Southern Perils

Southern Perils

Nijeesh N. Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management | 09 May 2017

Media reports and confirmations to SAIR from family members of Islamic State (IS or Daesh) and al Qaeda recruits from the southern Indian State of Kerala, indicate that two Daesh volunteers and an al Qaeda volunteer were killed in three separate US drone attacks in Afghanistan and Syria in the month of April. Bestin Vincent akaYahya, who belonged to the Palakkad District was killed in US strikes in the Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan on April 29, 2017. Murshid Muhammed from Kasaragod District, who had also joined Daesh was killed in the second week of April 2017 (date not specified), again, in Nangarhar. Abu Thahir from Palakkad District had joined al Qaeda, and was killed in Syria on April 4, 2017.

Earlier, T. K. Hafeezudin, from Kasaragod District, who had joined Daesh, was killed in a US drone strike in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan, on February 25, 2017.

While Abu Thahir had reportedly gone missing in 2013 and had joined al Qaeda, the remaining three deceased were part of a group 21 persons, including six women and three children, who went missing from Kasaragod District in June 2016 and had reportedly joined Daesh. Of these 21, 17 were from two neighbouring villages, Padanna and Trikkaripur in Kasaragod District, while the remaining four were from Palakkad District, some 305 kilometres further south.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 28 youth from Kerala, including the 21 already mentioned, had travelled to attend Daesh training camps in Afghanistan/Syria/Iraq. Another 21 youth from other southern Indian states (Karnataka, nine; Tamil Nadu and Telangana, five each; and Andhra Pradesh, two) had also travelled to these battlefields. The total number of Indians who had travelled to these areas is estimated to stands at 67. Incidentally, according to reports, Haja Fakkruddin from Parangipettai village in the Cuddalore District of Tamil Nadu was one of the first Indians to have joined Daesh in Syria in January 2014.

A number of Indians have also been arrested or detained before they could leave the country. On November 22, 2016, Union Minister of State for Home Hansraj Ahir informed the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) that as many as 68 sympathisers or supporters of Daesh had been arrested across the country, till that date. The Minister added that 50 of these persons had been arrested by security agencies in 2016, of which 26 belonged to southern Indian states [Telangana (11), Karnataka (7), Kerala (6), and Tamil Nadu (2)].

Daesh in South India has reportedly found an ally in Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) which has established a presence in several parts of India, including the South, in recent times. JMB, a terror outfit which operates in Bangladesh, after suffering decisive losses in Bangladesh after Sheikh Hasina came to power in 2009, shifted some of its camps to India in an effort to regroup. The formation has once more become active in Bangladesh and has sworn allegiance to Daesh. Reports, meanwhile, indicate that JMB modules in Tamil Nadu and Telangana have been establishing operational capabilities in coordination with Daesh. Investigations found that several of the persons arrested in connection with Daesh had a JMB link as well.

While Daesh has found some sympathisers down South, raising security concerns, the activities of the 'Base Movement', an al Qaeda-affiliated group, has also drawn the attention of security agencies. 'Base Movement' is suspected to have orchestrated five different bomb blasts in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka since April 2016. The incidents include:

November 1, 2016: A low intensity improvised explosive device (IED) blast took place in a car parked near the judicial first class magistrate court in Malappuram, Kerala. No one was injured in the incident. Police recovered a box with 'Base Movement' written on it, along with a notice which claimed the blast for the 'Base Movement' containing a photo of slain al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden.

September 12, 2016: A low-intensity blast occurred in the district Court premises in the Nellore town of Andhra Pradesh. There were no casualties.

August 1, 2016: Two persons were injured in an IED explosion at a public toilet in a court complex in Mysuru in Karnataka.

June 15, 2016: A bomb hidden in a tiffin box and planted inside a parked jeep in the Kollam Civil Station premises in the Kollam District of Kerala, exploded at around 10.45 am, injuring one person. The civil station houses the District Collector's office, apart from several Courts and Government offices.

April 7, 2016: The first such explosion took place at a parking lot in the Chittoor Court complex in Andhra Pradesh, injuring three persons. Another bomb was defused.

