Growing Islamic Radicalization In India And The Threat Of Lone Wolf Attacks – Tufail Ahmad

January 28, 2015Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No.1139

Growing Radicalization In India And The Threat Of Lone Wolf Attacks

By: Tufail Ahmad*
The following report is a complimentary offering from MEMRI’s Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here. 


Muslim youths were questioned in India’s Jharkhand state for wearing ISIS T-shirts (image

Over the past year, India has witnessed signs of radicalization, and the threat of lone-wolf terror attacks appears real. In an interview in January 2015, Sanjeev Dayal, police chief of Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, indicated that a self-motivated young man was prevented from carrying out an attack, noting: “We had this case where this man wanted to go to a school in Bandra [area of Mumbai] and do something there, which he was prevented from doing. So, yes, it is a challenge finding out who is getting radicalized.”[1]
From publicly available information, it appears that Dayal was speaking about Anis Ansari, a Mumbai-based Muslim youth who had been planning to target the city’s American School.[2] It also appears that several young Indian men have been recently in touch with U.S.-based jihadi youths. As per the transcript of a Facebook chat between Anis Ansari and an American youth as revealed by a Hindi-language newspaper in India, Ansari wanted to attack the American School in Mumbai “because in addition to France and Italy, children from ten allies of America study there. We should hit that part of the enemy which causes the most pain. I mean: the citizen. The deaths of soldiers do not cause pain because this is their line of work.”[3]
Ansari, who was using “Logan” as his Facebook identity and has since been arrested by Mumbai police, also advised the American, who has been identified by his real name as Umar Ilhaji, to carry out a lone-wolf attack in the U.S.: “You can do a lot on your own; you do not need to even require help from someone. If you want, by spending 100 dollars you can have the earth under [U.S. President Barack] Obama’s feet sink. For this, only courage is needed. You would have heard of vehicle bomb, IED [improvised explosive device] or pressure-cooker bomb.”[4]
Other Radicalized Indian Muslims In Touch With Americans
Ansari is not the only radicalized Indian Muslim who has been in touch with Americans. On January 16, 2015, airport security officials in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad arrested 32-year-old Muslim Salman Mohiuddin over fears that he was flying out of the country to join the Islamic State (ISIS). Significantly, Mohiuddin had returned from the U.S. in October 2014, and his arrest was the result of a tipoff from a U.S. intelligence agency. Mohiuddin, who has a B.Tech. degree from India and studied for a master’s degree in the U.S., is thought to have been recruited for jihad in Syria by a British woman, identified as Nickey Joseph aka Ayesha. According to reports, Mohiuddin was “to take a flight to Dubai from where he planned to reach Syria via Turkey to join [the ISIS].”[5] On January 19, a report noted that British security officials had warned India of the threat of lone wolf terror attacks: “Britain has warned India about possible attack by ISIS and said all efforts must be taken to check activities of the Middle-East terrorist group.”[6]
Joining ISIS From Hyderabad, Mumbai
Hyderabad, the capital of the newly demarcated southern state of Telangana, is a Muslim-dominated region of India, and has witnessed representative politics in the name of Islam led by Muslim leaders such as Asaduddin Owaisi of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. While symptoms of radicalization, as examined below, have been reported from all parts of India, the region of Hyderabad is particularly volatile, in addition to Maharashtra state. In late October 2014, Munawad Salman, a former employee of Google and a resident of Musheerabad area of Hyderabad, was detained after local security officials “tracked his conversation for months” and became certain that “his hidden agenda to visit Saudi Arabia was to cross over to Iraq and join the Islamic State.”[7] In early September 2014, a group of 15 Muslim youths, including a girl, from Hyderabad were stopped in Kolkata from where they were to fly out to Iraq in order to join the ISIS.[8] Reportedly, all the youths were engineering students.


