Maroof Raza

Maroof Raza is the author of ‘Confronting Terrorism’ (published by Penguin Books).

After the Paris Attacks More Could Follow: Be Prepared

Maroof Raza

crime scene paris - Web Cover

Following the 26/11 type attacks at several targets in Paris, which left at least 129 dead and 352 injured, the Islamic State (earlier known as ISIS, and now known as Daesh) has staged its coming out event on western soil, and dramatically so. Even though there were three teams attacking six sites in Paris, in a manner similar to the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, the comparison between the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 and the recent one in Paris perhaps ends there. Unlike ours, the French intelligence agencies were expecting a big terror strike – and had prepared extensively to prevent one –  more so as Paris had earlier this year witnessed a terror attack by Islamists on the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, which had demeaned Prophet Muhammad. The French were also the founding allies of the US led air attacks on the ISIS. But unlike Paris, where the attackers came from within, the 26/11 attacks were planned and executed by Pakistan’s military-intelligence and jihadi proxies (LeT) on Indian soil without much support from within India (by the Indian Mujahideen etc.) The Paris attacks were carried out essentially by Europe based ISIS sympathisers. Thus, even though the French and other western capitals have well equipped police forces with a much higher police to people ratio than India’s, they were caught off guard! The question that therefore emerges is: how much more does one need to prepare and fortify a city to prevent such attacks, and who could be the next targets for ISIS? ISIS has made it known through its numerous social media outlets (it does have an extensive footprint on social media) that Washington and other European cities could be its next targets, and possibly even India. But while ISIS has many sympathisers in western countries – France had at least 571 nationals who’ve returned after having joined ISIS, and some could still be used as ‘sleepers’ – it is reassuring to note that the figures for India (with four confirmed recruits, and 20 more borderline cases). This, for a population of over 150 million Indian muslims, is minuscule, considering the fact that tiny Maldives has reported that 250 of its citizens have joined ISIS, and the numbers from Central Asia run into thousands. It is also reported that ISIS enjoys huge support in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, though they’ve been spared attacks so far. It has also kept away from Israel, which probably figures in its longer term targets, like India.

Despite the fact that western observers are keen to club all anti-western groups under one banner, opinion is still divided between whether ISIS is an extension of the Al-Qaeda or a new rival for the global jihad. ISIS came into reckoning essentially in May 2014, when it overran badly led, but heavily equipped Iraqi army units in Mosul and the northern Iraq. This gave it a huge cache of lethal weapons. The lack of an effective American response then, which could have crippled them in those crucial months, has now given them a big edge. As of now, ISIS enjoys several advantages over al-Qaeda; while the al-Qaeda leadership is located in remote inaccessible areas of Afghanistan, ISIS has placed itself at the heart of the Arab world and has a very effective social media outreach. And while al-Qaeda was paying lip service to the caliphate, ISIS has actually achieved it with dramatic military successes and brutality.

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Following its military success in Mosul, ISIS chased the Iraqi army southwards, and then ruthlessly executed those who surrendered or were captured, in thousands, to send out the message that they were unlike any other group before and that they must be feared and respected. A recent report released in the US says that the Islamic state militants committed genocide against the Yazidis and other minorities last year in Iraq to wipe out the Yazidis, whom they regard as devil worshipers.  In fact, ISIS is seen as so brutal and ruthless, that even al-Qaeda has formally disassociated itself from it. And though al-Qaeda still provides a philosophical anchor to alienated Muslims from Morocco to Pakistan, recent pronouncements from ISIS and the Lashkar-e-Taiba show that they find each other’s ways unacceptable. Moreover, LeT’s patrons, the Pakistani army – with its whiskey drinking generals – would hardly be spared by ISIS if it were to capture Pakistan’s imagination. All that the Islamic State would like from Pakistan are a few nuclear weapons (or even dirty bombs, those crude devices, good enough to wreck havoc) would do for them as prepare to launch an apocalyptic Armageddon against the civilised world.

 However, we in India would do better to focus how to prevent another Mumbai-II or a Paris like attack from Pakistan based groups even though the home minister has warned that an ‘IS backed attack is possible in India’. Thus, the need of the hour is to build alliances within a global coalition to get better intelligence from agencies of governments willing to battle the jihadi threat. We mustn’t accept the US line that Pakistan too needs our help, which still gets away with ‘we are victims of terror’ line. That apart, India will have to battle its demons itself, and so it must be careful not to get too involved in battling the demons created by the West its their Arab allies. At present, the ability of ISIS to effectively engage on Indian soil – though it has made a few anti-India pronouncements – is to stretch the point. Apart from the fact that ISIS is busy battling for survival in its current geographical confines, its ability to reach out into India is doubtful, since its sympathisers in India are few and far between.

Taj attacks - Web

What India must do, however, is first strengthen its intelligence gathering efforts with international cooperation in the battle against terror, and at the same time avoid getting sucked into another ‘Global war on terror’ like the one the US initiated after 9/11 and blundered along after that. Next, India must increase the coordination between its intelligence and police services at home. And the obsession at various levels to guard one’s own turf must be done away with. We saw the NCTC and the CCTNS being killed by a combination of politician and police chiefs. There is a need to prepare the public for the next attack in all major cities and involve citizens in the security of our cities (like the British have done with project Griffin in London). Most importantly, apart from a ruthless clampdown on social media activities, wherever there are signs of the ISIS virus appearing, India must quarantine those who return back from a stint with the militant group, at least till their bona fides are established. There may be cries of human rights abuses by activists, as we’ve seen in J&K, but they must be ignored. Take a look at how the US has fortified itself after 9/11. There should no place for those who work against our national interests.

 And it must be noted that though India has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, its Muslims have overwhelmingly resisted the calls of extremists. There could still be the occasional waving of the ISIS flag in the Valley, but that mustn’t lead to an over-reaction. This plays into the hands of those that wish to create Islamophobia and divide India into communal lines, which will only harm our country.  We need to prepare rationally for the threats of the future and not respond purely based on emotion.

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