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SAIR Archive            SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW          LATEST ON SATP
Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 16, No. 18, October 30, 2017

Data and assessments from SAIR can be freely published in any form with credit to the South Asia Intelligence Review of the
South Asia Terrorism Portal


ASSESSMENT


INDIA
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Daesh: Diminishing Challenge
Nijeesh N.
Research Assistant; Institute for Conflict Management

On October 25, 2017, three Islamic State (IS or Daesh) cadres, identified as Midilaj K.C. (26), Rashid M.P. (23), and Abdul Razakh K. (24), were arrested by the Valapattanam Police in the Kannur District of Kerala. All three youth, who were natives of Kannur District, were arrested by the Police. They had been kept under surveillance since they returned to India some four months earlier (date not specified), from Turkey.

Police said that they (the arrestees) had gone to Turkey and stayed there for three to four months and had been captured by Turkish authorities while they were trying to cross the border to Syria. Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Kannur, P.P. Sadanandan stated that the accused were duly sent back to India by the Turkish Police and the accused reached Mumbai (Maharashtra) from where they came back to Kannur: “It’s suspected they might have received IS training during their stay in Istanbul on their way to Syria.” Sadanandan further disclosed that the arrestees had “opted for different routes to enter Syria. While Midhilaj chose the Sharjah-Iran-Turkey route, Abdhul Razakh chose the Dubai-Iran-Turkey route and Rashid opted for the Malaysia-Iran-Turkey route.” They were arrested by the Turkish Police before they could cross over to Syria.

Again, on October 26, 2017, Kerala Police arrested another two Daesh cadres, identified as U.K. Hamsa aka Taliban Hamsa aka Biriyani Hamsa (57) and Manaf Rahman (42) from Thalassery in Kannur District. Hamsa was suspected to be the kingpin of the Daesh recruitment cell in the State and controlled Daesh-related activities in the Malabar region [which includes six northern districts of Kerala; Kasaragod, Kannur, Kozhikode, Malappuram, Palakkad and Wayanad]. Rahman had been under surveillance since he was stopped at Mangalore Airport (Karnataka) while trying to make his way to Syria, along with his family, including five children, in December 2016. DSP Sadanandan asserted that Manaf Rahman had decided to go to Syria to fight for IS after coming into contact with Hamsa.

On October 25, 2017, the Gujarat Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) arrested two suspected Daesh cadres, identified as Mohammad Kasim Stimberwala and Ubed Ahmed Mirza, from Surat. The arrestees were reportedly planning terror attack in the State during the two-phase Gujarat Assembly Elections scheduled to be held on December 9 and 14, 2017. According to reports, they were planning an attack on a Jewish synagogue in the Khadia area of Ahmedabad in the ‘very near future’. According to officials, the duo were in constant contact with their Daesh handler Shafi Armar aka Zahed-al-Hindi and Abdullah el Faisal, a Jamaica-born Muslim cleric who faces Daesh-related terrorism charges in the US, through social media.

On October 24, 2017, the family of one of the four boys from Kalyan in Maharashtra, who left for Iraq to join IS in May 2014, had received a call from an anonymous caller from a foreign number that their son Fahad Tanvir Sheikh had been killed while fighting for Daesh in Raqqa, Syria, the preceding week (date not specified). Sheikh was the last active member of the cell, following the arrest of Areeb Majeed who returned to India voluntarily in November 2014; and the killing of Saheem Farooque Tanki (reportedly killed in al-Hasakah city in Syria in January 2015) and Aman Naim Tandel (reportedly killed in an airstrike at an unspecified location in Iraq in November 2016). The four boys were the first reported cases of Indians joining Daesh.

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 111 persons (six in 2014, 19 in 2015, 54 in 2016 and 32 in 2017) have been arrested and another 56 persons (nine in 2014, 31 in 2015, eight in 2016 and eight in 2017) have been detained in connection with their Daesh linkages across India, thus far (data till October 26, 2017). At least another 88 Indians (Kerala – 53, Karnataka – nine, Maharashtra – seven, Tamil Nadu – six, Telangana – five, Uttar Pradesh – four, Andhra Pradesh – two, Jharkhand – one, Jammu and Kashmir – one) are believed to have joined Daesh in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Of these 88, who have traveled to Daesh ‘territory’, 25 are confirmed killed while fighting for IS.  

