Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 164, 23 September 2020

India: NIA arrests al-Qaeda operatives from West Bengal and Kerala
Bibhu Prasad Routray

In the news
On 19 September 2020, simultaneous raids carried out in several locations in Ernakulum (Kerala), and Murshidabad (West Bengal) by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) led to the arrests of nine members of an al Qaeda module. 

The NIA said that the arrested men had been radicalized by Pakistan-based al-Qaeda terrorists on social media platforms and had been motivated to carry out attacks at multiple locations, including in the National Capital Region (NCR). Finances had been raised, and some members of the module were planning to travel to New Delhi to procure arms and ammunition. Ongoing investigations may unravel additional details on the planning and mobilization aspects.   

Issues at large
First, the lingering impact of jihadist messaging. Regular appeals by global jihadist outfits seem to be having an impact on the Muslim population in the country. Despite the reversals faced by these outfits in the past years, reach of these appeals, issued through recent Jihadist publications, especially to exploit the chaos brought about the Covid-19 pandemic, is receiving sympathetic ears. The quantitative impact of these appeals could still be low, but its subjective reverberations are significant enough to be dismissed or underplayed.   

Second, thinning divide between radicalization and violence: The recent arrests further point at the growing ability of radicalized individuals to establish cross-regional networks, which is possible only through the internet. While online radicalization and mobilization for terrorist violence have been a source of a major threat to national security for the past several years, their various manifestations—lone wolves as well as organized self-sufficient modules— are an indication of a gradual step forward towards overcoming the limitations that novice terrorists encounter, of not being able to perpetrate actual violence. 

Third, the danger of falling between the cracks: Ability of the security and intelligence agencies to track the jihadist activity on the web has perceptibly increased. Regular arrests of (potential) terrorists, in various stages of inflicting violence across the country, have been reported. The counter-terrorism (CT) cooperation with the major countries, including the US resulting in the sharing of intelligence has further enhanced the capacities of Indian agencies. This possibly could have led to a Jihadist strategy to exploit the cracks that exists in between the centre and the states, by establishing multi-state networks.   

Fourth, the Pakistan plus factor. The recent arrests have further vindicated India's position that Pakistan is indeed the epicentre of global terrorism. Using the web, non-state actors with varying degrees of nexus with state agencies, have been attempting to expand Jihad, beyond the known theatres such as Kashmir. However, given the fact that such mobilizations mostly take place on the web—on social media platforms or in the dark web, the CT efforts have to remain broad-ranging, multi-dimensional, and not necessarily focused on a single country.          

In perspective
Search for an enduring solution to the challenge of terrorism is oxymoronic. This has been the trend across the world where the Jihadists are engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with the CT agencies. Hence, these arrests are important in unravelling some of the intricacies of terrorist mobilization and psychology of the radicals, even while providing only transitory setbacks to jihadist aspirations. 

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