The Islamic State (IS) has arrived in India. The country experienced its first successful IS-inspired terrorist attack with a bomb blast in a Madhya Pradesh train on Tuesday. Fortunately, the blast’s casualties were limited to 10 injured people. More important is that, so far, it does not seem to violate the IS’ past record of having never directly masterminded an attack on India. All IS activity in India, so far, has been carried out by Indians who became self-radicalised through the Internet and media. Nonetheless, New Delhi cannot afford to be complacent.
The militant ripples created by IS reached India some years ago. There have been multiple cases of radicalised Muslim youth, inspired by IS, being apprehended by police before they could carry out an attack. In the case of two brothers arrested in Gujarat, they had communicated directly with IS. Until now, and it is a commendable record, all such IS modules were arrested before they could attack.
The IS-inspired terror cell that carried out the Ujjain train attack is noteworthy for two reasons. One is that they were able to carry out an attack before being arrested. This could be an indicator that such groups are finding means to get around the pre-emption strategies of Indian security. This is dangerous: One of the problems afflicting counterterrorism efforts in Europe is a near halving of pre-emption rates. Two is the size of the cell. Already, eight people have been named as members of the cell, much larger than previous IS cells who are rarely more than one or two strong.
There continues to be little evidence that IS leadership in Iraq sees India as a priority. IS’ strange, apocalyptic version of Islam calls for the re-creation of the Caliphate, starting with West Asia. Its maps mark out a future Khorasan province that covers Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of India. However, says Princeton University’s Cole Bunzel and a leading expert on IS, there are only “passing mentions” in the speeches of IS leaders.
There is no love for India, however. IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at one point said last year, “Where is the relief of the rulers of Mecca and Medina for the Muslims in China and the Muslims in India against whom the Hindus commit the worst of crimes daily, including murder, burning, rape, severing of joints, looting, plundering, and imprisonment?”
But the latest issue of IS’s Al Naba newspaper, with IS slowly losing ground in Iraq and Syria, called upon its foreign fighters to attack Western countries and targets in the Arab world. India did not figure in this or its earlier copies.
New Delhi is almost certainly relieved that IS has other targets in mind. But this has not stopped a few dozen Indian Muslims to physically try and join IS ranks. Many of those have since tried to leave IS, complaining of being treated shabbily and horrified at the violence that permeates the terrorist nation.
The greater problem, which the Ujjain train blast highlights, is radicalisation of a few youth via the Internet and social media. The result are terrorists who thankfully have no training, little ability to access explosives and who’s real weapon is only their violent dedication to a strange cult in another part of the world. With indications that IS may soon be militarily defeated by the end of the year, India may experience a fall in IS-inspired activity. But it is likely that another group will rise to take its place.