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has registered at least 21 cases related to IS activities in different parts of the country, so far. The first such case was registered on November 28, 2014, based on the allegation that “some Indian youths had joined a banned terrorist organisation, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and waged war against Asiatic Powers in alliance with the Government of India and are likely to commit terrorist acts in India.” The case was registered against the four Kalyan youth who left the country in May 2014. NIA has submitted charge sheets in 14 of these cases. The number of charge sheeted persons in all these cases together stands at: 98. Of these, 65 have been arrested, while 33 are absconding. In a separate case, NIA charge-sheeted controversial preacher and the founder of Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), Zakir Naik, on October 26, 2017, for inciting youth to take up terrorist activities. Some of the youth who joined or attempted to join Daesh have claimed to have been ‘inspired by’ Naik, or have been linked to his organisations. According to the charge sheet, reportedly accessed by The Times of India,"Since he [Noor Mohammad] considered A-1 (Naik) an authority over Islamic viewpoint, he readily agreed to join the IS to fight jihad for them.” According to the charge sheet, Noor Mohammad, a witness, who was on his way to Syria to join the IS but later aborted the plan, told the NIA that he was influenced by Naik's oratory at 'peace conferences' organised by IRF in 2007 and 2008.

Data and investigations suggest that South India has emerged as a focus of Daesh-linked activities. Apart from attaining ‘numerical superiority’ in arrests and detentions, the region also has the dubious distinction of accounting for the largest number (21) of Indian IS recruits killed (25) fighting for the Daesh. Moreover, 15 of the 21 killed were from Kerala alone. Four of the 15 deceased were part of a group 21 persons, including six women and three children, who went missing from Kasaragod and Palakkad Districts in June 2016 and had reportedly joined Daesh in Afghanistan. They were reportedly killed in US drone attacks in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan between February and July 2017. Another 11 Keralites were killed fighting in different parts of Syria and Afghanistan, while five persons from Karnataka and one from Telangana were also killed. While two of the five from Karnataka were killed in Syria, there is no information about the location of killing of the remaining three. The person from Telangana was reportedly killed in Syria. Apart from South India, three persons from Maharashtra have been killed fighting for Daesh in Syria (two) and Iraq (one). One person from Uttar Pradesh has been killed in Syria.

Large scale non-violent radicalisation of Muslim youth and the association of a significant number with Daesh in the southern states such as Kerala, from where large numbers of migrants works in Gulf countries, have created enormous security vulnerabilities. Several Kerala youth who were working in different Gulf countries have also reportedly been radicalised and allegedly recruited to Daesh. During the interrogation of three Kerlalites who were arrested on October 25, 2017, it was also discovered that some of the youth who joined IS were part of the 'Bahrain Salafi group', a Kerala group propagating Daesh’s extreme ideology. The authorities also worry that the number of Keralites who have joined IS could be much higher than official estimates, which are based on documented cases of missing persons.

Despite this, the lone violent incident which has so far been linked to Daesh in India was the March 7, 2017, train blast. According to the NIA case (No. RC-04/2017/NIA/DLI), preliminary investigations indicate the involvement of active members of IS in the low-intensity blast that took place in Bhopal-Ujjain passenger train at Jabri railway station in Madhya Pradesh on March 7, 2017, injuring 10 passengers. In the following 12-hour long anti-terror operation, an alleged IS-inspired terrorist, Mohammed Saifullah aka Ali, was killed by the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) in the Thakurganj area in the outskirts of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh on March 8, 2017. At least six others were arrested: three from Hoshangabad District of Madhya Pradesh and another three from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. Investigations suggest that Saifullah had also been tasked with securing arms and training facilities for a new IS-linked terror module in Uttar Pradesh.

