Is South India in the Crosshairs of Islamic State?

Members from the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service present Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with a flag from Bartilah, a town recaptured just outside of Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. This flag symbolizes the efforts of Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve composed of U.S. Army Soldiers, U.S. Marine Corps Marines, U.S. Navy Sailors, United States Air Force Airmen and coalition military forces. (DoD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro/released)

The Islamic State, in its 23rd issue of Voice of Khorasan magazine published last month, has trained its focus on the Southern part of India. In a message entitled “a message to the inhabitants in the land occupied by cow and mice worshipping filths,” Islamic State has claimed responsibility for failed attacks in Coimbatore (Tamilnadu) and Mangalore (Karnataka), which occurred last October and November respectively. The message asks: “Do you not consider out attacks in Coimbatore (Tamilnadu) and Karnataka (Bangalore), where our brothers took revenge for the honour of our religion and terrorized kufar and its followers? (sic).” In January 2023, the Geopolitical Monitor highlighted these attacks as being inspired by Islamic State’s ideology and as an sign of Islamic State in Hind province attempting to regroup.  Interesting as it may seem, both these attacks are failed attacks possibly indicating that the Islamic State in an attempt to garner political mileage and make inroads into South India, may have taken credit for these attacks, albeit belatedly, for reasons outlined below.

The claim of responsibility for the botched attempts was published in its 23rd issue of Voice of Khorasan which came out in March 2023, almost six months after the actual events occurred. Usually, Islamic State claims its attacks immediately either through its official outlets Amaq News Agency or through statements released by its linked channels or through Al Naba Newsletter, if the attacks are carried out by modules linked to the Islamic State. On the other hand, if the attacks are carried out by inspired modules, then the claim of responsibility comes a little later and at times the attacks are not claimed at all. For instance, some of the terrorist attacks by the Islamic State in Jammu & Kashmir immediately claimed by Amaq News Agency buttress the fact that the Islamic State is swift to claim responsibility for their attacks:

  • 06 Oct 2021assassination of an individual in Srinagar claimed on 8 Oct 2021
  • 16 Oct 2021 – assassination of an individual in Srinagar claimed on 18 Oct 2021
  • 02 Dec 2021 – assassination of a police personnel Rajouri, Srinagar claimed on 03 Dec 2021
  • 20 April 2022 – incendiary attack in Srinagar claimed on 21 April 2022.
  • 12 July 2022 – attack on Patrol in Srinagar, capturing an AK 47 rifle, claimed on 13 July 2022

However, on the contrary, the (failed) Coimbatore and Mangalore blasts were owned up by the Islamic State after an extended gap of almost six months, which is quite unlike the group. Interestingly, previous issue of Voice of Khorasan (#22) carries an article on the February 2023 earthquake in Turkey & Syria, whereas Voice of Khorasan (#23), released in March 2023 takes credit for the failed attempts at Coimbatore and Mangalore which happened in October and November 2022. This indicates that mention of these blasts may have been included as an afterthought, considering the current ground realities in India. Given these facts, one can be certain that the above modules are inspired modules and not possibly linked to the core.  And outside Jammu & Kashmir, the Islamic State has not been able to conduct an attack nor has it taken credit for an attempted one in the past. Intriguing as it may be, the delayed claim by the Islamic State and more importantly, to claim botched attempts, is possibly a ploy to exploit these incidents in order to make an ingress into South India where it has not been able to make any headway when it comes to conducting terror attacks.

This is ostensibly the first time South India has been directly mentioned in a media publication of the Islamic State. This new found posturing by the Islamic State with reference to South India is possibly intended to instigate more youngsters to join its rank in South India. The Islamic State’s specific message targeting South India states “our second message is to mujahedin all over the world, especially to mujahedin in south India. O brothers! O muwahhidin and mujahedin! O you who have been guided to the straight path, the path of truth, the path of triumph and the path of salvation (sic).” The message further threatens of more attacks in South India warning, “O Kuffar in South India, O BJP and police and military officers, By Allah we promise you a bloody revenge in return (sic).” Islamic State has been attempting to make inroads into South India since 2014. There have been multiple modules which have been discovered in the past. Out of the 40 odd cases investigated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), almost 75% of them pertain to modules predominantly inspired by the Islamic State’s ideology, which were active in South India.  This data may have prompted the Islamic State to focus on South India where it believes that it has more traction with its followers and sympathisers

More importantly, the terrorist group in its 20th issue of Voice of Khorasan magazine addressed the issue of ban on Popular Front of India by the Indian government. The Islamic State had called out to the supporters of PFI asking them to join its ranks stating, “O supporters of PFI who wanted to bring change through peaceful demonstration, gather under the shadow of Khilafah.” The Popular Front of India (PFI) was started by merging three entities National Development Front (NDF) from Kerala, Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD) from Karnataka, and Manitha Neethi Pasarai (MNP) from Tamilnadu. Hence, PFI has considerable following and presence in South India. Following its ban late last year for anti-national activities, some members of PFI switched sides to other political and non-political parties. But a majority have been left in limbo. The Islamic State by giving a clarion call to the PFI cadres who are left in the lurch, has attempted to cash in on their quandary and recruit potential foot soldiers from PFI ranks.

In line with its focus, the Islamic State appears to have started its propaganda campaign in Malayalam again. There has been a flurry of messages since February 2023 in Malayalam targeting potential recruits in the state of Kerala located in South India. This may indicate that a sizeable number of Keralites are still left with the Islamic State who performed Hijrah to Afghanistan a few years back. And there is a strong possibility that these elements could be behind this effort to revive Islamic State in India, especially in South India. The article which has claimed responsibility for the blasts in Voice of Khorasan is believed to be penned by an individual with a nom de guerre Abu Yasir Al Hindi, indicating that he is from India.

To summarise, the attacks in Coimbatore and Mangalore carried out by inspired modules appears to have got the rapt attention of the Islamic State core, albeit belatedly. Islamic State appears to sense an opportunity to capitalise on its existing sympathisers concomitantly attempting to capitalise on the PFI ban and poach its members in South India. By addressing the ban on PFI in its mouthpiece, the Islamic State has touched upon issues which are local to India.

Piggybacking on actions of inspired modules, delayed credit taking, poaching PFI members and addressing local issues, indicate that the Islamic State has realised that it has not been able to do anything substantial and appears to be desperate to prove its presence in South India. Nevertheless, this desperation should not be construed as weakness. Islamic State has been persistent in its attempt to inspire local modules to mount attacks in India since 2014. Despite multiple attempts by inspired modules, they have not tasted success, failing in the initial planning stages. Notwithstanding its previous failures, they almost pulled of two major attacks in Coimbatore and Karnataka late last year. That is precisely the reason why the Islamic State claimed responsibility for these botched attempts after a prolonged gap, hoping that this would inspire like-minded wannabe jihadis to mount terrorist attacks locally. And in its relentless pursuit to conduct attacks in India, Islamic State may find gold very soon, if the sentinels let their guard down.


The views expressed in this article belong to the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of

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