In Tamil Nadu state, Muslim youths pose for group photograph with ISIS T-shirts

However, it is Mumbai and its suburbs that continue to remain in newspaper headlines. Early this year, a passenger acting for ISIS wrote a threatening message in the bathroom of the international arrival terminal of the Mumbai airport, indicating that it would be attacked on January 10, which however passed peacefully.[9] An identical threat, either by the same passenger or someone else, was found written on the wall of a bathroom in the domestic arrival terminal of the Mumbai airport.[10] The second threat warned of an attack on January 26, when U.S. President Barack Obama was slated to be chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade in New Delhi. Also, in early January, someone called up the office of Air India, the state-run airlines, in Thane, a suburb of Mumbai, and warned of a bomb threat; later they called again to say that it was a joke.
In mid-2014, Mumbai attracted international news headlines after four Muslim youths from Kalyan, a suburb of Mumbai, joined a group of Shia pilgrims and flew to Iraq, where they joined ISIS.[11]Investigative journalist Praveen Swami identified the four youths as Arif Majeed, Fahad Sheikh, Shaheen Tanki and Aman Tandel, who flew from Mumbai on May 23. Of these, Arif aka Areeb Majeed was wounded fighting in Syria and was treated in Turkey, from where Indian intelligence agencies brought him back to Mumbai. Indian media reports also indicated that four more youths from Mumbai who had been living in the UAE had joined ISIS.[12] Majeed’s disclosures show that before joining ISIS he had tried to recruit dozens of youths to the cause of jihad, and also that once in Syria, he had noticed that 13 Indian youths, possibly expatriate workers in the Middle East, were already present at a terror training camp there.[13]
ISIS Support And Radicalization In India
Over the past year, there have been several media reports that indicated that Indian Muslims were attracted to the cause of jihad by ISIS. On two occasions, in June and October 2014, masked youths in the troubled Jammu & Kashmir state waved ISIS flags to express their support for the jihadist group.[14] In August, it emerged that Adil Fayaz, a Kashmiri youth with an MBA degree from Australia’s Queensland University, had joined ISIS, perhaps travelling to Syria via Turkey directly from Australia.[15] In September 2014, Indian military officials revealed that several Kashmiri youths had disappeared in the preceding months, presumed to have joined some Pakistan-backed terror groups such as Hizbul Mujahideen, if not ISIS.[16] However, it does not appear that any youth travelled directly from Jammu & Kashmir to join ISIS.
In November 2014, police in Jharkhand state questioned three Muslim youths found wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words “ISIS Pakistan.”[17] In September, it came to light that 23 youths from India’s northeastern state of Manipur had left their homes in Lilong area of the state’s Thoubal district to join Al-Qaeda’s new branch Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), though it was not clear if they joined the group voluntarily or were actively recruited from abroad.[18] In Kerala state, someone was found driving a car with an ISIS sticker.
However, the biggest stories of radicalization came from the Tamil Nadu state. About two dozen Muslim youths posed for a group photograph at mosque in the state’s Ramanathapuram district in ISIS T-shirts to express support for ISIS.[19] Some youths from Tamil Nadu state who were working in Singapore came in contact with the jihadis there and joined ISIS. Haja Fakkurudeen, 37, brought his wife and three children along to work with ISIS in Syria.[20]