Daesh has, thus, failed to make any deep inroads in India. Nevertheless, the recent arrests occur at a time when IS is losing its strongholds – including its ‘headquarters’ at Raqqa – in Syria and Iraq. According to the recent (October 2017) report of the Soufan Group, after the IS ‘caliphate’ began to lose its territory in both Syria and Iraq, more than 5,600 foreign fighters returned to their respective homelands. Though the report has not mentioned any number of Indian returnees, it disclosed that around 75 Indian fighters were believed to have joined the IS ‘caliphate’.

However, Iraqi envoy to India, Fakhri H. Al Issa, stated on July 19, 2017,
 ….We know that at least 12 to 15 Indians were among the large number of foreign fighters who fought against our security forces during the ongoing operations in Iraq…. Foreign fighters often were killed and many managed to escape… We feel that some of the Indian fighters might have escaped and returned home in the way many foreign fighters returned home in Europe...

Indian authorities are concerned. A July 13, 2017, report noted that NIA had sent a list of people who left the country, possibly to join Daesh, to Immigration departments at airports across the country. Though the list does not reveal the total number of such people, it includes at least 183 youth from Kerala - 88 from Kasaragod, 33 from Kannur, 28 from Malappuram, 19 from Kozhikode, six from Kollam and five from Palakkad. There was no information about the remaining five on the list. Of these 183, 95 were believed to have gone to Afghanistan and rest were suspected to have gone to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Further, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) had issued a ‘Red-corner notice’ to immigration departments at the airports across the country. Indian embassies in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and UAE (United Arab Emirates) have been told to remain on high alert while issuing documents, especially to those claiming to have lost their passports.

Further, S.K. Chhikara, Joint Secretary (Internal Security), Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), stated on October 25, 2017, that “the NIA investigation is on to probe their [more than 50 Indian nationals who joined IS in the Middle East after the group’s emergence in 2014] whereabouts. The NIA must contact the families of those who left for countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to join IS, whose so-called ‘caliphate’ was collapsing due to sustained military assaults.”

The October 2017 arrests and the preceding surveillance of the Daesh returnees, demonstrate that Indian intelligence and enforcement agencies are well aware of the risks constituted by the trickle of beaten terrorists returning to their home country. There is, clearly, no alarming threat from Daesh in India as suggested by some commentators. Nevertheless, individual or small groups of returnees do have the potential to orchestrate incidents of violence, or to spread their extremist ideologies among vulnerable elements within their own communities. It is, consequently, imperative that the Indian security establishment remains vigilant to thwart any incipient threat in context of the collapse of Daesh in its areas of dominance, and the potential for mischief by surviving elements, including Indian returnees.

PAKISTAN
USA
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PAKISTAN-USA: Drone Strikes Escalate
Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

On October 17, 2017, at least 11 suspected terrorists were killed when two United States (US) drones fired six missiles on their hideouts in the mountainous region of the Kurram Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

On October 16, 2017, at least 20 suspected terrorists were killed in a similar US drone strike on another hideout in the same area. Four missiles were fired on a compound during the strike, in which suspected terrorists of the Haqqani Network were killed. According to media reports, the target of the attack was a Haqqani Network ‘commander’, Abu Bakar, who was killed along with his accomplices.

On September 15, 2017, three suspected terrorists were killed in a US drone attack in the Charmanak area of the Kurram Agency. “A remotely-piloted US aircraft fired two missiles at the home of Maulana Muhibullah,” Kurram Agency Political Agent Baseer Khan Wazir stated, adding, “The Maulana, along with two others, was killed in the attack.” Two Afghan Taliban sources later confirmed that Muhibullah was affiliated with the Haqqani Network “but wasn’t a prominent figure”.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the US has carried out at least seven drone attacks inside Pakistan since the beginning of the current year (2017) resulting in at least 48 fatalities (data till October 29, 2017). During the corresponding period of 2016, there were just three such attacks, resulting in seven deaths. There were no further attacks through 2016.

The US first commenced drone strikes inside Pakistan on June 18, 2004, and has so far carried out at least 330 such strikes, resulting in over 2,861 fatalities (data till October 29, 2017).

