWs (Over Ground Workers) in the Southern Indian cities of Hyderabad, Trivandrum, Bangalore and Coimbatore. In fact, Hyderabad is believed to be the hub of the IS network in India. The city’s airport has been designated as highly sensitive and local law enforcement agencies have been hard pressed to explain why certain parts of the old city areas of Hyderabad have virtually become inaccessible.
The Indian Army is uniquely positioned and capable of dealing with such terror strikes because according to an MI source “the fidayeen terror attacks that army units have frequently encountered in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) are what are today known under the new terminology of ‘Lone Wolf’ attacks.”
Immediately, after India crushed Pakistani army infiltrators in the 1999 Kargil war Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) devised a new terror technique – Fidayeen terror attacks. The first fidayeen attack on the Indian Army took place in 1999 when its 15 Corps headquarters at the Badami Bagh cantonment, Srinagar, was attacked. This was followed by a series of fidayeen terror attacks between July 1999 and 2001 September.
“The Indian Army has more than 15 years of experience in effectively handling what the Western world calls ‘Lone Wolf’ attacks. Our attempt is to snuff out potential ‘Lone Wolf’ attacks through effective intelligence gathering. We have mapped out cities, individuals and even political groups who are providing a nurturing environment for the Islamic State terror sympathizers and its jihadi terror recruits. There should not be any doubt in anybody’s mind – We will not hesitate to do what needs to be done.” It is clear that the Indian security establishment will rely on the Army’s expertise to deal with the alarming intelligence inputs of IS terrorists in India who apparently are preparing a series of fidayeen or ‘Lone Wolf’ attacks.
“It is a shame that a particular political party has nurtured such high levels of religious extremism that there are certain parts of Hyderabad city, which has become completely out of bounds from a law enforcement perspective. I have reported this to relevant authorities in Delhi in accordance with the established procedure,” says the MI source. “The fact is that the National Investigation Agency conducted raids early in the morning to arrest suspected IS terrorists who were planning a series of fidayeen strikes in Hyderabad city. What does this suggest?”
Joining the IS call to step up ‘Lone Wolf’ attacks in India, the Al Qaeda in the Indian Sub-Continent (AQIS) on July 3 issued a statement in which Asim Umar, the leader of AQIS “incited Indian Muslims to rise up and to follow the example of lone wolves in Europe and kill administrative and police officers in India.” It is interesting to note that this AQIS call was issued three days after the U.S. State Department issued a press release announcing the addition of AQIS to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organization and listed its emir, Asim Umar, as a specially designated global terrorist. The AQIS is a consolidated umbrella group of Pakistan-Afghanistan based terrorist groups including the LeT and JeM.
Two years after the Intelligence Bureau first issued warnings over the possibility of ‘Lone Wolf’ attacks after the arrest of Mehdi Masroor Biswas, the security situation across the Southern India has become quite critical. According to information available with MI in Southern India, over the last two years the following sequence of IS consolidation have been noticed.
It appears that Indian IS operatives recruited from within the Indian Muslim communities in West Asia and those who traveled from India to Syria to join the IS set up OGW networks across cities along the Eastern and Western coasts of India. Hyderabad was designated as the Centre of IS activities because of the pro-fundamentalist orientation of certain political outfits in the city, which provided an effective cover for IS to expand its base.
Southern India is considered to be more internet savvy than North. “Recruitment through social media channels is, therefore, expectedly high in Southern India,” says the MI source. “Even though all ‘Terror Preachers on Internet’ (TPoI) – a new terminology created by MI to track terror evangelizers and recruiters on the internet are in the surveillance radar as and when we find them, we do not yet have sophisticated means tracking digital media terror chatter.” As evidence from Dhaka terror attacks seems to be suggest, even fundamentalist tele-evangelists like Zakir Naik have played a role in creating a culture of attracting Muslim youth to extreme violence in the name of religion. The head of the Hyderabad IS module, Mohammad Ibrahim Yazdani, reportedly told the National Investigation Agency that he was radicalized by listening to Naik’s extremist speeches exhorting Muslim to take recourse to violence.
The young, educated and radicalized terrorists in Dhaka were recruited online. So were most of the suspected IS young terrorists arrested in India, including those recently arrested in Hyderabad. South Indian cities which have a considerable network of IS OGWs – Hyderabad, Bangalore, Coimbatore and Trivandrum – incidentally, also show high numbers of Muslim migrants from other states such as West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. These migrant workers, such as Mohammad Moshiruddin alias Musha, 25, are easy targets of extreme radicalization within short window of exposure to IS recruiters, who in turn become recruiters. Musha, for instance, was arrested by law enforcement officials in Burdwan. He was under surveillance for several months and made frequent trips to West Bengal to recruit for IS. Or take case of Adnan Ahmed and Nouman Jameel, two Hyderabad youths who were counseled by the police when it was cyber surveillance revealed that both were showing tendencies towards sourcing extremist literature online. One of them had even booked a ticket to Turkey.
“From our perspective all the soft setting up has happened over the last two years – formation of the OGW network, effective penetration of TPoIs, creation of a network of IS recruiters and all the associated collaterals. Now, anytime, we expect the hard stuff to happen,” says the MI source.
(VK Shashikumar is an investigative journalist and a strategist. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)