After a relative lull in activities and propaganda targeting India last year, the Islamic State in Hind Province (ISHP) appears to have revived its Indian campaign.
The last known attack attributed to ISHP was in July 2022 in Jammu & Kashmir. The attack killed a policeman, and was claimed by ISHP’s official media outlet, Amaq News Agency. On the propaganda front, the last issue (#27) of the India-centric mouthpiece “Sawt Al Hind” (Voice of Hind) was released in May 2022. Since then, ISHP has been maintaining a low profile for reasons unknown. But now, ISHP appears to have restarted its campaign against India sometime around the beginning of 2023. This sudden flurry of propaganda activity appears to indicate a sense of urgency on the part of ISHP to reignite its campaign, which had been sagging of late.
On 23 January 2023, Al-Jauhar Media, which is linked to the Islamic State, released its first English-language magazine entitled Serat-u-Haq. The publication, which consists of six pages, criticizes local politicians and issues related to “Love Jihad.” It is still not clear if Al-Jauhar Media is officially recognized and linked to ISHP. This comes close on the heels of images showing purported members of ISHP pledging allegiance to new Islamic State leader Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi. In Dec 2022, Amaq News Agency released a set of pictures showing individuals from Wilayah Hind pledging Bayah (oath of allegiance) to the new Islamic State leader, who was announced as the Caliph in November 2022.
While sympathizers pledging Bayah to a new Caliph is routine, the launch of a new magazine, one specifically targeting Indians, is an interesting development for several reasons.
First, Serat ul Haq carries a Bayah from its team to the new Islamic State leader Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi, indicating that the module behind this magazine is a relatively new and not connected to the preexisting ISHP core media group. According to Riccardo Valle, who specializes in monitoring online terrorist content, Islamic State’s media apparatus targeting India consists of both official mouthpieces and unofficial ones which are run by its sympathizers. He claims that in April 2022, ISHP integrated all of its official channels into a core group called Nashir Al Hind, including Al Qitaal Media which translates Islamic State content into Hindi. Al Qitaal Media also gave Bayah to the previous Caliph Abu Al Hassan at that time and was later merged with the core propaganda unit. According to Valle, similarly, the channel that publishes Sawt Al Hind magazine “is seemingly close to the ISHP group,” indicating that it was not officially linked and may have merged into its network only in April 2022 when it had already published at least 25 of its 27 issues. On the other hand, though the channel Al Jauhar Media which had published Serat ul Haq does not belong to the ISHP media team at present, it will eventually be integrated into its core when it is still in its infancy as it had given Bayah. The impending integration and the early start advantage for Serat ul Haq will help gain more traction among its sympathizers in India.
Second, the content of its earlier magazine Sawt Al Hind covered events and incidents in South Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Though the majority of the content focused on India, some of its editions carried articles covering other regions as well, writes Daniele Garofalo, a Jihadi terrorism analyst who closely follows Islamic State’s propaganda activities. However, going by the first issue of Serat ul Haq, this magazine appears to cover political events and incidents inside India or the content appears to be India-centric. This probably showcases the intent of ISHP to target Indian sympathizers.
Third, in January 2023, the government of India declared an individual named Aijaz Ahmad Ahanger as an individual terrorist suspected to be in charge of propaganda and recruitment for ISHP. Ahanger, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Usman Al Kashmiri, was the main pivot of ISHP media operations targeting India. Ahanger was arrested along with Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) chief Aslam Farooqui in 2020 by Afghan intelligence in Kandahar, soon after the Gurudwara blast in Kabul. Also noteworthy to mention is that his son, Abdullah Umais, was also a member of the Islamic State and is believed to have been killed in Afghanistan. His son-in-law, Husaifa Al Bakistani was handling the media operations of ISKP and was the chief recruiter targeting Jammu & Kashmir until his death in 2019. Incidentally, Ahanger escaped from Kabul in August 2021 after the Taliban takeover and is currently believed to be reorganizing ISHP media and recruitment operations in India. Born in Jammu & Kashmir, Ahanger is familiar with India and will be able to easily re-establish ISHP infrastructure both inside and outside India. Though Ahanger has been active against Indian interests since 1996, joining various terrorist groups like Lashkar E Toiba, Al Qaeda, and later ISKP, the fact that the Indian government only banned him in 2023 highlights the importance of Abu Usman Al Kashmiri in ISHP recruitment and media operations.
Fourth, and most importantly, being India-centric, Serat ul Haq can cover the activity of its local sympathizers which has not been acknowledged or covered by ISHP core media. India has seen more of Islamic State-inspired modules rather than modules directly connected to the Islamic State leadership. Not all of these find a place in Islamic State’s official media outlets like Amaq, Al Naba, and Sawt Al Hind. Ever since Amaq News Agency announced the creation of Wilayah Hind in May 2019, information pertaining to various activities like Bayah ceremony or terrorist attacks have found little mention in Islamic State’s official mouth pieces. Even those published by the above media outlets often publish only actions perpetrated by officially-linked modules, covering Jammu & Kashmir only. For instance, Amaq has published Bayah activities related to ISHP in March 2022 and December 2022. It appears to have covered only a handful of terrorist attacks in Jammu & Kashmir, including the killing of a street vendor in October 2021. Whereas Wilayah Hind has found mention only three times since 2020 in the Al Naba Newsletter (in September 2022, December 2021, and July 2022). Though Sawt Al Hind did focus on India primarily, its focus largely vectored on modules linked only to the Islamic State core operating in Jammu & Kashmir.
Small autonomous networks inspired by Islamic State ideology, though not connected to the core, have been discovered outside Jammu & Kashmir in other parts of India. These have been ignored by the Islamic State official media apparatus. The National Investigation Agency has registered around 40 cases related to Islamic State activities in India. The majority of these pertain to Islamic State modules which have been inspired by its ideology but are not directly linked to the core. Some of these cases have been high-profile and have created panic among the general public. For instance, two recent blasts in South India, both involving individuals, were inspired by Islamic State ideology. Jameesha Mobin from Coimbatore died when he attempted to deploy a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu in October 2022. He was killed when the vehicle exploded “accidentally.” Though he was not part of any Islamic State network, investigators later found Islamic State graffiti and other materials in his house showcasing that he was inspired by Islamic State ideology. Similarly. Mohammed Shariq was injured in an accidental explosion when he attempted plant a pressure cooker bomb in Mangalore, Karnataka in November 2022. Again, he appears to not have links to the Islamic State core but was inspired by its ideology.
These incidents have not been mentioned or covered by any of the official media outlets linked to Islamic State. They showcase the fact that activities perpetrated by “inspired” individuals in other parts of India outside Jammu & Kashmir have largely been ignored by the official media outlets linked to the Islamic State. Serat ul Haq may possibly fill this void and attempt to gain mileage out of it.
To summarize, despite the global efforts to clampdown on Islamic State media activities, the terrorist group has managed to survive inorganically to date via mergers and integrations. Though the remnants of official Islamic State propaganda machinery are active today, it is the emergence of smaller propaganda units at domestic levels which indicate that its ideology has had a far-reaching impact, posing a challenge to counter-terrorism regimes the world over, including India. Time and again, one has witnessed new modules inspired by Islamic State ideology in India which are as dangerous as the modules linked to the core. But equally dangerous are local media units like the ones which have released Serat ul Haq espousing Islamic State ideology. These propaganda units attempt to fill in the vacuum where Islamic State’s core is not present. But the real challenge for these local units will be survival, and the key to this survival, given their limited resources, will be determined by the Islamic State’s ideological reach, span, and their eventual integration into the core.
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