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Insights into Editorial: Taking stock of Islamic State 2.0


Insights into Editorial: Taking stock of Islamic State 2.0


 

Context:

On Easter Sunday this year, April 21, Sri Lanka witnessed a series of coordinated bomb blasts, killing over 250 people. The orchestrated attacks, on three churches and three hotels frequented by tourists, were clearly intended to forward a message.

It was the heaviest toll in Sri Lanka in terms of lives lost since the civil war ended in 2009, thus ending a decade of peace.

The IS introduced the concept of a new Caliphate especially al-Baghdadi’s vision of a Caliphate based on Islamic history.

 

Pattern of Attacks changed: Perpetrators were being local:

The way they were carried out further indicated that the dynamics were global though the perpetrators were locals.

The pattern of attacks on the churches was not dissimilar from Islamic State (IS)-mounted attacks on churches in Surabaya in Indonesia in May 2018, and in Jolo in the Philippines this 2019.

IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself was to announce subsequently that the attacks in Sri Lanka were revenge for the fall of the Syrian town of Baghuz, the last IS-ruled village overrun by Syrian forces.

 

Why Sri Lanka was chosen by the IS:

In the case of Sri Lanka, it is by now evident that officials had turned a blind eye to the fact that areas such as Kattankudy and its environs in the northeast have become hotbeds of Wahabi-Salafi attitudes and practices.

Muslim youth here have been radicalised to such an extent that it should have set alarm bells ringing.

The example of Zahran Mohammed Hashim, who founded the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) in 2014 in Kattankudy, and within a couple of years expanded its membership multi-fold, was one index of what was happening.

 

Islamic State claims ‘province’ in India:

IS’s Amaq News Agency announced the new province, that it called “Wilayah of Hind”, in a statement that also claimed IS inflicted casualties on Indian army soldiers in the town of Amshipora in the Shopian district of Kashmir.

The world may roll its eyes at these developments, but to jihadists in these vulnerable regions, these are significant gestures to help lay the groundwork in rebuilding the map of the IS ‘caliphate’.

Tactics have varied from ‘lone wolf’ attacks that were seen over the past year and more in the West, to coordinated, large-scale simultaneous attacks on multiple targets, as witnessed in Sri Lanka.

The ‘idea’ is the medium. As the IS morphs into IS 2.0, ‘territorial flexibility’ is being replaced with ‘strategic flexibility’.

This further ignited the imagination of Muslim youth across the globe and became a powerful magnet to attract volunteers to their cause.

At the peak of its power, the IS held territory both in Iraq and Syria, almost equal in size to the United Kingdom.

 

Pivotal role of the Internet makes the Islamic State 2.0:

Islamic State 2.0 remains wedded to this idea of a caliphate, even though the caliphate is no longer in existence. IS State 2.0 includes several new variations from the original concept.

It retains its ability to proselytise over the Internet, making a special virtue of ‘direct-to-home’ jihad.

It continues to manage a ‘virtual community’ of fanatical sympathisers who adhere to their doctrine.

Returnees from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq appear more inclined to follow tactics employed by other ‘oppressed’ Muslim communities, as for instance the Chechens.

Reliance on online propaganda and social media has vastly increased. The IS has also refashioned several of its existing relationships.

 

Lessons for India from terrorist attacks on Sri Lanka :

India must heed the lessons of what occurred on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.

India is already in the cross hairs of the IS, and the announcement that the IS has created a separate ‘province’ should not be ignored. Some of the claims made may appear exaggerated but the threat posed by IS 2.0 is real.

The kingpin of the Easter blasts, Hashim, was linked to jihadis in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) during its investigations has since come across links connecting IS units in Kerala and Tamil Nadu with the NTJ in Sri Lanka. These need to be pursued further.

 

Conclusion:

South Asia today is a virtual cauldron of radical Islamist extremist activity.

From Afghanistan through Pakistan to the Maldives to Bangladesh, radical Islamist extremism is an ever-present reality. Links between IS groups in Sri Lanka and India currently stand exposed and they should be cause for concern.

Jihadist ideology has long proven itself able to mutate as circumstances change, and there is no shortage of warfare, injustice, oppression, poverty, sectarianism and naked religious hatred for Islamist militants to exploit.

A close-knit web of family relationships has ensured secrecy and prevented leakage of information, thereby opting for methods of old-time anarchists.

Reliance on online propaganda and social media has vastly increased. The IS has also refashioned several of its existing relationships.

Both India and Sri Lanka, however, prefer to believe that they are shielded from such tendencies, but this needs a relook.