The state-wise break-up of Indians arrested for alleged links to Islamic State reveals a slow, yet nationwide appeal of the terror group.
Of the 75 held as of March this year, Kerala accounted for 21, Telangana 16, Karnataka nine, Maharashtra eight, Madhya Pradesh six, Uttarakhand four, Uttar Pradesh three, Rajasthan two, Tamil Nadu four and Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal had one each. Apart from these, 10 suspected IS activists were held in multi-state raids on April 20.
There are up to seven IS terror modules in India, though the group is yet to carry out any major attack in the country.
At least 75 Indians are also believed to have gone to fight for IS in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, including some Indian-origin youngsters from other countries. Since 2014, some of them were arrested from airports while on their way to join jihad, while several are also reported to have died in battle abroad.
Perhaps the most famous of these was the group of 21, including at least six women and three children, which disappeared from northern Kerala and reportedly went to Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. When the US dropped the “mother of all bombs” on April 13 on caves in Nangarhar, it was reported that at least 13 Indians were among the 96 terrorists killed.
Two of the Kerala youngsters were killed in the same area, one in a drone strike, but it’s not yet clear if some Malayalis died in the MOAB attack. A third man, a Christian who converted to Islam, died a couple of days ago.
While many plots by IS terrorists have been foiled, including one allegedly targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the group’s first known “successful” strike in India was a pipe bomb explosion in a Bhopal-Ujjain passenger train at Jabri railway station in Madhya Pradesh on March 7. The blast injured 10 passengers, with no fatalities.
Arrests of nearly 10 suspects linked to that blast led security agencies to modules in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, and to Saifullah, who fired back from his hideout in Lucknow before being shot dead.
Unlike the common perception, data from the National Investigation Agency revealed many of the youngsters joining IS are from middle or upper classes. Many including the Kerala youngsters had studied or worked in Gulf states.
They are mostly technically savvy, which explains their radicalisation online, through blogs, Twitter or groups on Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, Kik, VKontakte, Viber and Skype. According to an analysis of NIA data in January, 28 of the 52 arrested IS suspects were aged 18 to 25 and 20 of them were graduates.
The extent of online radicalisation was revealed first with the arrest of Mehdi Masroor Biswas in December 2014 from Bengaluru. Biswas used his twitter account @shamiwitness to send out more than 124,000 tweets that defended the IS and exhorted youngsters to join the group. Intelligence agencies were able to bust such online communications after infiltrating encrypted chat apps such as Telegram through mission Operation Chakravyuh.
Besides online radicalisation, some youngsters were brainwashed in person by people allegedly associated with radical preacher Zakir Naik and the Peace Foundation in Kerala and its schools.
In the first successful conviction of a case related to IS, a special court on April 21 sentenced two men to seven years in jail after they pleaded guilty to criminally conspiring to raise funds and recruiting people for the group.