The Islamic State (IS) terrorist group doesn’t just have a toehold in the subcontinent and China but is growing in strength as well, making India and its neighbours vulnerable to its madness.
The hated Sunni jihadist outfit may not have a direct presence in these countries but it has loyal and bloodthirsty followers in home-grown extremist groups that swear allegiance to it. Also, it has moles and modules that brainwash and recruit young Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Chinese Uyghurs to join its fighting ranks.
Pakistan has faced the most brutalities for its myriad jihadi groups getting attracted to the IS doctrine. It was the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Jamatul Ahrar group under Qasim Khurasani, which pledged allegiance to the IS, that is behind the December 2014 attack on a military school in Peshawar, where 150 people, mostly children, were killed indiscriminately.
Since then, the group attacked several public places and military targets, including Bacha Khan University and the Easter strike on a park in Lahore.
The IS found recruits among Pakistan’s younger, educated generation. Two gruesome attacks — one on a bus carrying members of the Ismaili community in May 2015, killing 46 people, and the murder of free speech campaigner Sabeen Mahmud, in Karachi — were traced to Saad Aziz, a young and enterprising restaurant owner and his three western-educated friends. They had pledged allegiance to the IS.
Many more have left to fight for the IS in Syria and Iraq over the past two years.
China’s official opinion on the IS threat have been opaque but it too is feeling the heat, especially in the western border province of Xinjiang where Muslim Uyghur militants are fighting a separatist war. In November 2015, the IS executed Chinese national Fan Jinghui along with a Norwegian captive, prompting President Xi Jinping to condemn the incident from Manila, where he was attending an economic summit. “Terrorism is a universal enemy of mankind,” Xi said.
Soon after, an expert said the IS threat to China was real. The threat, he said, was from Uyghurs returning to China after training in west Asia. Li Shaoxian from the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations said “many hundreds or thousands” of Uyghurs are loyal IS followers.
The terror attacks in China – like the one at Tiananmen Square a couple of years ago and at the Kunming railway station in 2014 – were blamed on Uyghurs.
In Bangladesh, which has a long and porous border with India, the Sheikh Hasina government denied any IS presence in the country. The government blamed local groups connected with the opposition, especially the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party, for a spate of killings claimed by the IS.
Authorities held the outlawed Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB), Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) and several little-known outfits for fatal attacks on rational bloggers, liberals and religious minority groups.
These radical extremist groups — possibly to enhance their stature by linking themselves with the dreaded international outfit or probably getting direct support from it — have become the face of the IS in Bangladesh.
An IS-run magazine, Dabiq, says its efforts to recruit “soldiers of the Khilafah (caliphate)” in Bangladesh have gained “great momentum” with many Muslims joining it.
The magazine mentioned Bangladesh as “Bengal” and said the country is strategically important and its members were up for attacks on India and Myanmar from its bases in the country.
(With inputs from HTC Dhaka)