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The Metastasising ISKP Menace for India

Dr. Adil Rasheed is Research Fellow (SS) at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
Ms Poorna Ghosh is Research Intern at Counter Terrorism Centre, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • April 05, 2023

    The Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) claimed responsibility for the 2022 blasts in Coimbatore and Manguluru. In its e-magazine ‘Voice of Khurasan’ released on 4 March 2023, the ISKP claimed that last year’s car explosion in Coimbatore and the pressure cooker blast in an auto-rickshaw in Mangaluru were carried out by militants affiliated with it.1

    In the Coimbatore blast, suspected bomber Jameesha Mubeen (who had earlier been questioned by NIA in 2019 for alleged terror links) was charred to death after the LPG cylinder in the car he was driving exploded near Kottai Eswaran temple in Coimbatore’s Ukkadam on 23 October 2022. The incident took place around 200 metres from a police patrol.2 An NIA report of 10 November 2022 confirms that Mubeen had in fact earlier given ‘baya’(pledge) to ISIS.3

    Further NIA probe also revealed that Mubeen along with his other jihadist cohorts — led by Umar Farooq, Mohammed Azharuddin, Sheikh Hidayatullah and Sanofar Ali — had held meetings for carrying out terror attacks in the interior regions of Asanoor and Kadambur areas of Sathyamangalam forest in Tamil Nadu’s Erode district in February 2022.4 According to news sources, members of this module were in touch with the Sri Lanka Easter bombings mastermind Maulvi Zahran bin Hashim and were planning to carry out similar strikes in Kerala and Tamil Nadu in 2019.5

    Mohammad Shariq, the main suspect of the Manguluru blast, was also a member of Mubeen’s module. The Manguluru blast took place in an auto-rickshaw on 19 November 2022, when Shariq was trying to park it in a public place. Shariq received serious injuries in the blast. As part of its investigations into the two blasts in Coimbatore and Mangaluru, the NIA conducted raids at 40 locations in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka on 15 February 2023.

    It is disturbing to note that the ISKP has escalated its pernicious influence in South Asia, particularly in India. In its February edition of ‘Voice of Khurasan’, ISKP carried a four-page article titled ‘Crackdown on Popular Front of India: Lessons for Indian Muslims’, in which it not only praised the now banned Islamist political organisation, Popular Front of India6 , but even invited its cadres to join ISIS’ ‘black flags’.7 The article makes the claim:

    “We have seen many PFI supporters to join the banner of Tawheed (Islamic concept of ‘monotheism’, which Salafi-jihadists perpetually emphasize) in different parts of the world and many have attained Shahadah”.8

    The statement validates Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) assertion in 2022 that the PFI had joined ISIS and had taken part in various terrorist activities in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.9

    It is important to note here that ISKP’s rise in Afghanistan has increased its activities not only in that country but is becoming a growing threat to other countries of Central Asia and South Asia, particularly India. International assessments, such as that of Zamir Kabulov, representative of the Russian President in Afghanistan, that had put the number of ISKP fighters in Afghanistan at 3,000 at the time of the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, now assess the strength to have doubled to over 6,000.10 In fact, the UN envoy to Afghanistan Deborah Lyons told the United Nations Security Council late last year that the ISIS threat now covers almost all the 34 provinces of Afghanistan.11

    According to the Salafi-Jihadi Movement Weekly of the Institute for the Study of War, ISKP’s late acknowledgement of the Coimbatore and Mangalore blasts (even though they failed to cause the intended harm) were an attempt to show the organization’s significant expansion into India.12

    The ISKP’s claim came soon after the Taliban’s killing of the leader of its India operations, Ejaz Ahangar, in Kabul in 14 February 2023. It is important to note that ISIS is an ideological opponent of Taliban, which is Hanafi Deobandi Sunni as opposed to the hardline Salafi (Ahl-e-Hadeeth) version of Sunni Islam followed by ISIS. Partly in response to Ahangar’s killing, ISKP carried out a suicide bombing that killed Muhammad Dawood Muzammil, Taliban’s governor in Balkh province on 9 March 2023 in Mazar-e-Sharief. Earlier on 26 December 2022, ISKP had killed the Taliban police chief for the Badakshan province, Abdul Haq Abu Umar.

    The slain ISKP recruitment chief Ejaz Ahangar alias Abu Usman Al Kashmiri had been designated terrorist by the MHA under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) 1967.13 Security experts believe Ahangar’s death has left a void in ISIS’ recruitment, as he was considered to be an important propagandist for ISKP and had played a key role in the launch of their e-magazine. The propaganda overdrive in subsequent ‘Voice of Khurasan’ issues stems from this sense of loss. 14

    Since the departure of US-led forces from Afghanistan, ISKP carried out at least 16 major attacks in that country until September 2022 against the minority Shia Hazara community in places of worships, schools, and workplaces — killing over 700.15 It also attacked a Sikh gurudwara in June 2022, the Embassy of Russia in September 2022, the Embassy of Pakistan in December 2022 and a hotel hosting Chinese diplomats and businessmen in the same month.

    The ISKP menace is clearly emerging as a major threat to South Asian security, which Indian security agencies cannot afford to take lightly.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.