Dealing with lone-wolfs
In a significant development on Sunday, the Gujarat Anti-Terrorism Squad arrested two brothers with suspected links to ISIS. Reports indicate that they had allegedly hatched plans to conduct "lone-wolf" attacks in the state. Both the accused, Wasim Ramodiya and Naeem, are college graduates. "We have been keeping a close watch on them since last three months, as they were found to be in contact with ISIS through Skype and other social media platforms like Telegram, Twitter and Whatsapp. We conducted raids in Rajkot and Bhavnagar and nabbed the duo," a senior police official told reporters in Ahmedabad on Sunday.
The investigation has also revealed that the two had planned to attack the famous temple at Chotila town of Surendranagar district. It is imperative for the police to build a credible case. Recent acquittals of innocent Muslim youth in terror cases and the embarrassment of not catching the real perpetrators should remind them of the stakes involved. Ever since its emergence and rapid success in the latter part of 2013 and 2014, the Islamic State has sought to exploit the deep fissures in society as a consequence of real and perceived religious persecution. Young and impressionable minds are drawn away from modern societies with clear, compelling and apparently reasoned messages.
India has fortunately not suffered a lone-wolf attack, but there have been instances of young Indians recruited for propagating the hateful and vicious ideology of the Islamic State, and some have even travelled to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to fight for their cause. There is the case of Mehdi Masroor Biswas, a techie based in Bengaluru, identified as an influential propagandist for ISIS on social media. Biswas is under trial for "attempting to wage war against India", "sedition", "waging war against an Asiatic ally of India", "provocation to rioting" and for "making statements amounting to public mischief," among other charges. His indoctrination online is only one example. More relevant to the above issue at hand is the case of Salman Mohiuddin of Hyderabad. Mohiuddin's radical views on Islam notwithstanding, he too was sucked into the ISIS cyber propaganda machine, which convinced him to join the group.
Although he was nabbed by authorities before attempting a journey to Syria, it is his intent which should give top officials reason for pause. Reports indicate that he had expressed intent to return to India from Syria and wage war. The potential of cyber radicalization is indeed frightening. If the transnational terror group can recruit Indian and provide the necessary logistical support for their travel, then one can assume that it is only a matter of time before they indoctrinate persons to unleash violence in India itself. Exploiting real or perceived religious grievances, ISIS could radicalise impressionable young individuals, which could then subsequently encourage lone wolf attacks. The challenges before Indian authorities are immense. Beyond a vigilant state apparatus and well-functioning institutions like the judiciary, observers argue that an attempt to defang radicalization will indeed require political solutions.
During his tenure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to address these issues. At the annual meet of top police officials in Gujarat in December 2015, he asked police personnel to take local communities into confidence. "Police forces should establish links with local communities, and one way of doing this is to celebrate the successes and achievements of people in the community," Modi said. The focus was on empowering the community to prevent young individuals from going astray and sensitising the police to understand the difference between a highly religious and radicalised person. During the event, the Telangana DGP cited the socio-economic exclusion of Muslims and indiscriminate arrests of youth from the community in the aftermath of any terror attack and their subsequent incarceration, as leading causes for radicalisation. One issue of real concern at the event was the lack of a thoughtful and credible counter-narrative to counter that radicalization. What is seemingly impressive about the recent arrests in Gujarat is the police's ability to monitor or use social media to catch their targets. The ability of most police forces in our states to adopt and monitor social media, without impinging on civil liberties, is woefully inadequate. Do police forces across states have a clear road map to tackle this scourge?
All this is well and good, but it will be years before the real medicine against the poison of radicalization takes effect. It will also require a lot of consistency from our political class and institutions like the judiciary in the message they send to the larger populace. In a recent column on the radicalisation of Western youth, Praveen Swami, a journalist and expert on strategic affairs, wrote: "These are fundamentally political challenges, and require politicians to engage in a clear-eyed defence of the principles that define liberalism — individual freedoms, democratic rights, and the rule of law. For a large cohort of disenfranchised young Muslims in the West, jihad has emerged as a language of rage — just as crime or drugs have done for others. Liberal political forces need to demonstrate that there are other paths to redemption." The same forces need to come into play here in India.
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