IS announces its new ‘province’ to focus on Indian subcontinent

The so-called Islamic State has announced a separate province that would focus on the Indian subcontinent while releasing a picture and claiming that the terrorist Ishfaq Ahmed Sofi, who was shot dead by security forces in Kashmir on Friday, was one of their own.

The IS statement talked about “Wilayah-e-Hind” (Indian province), but didn’t mention the Islamic State in J&K, as the group was identified by some of its members during interrogation by forces. Given the absence of any territory under IS control, or even influence, the claim is an overstatement.

However, in keeping with IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s recent video, in which he spoke of new areas of influence, the IS statement cannot be dismissed either. In recent weeks, IS has shown a renewed focus on the Indian subcontinent, promising plans for Bangladesh. The Baghdadi video also referred to the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka, indicating that the targets were in keeping with IS instructions to go after followers of “infidel” faiths.

Intelligence agencies have noted the development and are analysing its implications.

A source in an anti-terror unit termed it “significant” and said that the terror outfit was reiterating its intent to step up actions in India and neighbouring nations. Given its success in radicalising followers online and then leading them step by step to planning attacks and assembling bombs, IS in some aspects is seen to be more insidious than older jihadi groups like Jaish-e-Muhammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“Till now, the affairs in this side of the world were controlled by Khorasan province (ISKP). This means that the central IS will now be directly dealing with their operatives in J&K,” the source added.

The move is similar to that of Baghdadi announcing provinces in Turkey and Congo in a passing reference in the recently released video.

The presence of IS in Kashmir was first noted towards mid-2016. In 2017, ISKP started claiming attacks against security forces and several members have been killed in encounters since then.

Last year in March, IS hailed the “martyrdom” of three “brother” terrorists killed in an encounter in Anantnag. The IS identified the “emir”, Essa Fazili, as Abu Yahya al Ishtashadi, Syed Owaid as Abu Barra al Kashmiri, and Taufeeq, aka Sultan al Hyderabadi, as Abu Zar al Hindi. Radicalised through social media, the trio had joined IS in Kashmir by contacting handlers on Facebook.

The claim was made by al-Qarar, the channel of communication for IS in South Asia and J&K. It had also called upon Kashmiris to desire for shahadat (martyrdom) and replace every slain IS fighter in the Valley with two.

In the last one year, the special cell of Delhi Police has busted at least two big ISinspired terror modules operated by youths from Kashmir. The men were nabbed after they contacted a UPbased arms dealer to procure weapons.

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