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How real is ISIS threat in India (and why we should worry about ISI)

The country needs to remain alive to the danger.

The recent arrest of around half a dozen alleged ISIS jihadists from UP and MP, and the Lucknow encounter in which one member of the ISIS module was killed is illustrative of the countrywide linkages of the jihadists.

Over the last couple of years, the ISIS footprint has been discovered in at least a dozen states of India – Telangana, Andhra, Kerala, Karnataka, MP, UP, Maharashtra, Bengal, Rajasthan, J&K, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat. Until now, most of the modules have been quite amateurish.


They easily came on the radar screen of the intelligence agencies which monitored them for months and busted them before they could cause any major damage. But India cannot bank upon the terrorists continuing to make mistakes.

Sooner rather than later some of these guys will smarten up and it will become much more difficult for the under-equipped, under-resourced, under-staffed intelligence agencies to remain ahead of the curve, even less so if the ISI expands its terror campaign in India under the brand name of ISIS.

From the information available in the public domain about the latest ISIS module, we know that these guys were influenced by ISIS and were not only in contact with the ISIS in Syria but also with an ISIS cell which had been busted some months back. What we don’t know for sure is how much the ISIS was actually involved in directing their operations and in providing them with funds, weapons and training.

Are they actually ISIS guys or are they pretending to be ISIS guys?

In the case of most ISIS modules discovered in India, what we know until now is that most of the people who got attracted to and influenced by the ISIS were scouring jihadist websites online.

What we don’t know is whether they were already inclined to the post-modern medieval barbarism that ISIS represents and their ideological connect with the ISIS was merely a natural progression of the jihadist virus that already existed in their heads, or whether these guys were radicalised purely by ISIS propaganda.

What we do know is that once potential jihadists got hooked in the virtual world, they were contacted by someone in the real world who then gave them instructions and, in some cases, tools to carry out their grisly task.

What we don’t know enough is who these real world "mentors" are. Are they actually ISIS guys or are they pretending to be ISIS guys? If the former, then does it mean that the ISIS has managed to get a core group of guys on ground in India to push their agenda?

If the latter, then is ISIS only seducing these aspiring jihadists without any network on ground? What is the over-lap of the ISIS network with criminal syndicates that funnel the money and provide the weapons and explosives, even training, to the wannabe jihadists?

Is there some sort of loose jihadist consortium comprising local, regional and international with the local guys carrying out the operations, the regional jihadist groups (read ISI led and inspired Pakistani groups) providing the logistics and the international groups claiming credit?


Until recently, the clear and present threat to India was from the ISI-controlled jihadist groups which are believed to have a reasonably big network inside India. Now, increasingly, it is feared that the plural of ISI – ISIS – could also be emerging as a potent threat. Plus, there is the Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) which is lurking in the wings.

This means India could see attacks that are either inspired or directed by the ISIS, or attacks that are launched by the ISI (through its auxiliaries commonly referred to as "non-state actors"), or even an attack that is carried out by people who think they are working for ISIS or AQIS, but who actually have been working inadvertently for the ISI.

As yet, there is no real evidence of the ISI operating under the brand of ISIS. But the possibility of this happening is quite real. For the Pakistanis, the idea is to cause grievous damage to India, and the label under which an attack is mounted is incidental. Earlier it was Indian Mujahideen, now it could be Islamic State Khorasan or AQIS which gives Pakistan plausible deniability.

Potential jihadists, even if they are loath to becoming Pakistani stooges, might readily join ISIS or AQIS to become part of the global jihad without knowing that they were being manipulated and exploited by the ISI.


While the ISIS will have some difficulty in setting up base in India, the ISI has a network and capability to provide weapons, explosives, training, funding and take care of logistics much more efficiently and effectively than the ISIS. What is more, the indoctrination and recruitment that ISIS does from nodes in Syria, Iraq and even Europe, can be done just as effectively from Pakistan, or by Pakistanis operating from the very same places from where the ISIS operates — the LeT has a presence in Syria.

Although the threat of an ostensibly ISIS inspired but actually ISI planned attack in India cannot be ruled out, in J&K the danger is even greater of such a thing happening.

Just as in Afghanistan, the Pakistanis are peddling the line — the Russians, Chinese and even some Americans have fallen for it hook, line and sinker — that the Taliban are the only bulwark against the growth of ISIS, in J&K we could see the Pakistanis peddling the line that unless Kashmir is solved according to Pakistani wishes, the ISIS will strike roots in the state.

India, therefore, needs to remain alive to the danger that even as it builds up its capacity and capability to combat the ISIS influence on Indian Muslims, it doesn’t allow the ISI to carry out its terrorist operations by disguising them as an ISIS or AQIS attack.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Also read: Inviting ISIS home: India should stay away from European Islamophobia

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