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Islamic State may tie-up with other terror groups, say intelligence officials

IS could target India by working with other militant groups, particularly those active in Kashmir, like Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed

New Delhi: Having failed to make a significant headway in recruiting and radicalising Indian youth, Syria-based terror outfit Islamic State (IS) could target the country by working with other militant groups, particularly those active in the Kashmir valley, like Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, intelligence officials have warned the government.

The warning comes in an Intelligence Bureau advisory, reviewed by Mint, that was sent out to other agencies of the government last week. In what may point to a growing IS threat to India, the intelligence agency has also set up a special team within its operations division to constantly track the activities of the terror group in India.

An intelligence official who did not wish to be identified acknowledged the failure of the IS so far to radicalise young Indians or to form a new outfit to launch terror attacks in India.

This, the official said, could well have forced it to change its strategy. “According to confirmed reports that we have so far, the Islamic State has been able to influence around 25 Indian youth, some of whom could have joined their ranks in Syria and Iraq. These youth are primarily from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kerala and even Jammu and Kashmir. But we are not sure about the number of Indian expats in the Gulf who may be sympathetic towards the IS."

“We have been receiving inputs that the Islamic State now wants to adopt a new modus operandi by roping in terror groups active in the Valley or even banned outfits like the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Groups like Hizbul and Lashkar already have a network in Kashmir while SIMI has sleeper cells outside the Valley that can help provide logistical support, like they did to Indian Mujahideen. So these outfits can help Islamic State get a toehold in the country," the official said.

In the wake of Friday’s IS attacks in Paris, killing 129 people, the Intelligence Bureau has also asked Special Branches of state police forces—their local intelligence units—to closely monitor IS activities, particularly on social networking sites and the cyber space which has been the biggest platform for the IS to radicalise young Muslims.

New Delhi has been extremely concerned about the growing influence of the IS in its neighbourhood and the issue is expected to be discussed during the home secretary-level talks between India and Bangladesh in Dhaka on Monday and Tuesday.

“Apart from the Maldives, Islamic State has been trying to increase its influence in Bangladesh also and we have shared information on this. There is increased co-operation between India and Bangladesh on the issue of terror now and we have sensitised them that IS could rope in local terror groups there like the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh or HuJI-B," a second government official said, requesting anonymity.

The official said Areeb Ejaj Majeed, the young man from Kalyan in Mumbai who was brought back by intelligence agencies last November via Istanbul after he sustained bullet wounds fighting for the IS in the Syrian city of Al-Raqqa, had also disclosed during interrogation the “possibility of Islamic State trying to target local terror groups".

The IS now wants to “outsource its terror operations," according to A.K. Verma, former chief of India’s external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing.

“It is not necessary that IS will train their cadre in Syria or Iraq. They can simply outsource their operations to terror groups like the ones active in Kashmir Valley as they have some ideological similarities also. So even if a terror attack is actually be carried out by a local subversive outfit, the IS could well claim responsibility since it sends out a huge symbolic message," Verma said. “So it is even more important for a country like India to remain on high alert from the growing threat of the IS."

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