The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), on Tuesday, October 18, 2016, published a special report of investigation about terrorist attacks on July 23, grand Hazara-Shia led protests in Kabul that killed and injured around 500 demonstrators. Among other issues, the report focusses on ISK claim of responsibility for the attack stating that recent attacks on Shia mass gatherings including ones on Ashura religious ceremony in Kabul and Balkh provinces endangers Afghanistan to face a spate of sectarian violence.
Having experienced serious blow in US and Afghan operations in eastern Afghanistan, ISK has focussed on the Shia community targeting Shia mass gatherings in recent months. This means, that ISK’s core anti-Shia practices have started in Afghanistan, a country that never faced sectarian rifts and clashes while being at war for almost four decades.
Jihadi Influx: Strengthening ISK?
The recent domestic transformation in ISK terrorist tactics in Afghanistan is coupled with flow of ISK sympathisers and future fighters from across the region to Afghanistan or the so-called Khurasan province of ISIS. These changes have alerted Afghanistan and the international community that ISK in Afghanistan is building ground. At a time, that the group is losing its self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq, Afghanistan is widely at risk of changing into another base of operations of ISIS leadership in Central and South Asia.
Recently, Afghan Vice President General Dustom announced that based on credible intelligence he came to know about 7,500 foreign ISIS fighters who will be stationed in Northern Afghanistan. Although General Dustom didn’t talk about his sources, the announcement was a big news in Afghanistan once again, shifting attention towards ISK future activities and expansion in Afghanistan.
Besides the North Afghanistan, recently Indian security agencies have learned about a group of Indians who have joined ISK in Afghanistan. Indian investigating agencies stumbled on an intriguing case of possible religious migration (Islamic Hijra) to the so-called Islamic State’s Khurasan province (Afghanistan) in July 2016. Subsequently, the agencies had searched for at least 21 people from the southernmost state of Kerala who had gone missing and are suspected to have joined the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Among them, 17 were from Kasaragod and four from Palakkad areas of Kerala including six women and three children. After ensuing investigations into the missing person cases, it came to light that all these people have reached Afghanistan travelling through Iran. And moreover the immigration records confirmed their ports of departure were being Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai airports, and, their first ports of destination were Kuwait, Dubai, Muscat and Abu Dhabi. In September, Tehran and Kabul authorities had informed India that those travelling Keralites could not be located.
Lure of Caliphate: Kerala to Khurasan
This southern Indian State has witnessed a spurt in arrests in connection with the Islamic State influenced radicalisations in recent months as the National Investigation Agency (NIA) picked-up many suspects from different places like Kadayanallur (Tirunelveli district) in early October this year, and Peringathoor (Kannur district) in mid-August 2016. Few youth and highly radicalised individuals have used online publishing platforms like WordPress, by opening a portal named ‘muhajiroun2016. wordpress.com’ and used to share their views on IS among their followers/members. NIA and State agencies have unearthed IS inspired conspiracy to execute High Court Judges and senior Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangah (Hindu Right-wing) functionaries. Many such recent events including the missing youth prove in a way that Kerala is increasingly becoming a breeding ground of radicals enticed or enamoured by the Islamic State ideals.
The 21 missing youths’ case is intriguing in a sense that these individuals prefer to travel to IS Khurasan in Afghanistan rather to the usual travel destination for IS sympathisers, Syria.
India’s elite anti-terror organisation, the NIA, which had been after this case since last few months revealed that some of these missing people may have been influenced by a United Kingdom based couple using social media messaging platforms especially ‘Telegram’. Initial breakthrough in this case came with the arrest of one Yashmin Ahmed from New Delhi airport in August this year who was about to fly to Kabul, Afghanistan. During interrogations, she had reportedly divulged information about these missing people who had left Kerala between mid-May and the first week of July 2016. The woman in question (Yashmin Ahmed), is originally from eastern Indian state of Bihar. She also confessed during interrogations that her husband Abdul Rashid of Kasaragod, in fact, had arranged travels for many people including his first wife Ayesha, and their child. Rashid, who was working for Peace International School, run by Islamic preacher Zakir Naik’s NGO, Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), motivated Yashmin to join pro-IS chat group run by a UK-based couple on the messaging platform ‘Telegram’. According to her, Rashid had informed her in the first week of July that he along with others had reached the Caliphate in Afghanistan. Abdul Rashid is suspected to be the leader of this Keralite group that travelled to Afghanistan.
Further investigations revealed that like Yashmin and Abdul Rashid, there are other couples’ who also have travelled to join Islamic State either in Syria or in Afghanistan. Fathima (previously Nimisha), who was a student at a dental college in Kasaragod, too, reportedly went missing along with her husband Eeza (previously Bexon Vincent). Both had converted to Islam before their marriage in November 2015. Nimisha is a native of Attukaal in Thiruvananthapuram, while Bexon is from Palakkad. Another couple from Kochi, identified as Mariam (previously Merin Jacob) and her husband Yahia (Bestin), is also suspected to have joined the terror outfit. Palarivattom area (Kochi) police registered the case of this couple. According to the NIA investigations, there are tell-tale signs about their possible whereabouts somewhere in Spin Ghar (famously known as Tora Bora) in eastern Afghanistan, strongholds of IS in Afghanistan. When Ashfaq Majeed, of Padanna in Kasaragod district, contacted his sister through messaging platform ‘Telegram’, the messages were tracked down to Tora Bora. He reportedly invited his family and relatives, including his parents, to join him in the “sacred land of IS”.
The NIA has registered this case (missing persons) on September 24, again under IPC Section 153 A, 34, Section 13 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention (UAPA) Act, 1967, based on the order of Ministry of Home Affairs on September 19.
The early October 2016 arrests of nearly six men including one Manseed (Omar al- Hindi) from Kerala who have been part of an Islamic State inspired group, ‘Ansar-ul-Khilafah Kerala‘ exposed the spread of grassroot jihad in Kerala the so called ‘God own country’ through social media platforms like Telegram and Facebook. These men were planning to trigger attacks in India.
India and Afghanistan: Joining Hands
Since the unearth of this unit of IS sympathizers, Intelligence agencies in India, Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates have been attempting to fathom the spread of this jihadi web originating primarily from India’s Kerala state. The agencies are now looking for one Sajeer Abdullah believed to be the chief recruiter for the Islamic State who might be responsible for routing these Kerala men to the ISK’s stronghold Nangarhar province in Afghanistan. While the case of Kerala youth joining the IS bandwagon, whether in Afghanistan or in Syria, remains a mystery as of now, media reports suggest that one of the five NIA teams, which is engaged in probing the Kerala and Caliphate connection had gone to Afghanistan to investigate the missing persons and possible links between these Keralites and the Islamic Caliphate.
India and Afghanistan have exchanged many agreements, including an extradition treaty that would provide the much-needed legal framework for seeking extradition of these individuals. It is expected that this Kerala and Caliphate conundrums would be solved in the coming months as both India and Afghanistan have better bilateral ties at present especially in the realm of counter-terrorism cooperation.