Islamic State (IS) released what seems to be its first video specifically about India on 19 May.
The 22-minute video titled ‘The Land of Hind: Between Pain and Hope’ appeared on Twitter and Telegram late last week. It shows a group of Indian nationals purportedly based in Homs calling on Muslims in India to join the group in Syria. We are not aware of any other IS videos focusing on the country in this way.
Much of the video is an attempt to show how Muslims have been mistreated in India and the purported religious freedom that they enjoy in IS-held territories. But it ends with a warning of attacks in India as revenge ‘for every oppressed Muslim’. The speakers refer to several locations in India, but make no specific threats against any of them. An unnamed government official cited by The Hindu today suggested that the video was probably made at least ten months ago.
Such threats commonly occur in propaganda videos featuring foreign IS fighters. This year, IS has released several publications focusing on the Indian subcontinent, predominantly Bangladesh where it has claimed several attacks on religious minorities. In the latest issue of its English-language magazine, Dabiq, IS also cited India and Myanmar as potential future targets. See B-15-04-16-BD for our detailed analysis of that issue. But the focus of the latest messaging on India is itself significant; even if the video’s primary aim still appears to be to recruit Muslims for IS in Iraq and Syria, rather than to direct or incite attacks in the country.
Analysis of the video
Most of the IS video sets out the group’s interpretation of the history of Muslims in India. It then features interviews with four Indian fighters – three speaking in Urdu and one in English. They all pledge allegiance to IS in Homs, Syria. They also talk at length about the mistreatment of Muslims in India, denounce Muslim Indian clerics who have rejected IS, criticise Muslims for living alongside Hindus in the country, and call on Muslims to travel to Syria to join the group.
The fighters also make several references to Babri Masjid, Gujarat, Assam, Kashmir and Muzaffarnagar. The mentions of Babri Masjid – a disputed religious site in Ayodhya – along with the other three places are not unusual in jihadist propaganda on India. Groups such as Al-Qaeda, the Indian Mujahidin and the TTP have all referred to religious riots and the murder of Muslims in Gujarat, Kashmir and Muzaffarnagar.
Towards the end of the video, the speakers make several explicit, but not specific, threats against India. One of them says that the Indian IS fighters would not return to India to live in the ‘garbage, disbelieving, republican’ country. But instead they ‘will come with swords, to behead you all. We will come to take revenge for Babri Masjid, we will come to take revenge for Gujarat, Kashmir and Muzaffarnagar’. Another speaker says that India has three options: accept Islam, pay tax on non-Muslims or ‘that they get prepared to be slaughtered’.
The final speaker vows to avenge all Muslims in India and that people should not forget several past bombings. He names the 2006 Mumbai train bombings, blasts in Ahmedabad and Jaipur in 2008 and attacks in Delhi (most probably those that occurred in 2008 or 2011). The video ends with footage of IS fighters with guns on boats, which we think might be a reference to the Mumbai attacks in 2008, when Lashkar-e-Taiba militants stole fishing boats before arriving in Mumbai to carry out the attacks.
Assessment of IS threat in India
At least three of the men who feature in the video are most probably former members of the Indian Mujahidin (IM) – a network of domestic terrorist cells in India. They refer to specific security operations that the Indian authorities have previously carried out against the network. According to Indian media reports this week, the Indian authorities suspect the video features up to 11 Indians, with three of the men interviewed having planned the bombings in Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Jaipur.
These three men reportedly fled India at various times over the past three years, either directly to Syria, or through Pakistan, Singapore and Turkey to avoid arrest. One of the men featured in the video, Mohammad Sajid, reportedly died last year. A pro-IS Indian group called Ansar-ut-Tawhid (AuT), a small group comprised of several members of IM and based in Afghanistan, released an obituary of Sajid in June last year on a jihadist website.
That the video ends with a group of men with guns riding on boats seems to imply that they will travel to India to carry out attacks. In our analysis, rather than the speakers in the video – or more generally Indians returning from the Middle East – members of already established jihadist groups in the country probably pose a more significant threat at this time. This includes IM and extremists attempting to gain attention from IS.
Indian officials quoted in local media reports said earlier this year that Indians fighting for IS in Syria were attempting to recruit people either to travel to Iraq or Syria, or carry out attacks in India for which IS would then claim responsibility. This recruitment was reportedly conducted either through online platforms or the established networks of IM and its allied organisation, Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).
One such example of this appears to be AuT. The Indian authorities believe that the leader of AuT, Shafi Arman, has attempted to recruit and guide potential jihadists to stage attacks in India while he is in Syria. For a detailed analysis of Arman, see B-27-01-16-IN. Today, a report in the fairly reliable Indian Express suggested that AuT continues to recruit on behalf of IS in India.
So far, there are few indications that these attempts at recruiting Indians either to travel to Syria or Iraq, or to mount attacks in India on behalf of IS, have been successful. In December, the Indian authorities said that they suspected that only 25 Indian nationals were fighting for IS in Syria or Iraq. This is probably in part because the Indian authorities have been effective at monitoring IS sympathisers. IS has yet to claim responsibility for an attack in India. Its greater focus has been on Bangladesh, most probably because it has been better able to recruit and direct attacks there than in India.