Mehdi Masroor Biswas operated pro-ISIS Twitter account @ShamiWitness

Just when a sense of well-being was emerging in India that the ISIS influence had been neutralized, a media investigation dropped a bombshell in December with reports that the prolific pro-ISIS Twitter account – @ShamiWitness – was in fact operated by Mehdi Masroor Biswas, an Indian based in Bengaluru, formerly Bangalore.[21] Biswas was arrested and acknowledged that he was the man behind the Twitter account. A top police official in Bengaluru said: “His Twitter handle had become a source of information for new recruits of ISIS. He was in touch with the English speaking terrorists from the terrorist group.”[22]
In Uttar Pradesh state, leading Islamic scholar Maulana Salman Nadwi of the world-famous Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama seminary sent a congratulatory message to the ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi after he announced in late-June 2014 the establishment of the Islamic caliphate.[23] After the January 7 attack this year on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, this writer examined the Facebook comments of Indian Muslim youths and it appears that they share the same beliefs as those held by the Paris attackers with regard to the blasphemy laws of Islam.[24] Muslim youths based in the towns across India – namely Tinsukia, Kolkata, Patna, Chhapra, Nawada, Tanda, Lucknow, Dehradun, Budaun, Aligarh, New Delhi, Srinagar, Jalandhar, Bhilwara, Indore, Jabalpur, Kheda, Ratnagiri, Jawahar, Nagina, Amravati, Pune, Bangalore and other places – expressed support for the Charlie Hebdo attackers.[25]
India is a deeply religious society. It seems there are explicit avenues of support for radicalization. For example, an essay in the Mumbai-based newspaperUrdu Times – citing extensive sources from the Koran and several books of Hadiths, or traditions of Prophet Muhammad – argued that those Muslims who left Islam or converted to Hinduism as part of the ghar wapsi (reconversion, literally: returning home) programs launched by extremist Hindu groups should be killed.[26] The Urdu daily was very explicit in inciting Muslims, stating: “the first interpreter of the Koran, Prophet Muhammad, has clearly ordered the killing of a person becoming apostate.”[27]
It appears that the above reports are a good barometer of radicalization underway in Indian society. Some Indian youths joined Al-Qaeda, while others were mainly attracted by ISIS. In the videos of Ansarut Tawheed Fi Bilad Al-Hind, a jihadist group of Indian youths based somewhere in Pakistan-Afghanistan region, nearly a dozen Indians were seen being trained by a Saudi trainer from mid-2013 onwards. As a result of the media reports and symptoms of radicalization, Indian security agencies too are galvanized, and young people in different parts of the country have been detained and questioned. However, officially, India hasn’t said how many youths might have been radicalized or have joined the ISIS or other jihadist organizations.
Media Reports: “More Than 100 Indian Men Could Already Have Joined” ISIS; More Than 300 Have Joined Tehreek-e-Taliban, Other Jihadi Groups
India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, asked by this writer at the Hindustan Times Summit in New Delhi on November 22 to put an estimated figure on the number of radicalized youths, avoided a response but said that there were “five-six youths who were inclined” to join jihadist groups but were prevented after their parents sought help from security agencies.[28] In a written reply, India’s junior interior minister Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary told the parliament in December: “There are intelligence inputs that a few Indian youth(s) have left the country to join the ISIS. Their numbers, however, are miniscule.”[29] At a public event in the northeastern Assam state, India’s interior minister Rajnath Singh stated that ” in such a large country [India], only 18 Muslim youths have been attracted to the Daesh [i.e. ISIS].”[30] According to one media report, at least 80 Indians joined the ISIS in Iraq and Syria.[31]
In August, an Indian television report, citing unidentified sources in the Indian security agencies, noted that the ISIS influence was found in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Jammu & Kashmir and “more than 100 Indian men could have already joined ISIS in Iraq.”[32] In September 2014, a media report quoted an Indian government document as saying that more than 300 Muslim youths have joined the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and other jihadi groups.[33] Given the loose standards followed by Indian journalists with regards to terror-related news stories, it is hard to trust the figures. However, from the literature emerging from jihadist sources, it does appear that the number of Indian youths having joined the jihadists abroad could be estimated with some certainty at about 50.[34]
* Tufail Ahmad is Director of the MEMRI South Asia Studies Project 

[1] (India), January 13, 2015.
[5] The Indian Express (India), January 17, 2015.
[6] (India), January 19, 2015.
[7] (India), October 29, 2014.
[22], December 13, 2014.
[25] Open weekly magazine, January 21-27, 2015.
[28], December 20, 2014.
[30] Nai Duniya (Urdu weekly), December 8-14, 2014.
[32], August 26, 2014.
[34], December 20, 2014.
Source: WHN Media Network