On May 6, 2015, a particularly unsettling news report emerged from Madhya Pradesh. Intelligence officials arrested five men from Ratlam who were involved in recruiting members for the jihad-cell of the Islamic State and planning terrorist activities in the country.
Their objective was to incite riots in communally sensitive Ratlam creating grounds for quick recruitment of disillusioned young men. The leader of the five men, Imran Khan Muhammad Sharif, is a local and he was recruited by Muhammad Shafi Armar. Armar is an Indian Mujahideen operative now believed to be leading a group of Indians fighting with the Islamic State.
Mehdi Masroor Biswas, a Bangalore-based techie from West Bengal, was arrested in December last year for operating an pro-IS Twitter handle, @ShamiWitness, and posting tweets calling for jihad against India. He takes pride in calling himself a “soldier of IS“.
In November last year, 23-year-old Kalyan youth Arif Majeed made headlines when he “escaped” back to India six months after joining the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
He was one of the four Mumbai youths recruited by the IS. On May 20, the NIA filed a chargesheet against him and his fellow IS members. He is still willing to join IS.
This begs two questions: a) What exactly is the Islamic State? and, b) Should India be worried?
We answer the first question here in 11 simple points.
1. The Birth: ISIS was born on May 4, 2014.
The Islamic State emerged from the political instability in Iraq and Syria left in the wake of US-led invasion of Iraq and the revolution against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, respectively. It officially emerged as a separate force after Al Qaeda snapped ties on May 4, 2014.
2 The Name: It was named after the region the group was born in.
At the time of its formation, it went by the name ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and The Levant). The Levant is an area encompassing the northern Middle East and the eastern part of Mediterranean. In media discourse, IS was also called ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). On June 29, 2014, the group officially started going by its current name.
3. The Head: Baghdadi was once a prisoner of the US forces.
The IS was headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a prisoner of the US during their Iraq invasion for a brief period in 2004. Not much is known about him except the fact that he continues to maintain a certain aura among IS members, who call him ‘The Invisible Sheikh’ because he maintains a very low profile. Iran claims Baghdadi has been killed in an air strike.
4. The Caliphate: First time in five centuries.
IS established the first Muslim Caliphate in five centuries, with Baghdadi as the Caliph. No Islamic country has officially recognised IS Caliphate. The IS uses its own version of names for countries and regions of the world, particularly those in North Africa, Middle East and South Asia. The only major objective of the IS is to establish Islamic rule over these territories.
All of Central and South Asia has been grouped in a region called Khurasan.
5. The Followers: Sunni only, but even they can be killed if they don’t join.
The Islamic State comprises entirely of Sunni adherents of Islam. There are no Shias or Muslims of any other sect in the IS. The IS brutally murders everyone who is not a Sunni; Iraqi Shias have been among the first casualties. This, however, does not mean that all Sunnis support IS. The IS executes Sunnis who do not support them.
6. The Opponents: Women Peshmerga strike fear in IS ranks.
The most well-organised force fighting against the IS is not the Iraqi army or the US forces; they are Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. The fighters are mostly Sunnis, and they also have women fighters among their ranks. The IS is particularly afraid of fighting against women because of the belief that one does not attain paradise if killed by a woman.
7. The Governance: Living in a medieval world.
Territories under IS are governed by the Shariah and the literal interpretation of the Quran as was practised in the early days of Islam. Women are treated as chattel and live hidden behind a burka at all times; gays are stoned to death; non-Muslims can be kept as slaves; and many such anachronistic laws are practised under IS rule. Education, too, is purely religious in nature.
8. The Brutalities: Rapists, slave traders and butchers of humanity.
The IS have carried out over 200 killings by beheading alone. Then there are executions of gays by stoning or throwing off a building, and those killed in war against IS. There is no confirmed number of total kills by IS, but it runs into thousands.
Rape is a tool of war for all IS members against non-Muslims. The Yazidi community of Iraq has been particularly targeted by IS; their women and teenage girls raped and sold to sexual slavery. There have been reports of IS members raping and impregnating girls as young as 9 and organising medieval-era slave trade markets for captured women.
9. The Fighters: Growing in numbers each day.
There is no exact number of IS fighters, but reports put them to anywhere above 35,000. The fighters initially used US-made military vehicles and weapons left behind by fleeing Iraqi troops. IS now has a decent arsenal of weapons for land warfare. Though they captured quite a few MiG fighter planes in Syria, they are yet to form an air force. They have trainers and, therefore, could very soon produce an air-fighting wing.
10. The Money: Saudi Arabia and Qatar have a hand.
To continue fighting of such a mammoth scale over a year needs resources, and money is the principal one. It is here that IS differs from all other terrorist groups.
IS has cash and reserves of more than $2 billion. They make $3 million per day from sources as varied as oil revenues, selling of ancient artefacts, human trafficking, and huge donations from IS sympathisers from all over the world, especially Qatar and Saudi Arabia. (The Saudi political set-up sees IS as a counter to Shia Iran’s influence in the region.)
11. The Recruits: ‘Normal’ men and women from affluent European countries.
The biggest success of IS is not in capturing key cities of Iraq or Syria but attracting the highest number of recruits in the fastest time in recent years to their cause. Young men and women from all over the world are either going to IS-controlled territories to join them or explicitly supporting them from their native places.
It is also not that the men and women are coming in from economically backward countries as can be revealed from the fact that Europe has been one of the biggest hunting grounds for such jihadis, with 600 fighters coming in from UK and Germany each. Recruits are promised money, guns and girls.
Also, two of the most notorious IS members are Britons – Mohammed Emwazi aka Jihadi John and Samantha Lewthwaite aka White Widow. Even children are recruited for barbaric IS activities and they celebrate with guns each time IS barbarians capture a territory.
We now move on to why India should be concerned.