Early this month, the Indian Home Ministry called a meeting of the Directors General of Police and Home Secretaries from 12 states to discuss the cases of young Indians who, intelligence agencies suspect, have either joined the Islamic State or are headed to its strongholds.
This has begun to ring alarm bells in a government that only in November said the threat from the Islamic State was “negligible”.
Lists exclusively accessed by The Indian Express show 17 Indians are now missing, reported by Indian and foreign intelligence services to be active with the Islamic State or rival organisations like Jabhat al-Nusra. In addition, up to a dozen Indian Mujahideen cadre are also believed to have joined the Islamic State, while police have stopped at least 22 volunteers from travelling.
The Indian Express reporters visited the homes and families of the 17 in an effort to piece together what drove them to join the world’s most savage regime. The 17 — all young men, barring a woman who has returned home — were educated, most hailing from middle-class or affluent families with conventional aspirations. Few had known links to Islamist political groups, and none to terrorism.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new counter-terrorism czar, former Intelligence Bureau chief Asif Ibrahim, has been tasked with preparing a thorough counter-radicalisation programme, government sources said.
Even though the numbers are small, government sources said, the action plan is based on mounting evidence that the Islamic State propaganda has found resonance among some young Muslims disenchanted with the community’s traditional religious and political leadership and angered by growing communal violence.
Islamic State flags have come up at protests in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Jammu Kashmir; pro-Islamic State graffiti has been reported inWest Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.
Perhaps most important, support for the Islamic State is blossoming in underground blogs and chat-rooms. Islamic State propagandists have, in particular, been calling for educated volunteers, especially engineers and doctors, to help build an Islamic utopia.