Drone Attacks in Pakistan: 2004-2017

Year

Incidents
Killed
Injured

2004

1
5
0

2005

1
1
0

2006

0
0
0

2007

1
20
15

2008

19
156
17

2009

46
536
75

2010

90
831
85+

2011

59
548
52

2012

46
344
37

2013

24
158
29

2014

19
122
26

2015

14
85
17

2016

3
7
1

2017

7
48
0

Total*

330
2861
354+
Source: SATP, *Data till October 29, 2017

There was a steep and sustained decline in number of such attacks since 2011 after a continuous escalation since 2008. Except for Washington’s continuing flip-flop ‘Pakistan policy’ under former President Barrack Obama, there was nothing on the ground to justify the down trend in such attacks since 2011, as Pakistan continued to provide safe haven to Taliban and Haqqani network formations operating across its borders into Afghanistan.

When President Donald Trump assumed power in January 2017 and decided to re-configure America’s ‘Pakistan Policy’, drone attacks were expectedly resumed. The first strike took place on March 2, 2017, killing two suspected terrorists in a border village along the AfPak border in FATA’s Kurram Agency. Significantly, the last such attack had been recorded on May 21, 2016, in which Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in the Kuchaki area of Nushki District in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province.

In the meantime, after almost six months of his Presidency, Trump announced his “new integrated strategy for the U.S. approach to South Asia” on August 21, 2017. In particular, the strategy outlined his approach to the Afghanistan-Pakistan conundrum, projecting a radical redirection in the US policy towards Pakistan. The policy statement observed,
 …The next pillar of our new strategy is to change the approach and how to deal with Pakistan. We can no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists…

Not surprisingly, there have been at least four reported drone attacks inside Pakistani territory within a span of just 70 days since the declaration of the new policy. A further surge in such attacks can be expected, as the US continues to harden its position on Pakistan. Indeed, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who visited South Asia, between October 23-27, acknowledged on October 26, 2017, that he had told the Pakistan Government that Washington would implement its new strategy with or without Islamabad, because “this is what we think is necessary. And if you don’t want to do that, don’t feel you can do it, we’ll adjust our tactics and our strategies to achieve the same objective a different way.” 

The increasingly inflexible US position, for the time being at least, has unnerved Pakistan. Unlike earlier instances of Pakistani protests against drone strikes as a violation of territorial integrity and sovereignty, this time the Pakistan establishment has out rightly denied the strikes within its territory in order to justify its claim that there are no terrorist safe havens within its borders. The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in a statement released on October 17, 2017, in the aftermath of October 16-17, drone attack thus claimed,
Military Operations are being conducted in Khost and Paktia, Afghanistan, by Resolute Support Mission (RSM) / Afghan Forces, opposite   Kurram Agency. During last 24 hours, number of Air engagements has taken place in those areas inside Afghanistan with reports of heavy losses to Terrorists. As a follow up of COAS [Chief of Army Staff] visit to Afghanistan, coordination between the forces has enhanced. RSM timely shared details about the said operation within Afghan territory. There has been no air violation along Pak-Afg border in that area or any drone strike in Kurram Agency as being misreported by few…

The civilian Government too made an attempt to argue that there are no terror safe havens inside Pakistan, with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif sharing a chart of drone attacks carried out over the past 12 years, from 2005 till October 15, 2017, inside the Pakistani territory, and tweeting on October 25:
12yrs drone attacks chart. If we have sanctuaries why frequency is sharply down. US won’t hesitate attacking funeral, weddings to get targets.

The charade of denials may serve a domestic political agenda, allowing the Army and political leaderships in Pakistan to save face; however, it can only harden US attitudes further, as there can be little doubt in Washington where its precision strikes are hitting terrorist hideouts. Unless Islamabad executes an unlikely and radical turnaround of its policies supporting terrorism – at least across the border into Afghanistan – US drones are likely to strike targets in Pakistan with rising frequency.


NEWS BRIEFS

Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
October 23-29, 2017

 

Civilians

Security Force Personnel

Terrorists/Insurgents

Total

INDIA

 

Chhattisgarh

1
0
3
4

Jammu and Kashmir

0
1
0
1

INDIA (Total)

1
1
3
5

PAKISTAN

 

Balochistan

2
0
0
2

FATA

0
0
2
2

Sindh

1
0
0
1

PAKISTAN (Total)

3
0
2
5
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.