The modus operandi in each of these low intensity attacks was similar. According to security sources, arrested members of the 'The Base Movement' confessed that module only wanted to register its presence at a time when there was a huge traction towards Daesh. They told the investigators that their aim was not to kill but only spread fear and that is the reason they planted low intensity devices in such locations, so as to cause no casualties. Reports indicate that the elusive fugitive Al Umma leader, Abu Bakr Siddique aka Kakka, was the brain behind the emergence of this new terror formation - 'The Base Movement'. The group was active across all the five South Indian States, and had sent several letters to authorities since early 2015 to announce its existence and warn of attacks. The first such letter was reportedly sent to the then Additional Chief Secretary to Karnataka Chief Minister K. Siddaramaiah, in January 2015, where the group stated that it was commencing activities in that year (2015). No incident was, however, reported in 2015.

On November 28, 2016, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) along with Tamil Nadu and Telangana Police, in a joint operation, arrested three suspected members of The Base Movement, identified as Abbas Ali (27), Suleiman Mohammad Abdullah (23) and Samsun Karim Raja from Madurai District in Tamil Nadu. Again, on November 29, 2016, the Joint Team arrested another two members, identified as Mohammed Ayub Ali (25) and Shamsudeen (25) from Madurai District. Further investigation revealed that these persons were part of the terrorist outfit, Al Umma and had regrouped under the banner of The Base Movement and had sworn allegiance to al Qaeda. It is suspected that their allegiance is to al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), formed in August 2014 with the official name of "Jamaat Qaidat al-jihad fi'shibhi al-qarrat al-Hindiya'' or "Organisation of the Base of Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent''. On April 9, 2017, Kerala Police arrested another two 'Base Movement' members, N. Abubaker and his aide A. Abdurahman, from Madurai District in Tamil Nadu.

While the emergence of these two groups is a worrying development, concerns persist regarding the presence of various Pakistan-backed terror formations such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), and Indian Mujahideen (IM). According to the SATP database, after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, about 31 persons, including 19 civilians, five Security Force (SF) personnel and seven terrorists have been killed in seven terrorist attacks in different parts of South India. Incidentally, the last of the major terrorist incidents targeting civilians outside strife-torn Jammu & Kashmir, the Northeast and Punjab, in which more than 10 persons were killed, was reported from Andhra Pradesh. On February 21, 2013, 17 persons were killed and another 117 injured in twin blasts at Dilsukhnagar in Hyderabad.

Since 26/11, 2008, as many as 595 Islamist terrorist suspects have been arrested from five south Indian States - Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana. The number of arrested persons stood at 88 in 2016, 98 in 2015, 110 in 2014, 101 in 2013, 77 in 2012, 34 in 2011, 22 in 2010, 20 in 2009 and 35 in 2008. At least 10 persons have already been arrested in 2017, till April 30. Those arrested included terrorist cadres, persons involved in Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN) cases, which are integrally linked to Pakistan-backed terrorism, and Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agents.

Meanwhile, radicalisation is on rise, as one April 9, 2017, report observed,

Multiple new Salafi outfits such as Niche of Truth (Kerala), Peace Educational Foundation (Kerala), Jamiat ul Muflihaat (Hyderabad), Discover Islam Education Trust (Bengaluru). have emerged during the last few years, which have provided direct access to indoctrination materials. Cadres of radically inclined Popular Front of India, Tamil Nadu Tauheed Jamat and Kerala Nadwathul Mujahideen factions are increasing in numbers significantly. Others are also getting motivated by reading material available online. Another example is the immense growth in the membership of Kerala Nadwatahul Mujahideen factions whose combined strength has grown from about 25,200 in 1993 to 65,200 till date. In the last decade, the membership of Tamil Nadu Tauheed Jamat has increased from 20,000 to one lakh. Another radically inclined outfit PFI has grown from a cadre strength of about 45,000 during 2009 to over 1,20,000...

While these various formations are not directly connected to terrorism, they create a base of non-violent radicalization that creates tremendous potential for recruitment to extremist violence. It will be impossible to contain radical Islamist violence unless this underpinning of diversified and widespread non-violent radicalization is addressed. Focus on preventive measures and counter-radicalization is therefore imperative to contain future prospects of Islamist terrorist/radical formations making further inroads in India's south and, indeed, across the rest of the country.

Southern Perils

Nijeesh N. Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management
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