Fortnightly Review & Analysis: Defence, National Security and Terrorism (Vol 2 Issue XII)

June 16 - 30, 2017

International Terrorism

Trump- Modi talks Focus on Terrorism Cooperation

In a growing strategic convergence between India and the US, the joint press statement released at the end of talks between US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi on June 26, 2017 in Washington DC, the two leaders stressed that terrorism as a global scourge, must be fought and terrorist safe havens rooted out in every part of the world. India and the US resolved to fight together ‘this grave challenge to humanity’. They committed to strengthen cooperation against terrorist threats from groups including Al-Qa’ida, ISIS, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, D-Company, and their affiliates.

PM Modi appreciated the US decision announced shortly before the joint press conference, designating Hizb-ul-Mujahideen leader Syed Saladuddin, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. The US called upon Pakistan to ensure that its territory was not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries and to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai, Pathankot, and other cross-border terrorist attacks perpetrated by Pakistan-based groups. The leaders also agreed to increased cooperation to prevent terrorist travel and to disrupt global recruitment efforts by expanding intelligence-sharing and operational-level counterterrorism cooperation. They welcomed commencement of the exchange of information on known and suspected terrorists for travel screening. They further resolved to strengthen information exchange on plans, movements and linkages of terrorist groups and their leaders, as well as on raising and moving of funds by terrorist groups.

In this constructive backdrop, India and the US engaged a consultation mechanism on domestic and international terrorist designations listing proposals. President Trump and Prime Minister Modi also affirmed their support for a UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism that will advance and strengthen the framework for global cooperation and reinforce the message that no cause or grievance justifies terrorism. Both the leaders highlighted their commitment to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems and deny access to such weapons by terrorists and non-state actors.

Developments in Anti-Daesh Operation

Mosul: The ongoing counter-terrorist operation against Daesh in Iraq is fast reaching the final stage with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), having recaptured Mosul is all set for the final clearance of Daesh fugitives. The ISF successfully seized the ruins of 850 years old Al-Noori mosque which was claimed to have been destroyed by the retreating Daesh militants on June 21, 2017. Despite resistance from Daesh militias, the ISF entered the old city and is now heading towards river Tigris, where the Daesh territory effectively ends. With the seizure of ruins of Al-Noori Mosque, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi declared ‘the end of Daesh state of falsehood’.

This development is seen as a major setback for Daesh, since retention of Mosul was the most important goal of Daesh in Iraq. It may be recalled that it was from Al-Noori Mosque that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had declared the establishment of the caliphate in 2014. Today, ISIL has lost much of the territory it overran in 2014. The offensive to retake Mosul, in northern Iraq, was launched eight months ago with air and ground support from a US-led international coalition.

Raqqa: In Syria, apart from the Russian intervention, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have encircled the city of Raqqa. After the fall of Mosul, success in Raqqa will be a significant gain in the fight against Daesh. On June 29, 2017, the US-backedArab-Kurd alliance sealed off the last escape route for Daesh fighters by capturing the southern bank of Euphrates. The alliance forces are aiming to trap nearly 2500 core militants of Daesh defending the area. More than 200 fatalities have been recorded from this region since the Alliance forces began its raids in Raqqa on June 06, 2017. Fall of the self-proclaimed capital of Daesh Al-Raqqa will be a major tactical success for US-led SDF.

However, the end of war in Mosul and Raqqa may not mean the end of Daesh. A fter losing the stronghold in Syria and withdrawal of its forces from the city of Deirez-Zor, Daesh militants have planted land mines, booby traps and explosives on the main and bypass roads in Deirez-Zor, to prevent the return of civilians who were trying to escape from Daesh controlled territories. Due to the presence of different players with their own agendas in anti-terror operations in Syria the situation in Syria is complex. For now the tension between the US and Russia over the scope of US and coalition airstrikes over Syria seem to have eased.

Terror Attack Foiled in Saudi Arabia on the Holy Day of Eid

Saudi Arabian security forces foiled an imminent attack on the Grand Mosque in Mecca on June 23, 2017 prior to the holy festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, when millions of worshippers across the world visit the Grand mosque for offering prayers. As per statement issued by the Interior Ministry of Saudi Arabia on June 24, 2017, three cells of terrorists had planned to attack worshippers and security forces at three locations, one in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah and the other two in Mecca. A suspect in the planned attack on the mosque blew himself up in a nearby neighborhood when security forces surrounded the house where the man was hiding. The suspect refused to comply with demands to surrender, opened fire on security forces and then killed himself, officials said. Six expatriates were injured and taken to a hospital, and five security personnel received minor injuries. The statement further claimed that the identity of the attacker was still being verified and confirmed the involvement of foreign militants.