BANGLADESH

Government directs Bangladesh Madrasa Education Board to remove chapters on Jihad to curb controversy regarding madrasa education system: Government has directed Bangladesh Madrasa Education Board to remove the chapters on Jihad to curb controversy regarding the madrasa education system. “The government has directed us to remove the chapters on Jihad to curb controversy regarding the madrasa education system,” an insider from the Bangladesh Madrasa Education Board told. The new textbooks of the Bangladesh Madrasa Education Board will not contain any chapters with lessons on Jihad, for the first time in nearly four decades. Dhaka Tribune, October 25, 2017.

Bangladesh wants to settle Rohingya issue peacefully, states Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed on October 23, said Bangladesh seeks to resolve the Rohingya crisis diplomatically and peacefully and will not engage in rows with Myanmar over the issue. Hasina said the Rohingya crisis is part of a conspiracy against the country and its economy, and there were provocations so that Dhaka acts negatively over the issue. But the government did not walk into the trap, she said, adding that had the country been locked in disputes with Myanmar, it would not have got international support. The Daily Star, October 24, 2017.

USD 340 million pledged to help Rohingya refugees, states UN: The head of the UN agency that coordinates humanitarian aid says they have pledged roughly USD 340 million to help more than 6,00,000 Rohingyas who have fled Myanmar into Bangladesh since August. Mark Lowcock of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said donors included governments and the European Union. The Daily Star, October 24, 2017.


INDIA

Nagaland Government officials gave INR 20 crore to NSCN-K in four years, says NIA: The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has established that four Nagaland Government officers had made the banned insurgent group Khaplang faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) richer by over INR 20 crore in just four years by sharing with the outfit funds from the state exchequer. The NIA has recovered payment slips and registers to this effect, which establishes that the arrested officers were hand in glove with NSCN-K in its ‘illegal tax collection’ racket. Times of India, October 29, 2017.

Appointment of ‘Interlocutor’ won't impact operations in Jammu and Kashmir, says Army Chief General Bipin Rawat: Army Chief General Bipin Rawat on October 25 declared that appointment of an ‘Interlocutor’ by the Centre Government will have no impact on the ‘Operation All Out’ launched by Army in Kashmir to eliminate and apprehend the militants and their top ‘commanders’. Asked whether the appointment of former Intelligence Bureau chief Dineshwar Sharma as Kashmir ‘Interlocutor’ would impact the Army’s operations in the troubled State, he said, “My one word answer is no, it will not.” Responding to a question on whether Sharma’s appointment meant that the tough policy on Kashmir was not working, Gen Rawat said, “I do not think so. What is in your mind is not correct. The policy of the Government has worked. The Government is speaking from a position of strength.” Daily Excelsior, October 26, 2017. 

Social media and cyberspace have increased threat of terrorism, says Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on October 24 said that "social media and cyberspace" have increased the threat of terrorism, as they can be used to manipulate people's minds. "Social media and cyberspace have expanded the threat (of terrorism), as these are exploited by terrorists to develop less visible but lethal ways and means of manipulating minds of the people," she said. The minister stressed that the constantly evolving strategic and security situation of the world "has thrown up fresh and serious challenges." Times of India, October 25, 2017.


PAKISTAN

JuD Chief Hafiz Saeed's name not on list of terrorists handed over by US, claims Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif: Mumbai terror attack mastermind and the chief of Jamaat-ud Dawa (JuD) Hafiz Saeed’s name was not on a list of 75 terrorists the US had handed over to Pakistan, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said on October 25. Saeed, who carries a USD 10 million bounty on his head for his role in terror activities, has been under house arrest in Pakistan since January this year. Asif told senators during a session of the parliament's upper house that the US has "handed over a list of 75 terrorists while we gave them a list of around 100 terrorists." The list was passed on during the maiden visit of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Pakistan on October 24. Times of India, October 26, 2017.

Act on terror, or we'll do it our way; warns US: The United States (US) on October 27 issued its direst warning to Pakistan to roll up terrorist groups operating in the