Saudi Arabia has faced a string of terror attacks in recent years which has intensified since the twin attack of May 2015 killing nearly 25 people. Till date, no individual or group has claimed responsibility for the Saudi attacks. However, in the current circumstances of Daesh being under intense pressure in Iraq and Syria, it had called on its followers to launch attacks during Ramadan. Thus, the probable involvement of Daesh militants cannot be ruled out. The kingdom has been accused by many, including US President Donald Trump, of supporting terror. Parallels have also been drawn between Wahhabism, the ultraconservative form of Islam practiced in the kingdom and the ideology of Daesh. During his visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2017, US President Trump had called on regional powers to step up their fight against Islamic extremism.

Domestic Terrorism

Jammu and Kashmir

LeT commander Junaid Mattoo Killed in Kulgam

In a joint operation of the Army, Special Operations Group, and CRPF, Lashkar commander Junaid Mattoo along with Adil Mushtaq Mir Alias were killed on June 16, 2017in Arwani village in the south Kashmir. These terrorists were holed up inside a house in the village. As is the routine, when the encounter was in progress, villagers tried to break the cordon to help the terrorists to escape. Police and CRPF used bullets and pellets to disperse the protesters during which 22-year-old Mohammed Ashraf, a resident of Kharpora was hit in the abdomen and died. Nine other protesters were injured in the clashes.

On the same day (June 16), a group of nearly 10 militants ambushed a party of J&K Police at Thajwara village in Achbal in Anantnag district. In this incident the SHO of Achbal Police Station, 3 constables and two Special Police Officers were killed. The militants disfigured the faces of the six Policemen in the attack and also snatched 5 AK-47 rifles and ammunition from them. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) claimed responsibility for the attack. After this incident, in an intelligence-basedoperation, the Security Forces surrounded two houses in Arwani village where militants were hiding. In an intense gunbattle, security forces killed two militants whose bodies were recovered on theearly morning of June 17, 2017. Thus within 24 hours, 6 Policemen and two civilians were killed by militants on June 16-17. Nearly 12 people were injured in various parts of Kashmir during massive stone pelting clashes before and after Friday prayers on June 16, 2017. Hundreds of youths in Pampore area of Pulwama district took to streets and pelted stones on Police and the Army. Police resorted to pellet firing and intense teargas shelling to disperse the rock-throwing protests. Three persons sustained injuries during clashes at Pampore and were shifted to hospital. Same time, in Tral town of Pulwama district, a group of agitating youth resorted to stone pelting on Security forces and enforced shutdown against the killing of two youths. In Srinagar, clashes between youth and SFs broke out near Jama Masjid in Nowhatta area after theculmination of Friday prayers. Scores of youth resorted to heavy stone-pelting on Police and paramilitary personnel in the area while police responded by lobbing dozens of teargas shells.

NIA Builds Up Strong Case against Separatists and Stone Pelters

National Investigation Agency (NIA) confirmed in the last week of June 2017 that it was building a strong case against stone-pelters in the valley. The move comes after detailed technical investigation of groups creating unrest in the Kashmir valley. This marks an assertive policy adopted by both the Central and the state government against stone-pelters in Kashmir. Currently, the local police are largely focusing on detaining these stone-pelters and counseling them.

In its investigation into terror funding cases, the NIA has seized more than Rs 2 crore cash in new currency denominations, gold jewellery worth nearly Rs 40,00,000/-, a large number of property-related documents, letter heads of banned terrorist organisations such as the LeT and Hizbul Mujahideen, several pen drives, laptops, mobile phones and other incriminating documents, including phone diaries, kaccha receipts, vouchers from the financiers, hawala operators, and office-bearers of separatist groups. Bank accounts and lockers revealed during the course of the investigation have been sealed/frozen. The legal analysis strongly underscores the fact that such forensically established electronic evidence would be irrefutable in the court of law while prosecuting these cases and will act as a strong deterrent against anti-national elements operating in the valley.

Left Wing Extremism

Dantewada Encounter

An exchange of fire between the Left Wing Extremist cadre of Communist Party of India-Maoist and the District Reserve Guard (DRG), Special Task Force (STF) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), was reported at a forest patch in Dantewada district on June 16, 2017. The Maoists, however, fled from the spot and a 12 bore gun, an air gun, three pitthus (shoulder bag) and some daily use items were recovered from the spot.

More than 10 Maoists Killed in Encounter

In a press statement, Chattisgarh Police claimed that over 10 LWE cadres were killed in an encounter on June 25, 2017 in a coordinated action by the CRPF and Chattisgarh Police under operation Prahar, in the forest near Sukma District. This dense forest patch of Bade Kedwal and Todamarka is considered to be the home of Maoist military battalion one, led by wanted LWE leader MadviHidma. Military One battalion of LWE cadres operates in South Sukma and has been responsible for major attacks like the Dantewada attack of April 2010 in which 76 CRPF Jawans were killed. Such well-coordinated operation carried out by the CRPF with State Police is considered to be a major push by the government in this region.