Fortnightly Review & Analysis – Defense, National Security and Terrorism (Vol 1 Issue III)

(July 16-31, 2016)


Priest Hacked to Death in Normandy, France

France continued to be haunted by terror-related activities throughout the month of July. Even before the country could get over with the mourning of the attack in Nice, an 85-year-old priest, Jacques Hamel, was murdered during mass in a church in Normandy. This gruesome act was carried out by two “terrorists” who reportedly belonged to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They not only killed the priest but also took hostages, including two nuns, before they were shot dead by the police. ISIS considered them as their “soldiers” and the attack was “in response to the call to target Crusader coalition states”. Police identified attackers—Abdel-Malik and Adel Kermiche—both 19-year-old. This was the first time the West Asia-origin terror outfit conducted such an attack on a church in Europe, and it even considered the assault “as an act of religious war between Muslims and Christians”. The attack on such religious establishments in France is, indeed, a very sensitive issue, as the country’s history is closely associated with “Catholics”. This also meant that terrorists could strike against the “identity” of France. The repetitive attacks exposed the vulnerability as the country already faced three major attacks in the last 19 months. The act of these two perpetrators also brought to the fore the serious phenomenon of radicalisation in the European society, which, in turn, goes in favour of ISIS. Alongside stepping up its military-intelligence gathering, the country needs to adopt certain measures to prevent the rise of home-grown extremists.

ISIS-linked Activity in Southeast Asia

With its tendency to expand influence and operation abroad, ISIS-linked operatives, supporters and sympathisers gradually increased their activities in a few Southeast Asian countries. This is very timely for this terror outfit when its Caliphate in Syria and Iraq are currently facing offensive military campaigns from the regional and international coalition forces. In order to spread its propaganda and recruit more fighters, ISIS launched its newspaper called Fatihim or Conquerors in Arabic. While this was launched on 20 June during the holy month of Ramadan, the paper received a widespread attention a few weeks later. With Malay as its language, the newspaper is bringing information and latest updates from Iraq and Syria. As it is, Malay speaking fighters from Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia are fighting in Syria in the mentioned West Asian countries under the banner of a brigade called Katibah Nusantara. The release of this newspaper goes well with the strategy of ISIS of using vernaculars in different regions for recruiting purposes. As an establishment of a Southeast Asian caliphate has been enviosioned by outfits like Jemaah Islamiyah, further inroads by ISIS-connected elements would become a major concern for the region.

ISIS Threats and the Rio Olympics 2016

A couple of months ago, concerns were raised about possible attacks during Rio Olympics 2016 by ISIS militants. Brazil’s anti-terror chief said that there is a “credible threat” to the country and as a result, preventive measures have started to be taken up. Amidst this, on 21 July, 130 Brazilian police personnel arrested 10 people who allegedly pledged allegiance to ISIS. Reportedly, they were planning “terror acts” during the upcoming world event. Even in this distant country, these arrestees were believed to have been radicalised through social media forums. This was also believed to be case of ISIS-inspired activity. No specific targets were mentioned but the ongoing investigation should be able to discover more details in this regard. However, military-security experts, so far, have ruled out a major threat in the country from ISIS, and some suggested “these arrests may not be indicative of a looming danger of terrorism”. Considering the ever expanding network of this group, the country’s security establishments should be ready for any untoward eventuality. The beginning of coordination between Brazil’s government and American law enforcement and intelligence services is timely.

Terrorism in Bangladesh

During the month of July, Bangladesh witnessed a couple of terror activities. After the gruesome and ill-fated café massacre on 1 July, Bangladesh police killed nine militants on 26 July who were believed to be preparing another attack in the country. These terrorists were reportedly belonged to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a group which has pledged allegiance to ISIS. Going by the available information, “They were wearing black outfits, turbans and had backpacks …similar to the outfits the attackers in the cafe had”. Notwithstanding the activities of the local or home-grown terror outfits, it is very likely that Bangladesh is no longer immune to that form of terrorism which has become transnational in nature. In the light of this, the widely-discussed penetration of ISIS into the country should not be ignored and denied by the government anymore. As expressed in one of their propaganda videos, ISIS said, “The Dhaka cafe attack was just a glimpse of what was to come.” Such messages need to be taken with a bit of seriousness. Meanwhile, on 28 July, a Bangladesh court upheld the death sentence for six militants (of JMB) who were involved in a suicide bombing in 2005 which killed eight people and injured 80 people. Despite the crackdown on JMB militants, the group is regaining its confidence and it has been recruiting impressionable young and educated people into the organisation. The phenomenon of radicalisation is becoming rampant in the country. As terrorism is a common threat to Bangladesh and India, both the countries decided to step up their counterterrorism cooperation during a recently-held meeting between the home ministers in Delhi on 28 July. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was also signed between “to amend the extradition treaty to make it more effective”. These two countries agreed not only to fight terror collectively but also to combat “organised crime and illicit drug trafficking”.

National Security

UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Meeting on Foreign Terrorist Fighters

At the meeting of UN Counter-Terrorism Committee on foreign terrorist fighters on July 22nd, 2016, India’s Counsellor at the Permanent Mission to the UN Abhishek Singh, strongly reiterated India’s commitment to the policy of ‘zero tolerance’ towards terrorism. Referring to the several measures initiated by the UN, he stressed the need to address the threat of international terrorism more effectively, adding that "The issue, however, is less of technical fine-tuning and more of mobilising a collective political will that reflects the oft-quoted 'zero tolerance' to terrorism and gives full implementation to even the measures envisaged under such frameworks,". India expressed its anguish about the delay in finalizing a comprehensive anti-terror mechanism by the UN that reflected continuing lack of agreement to finalise a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism that would send a strong message of a united international community. He added that the functioning of the Sanctions Committees indicate ‘very short term narrow priorities on part of some’. “It is now being increasingly recognised that this is a challenge that concerns us all and that no country is immune to this threat. Foreign Terrorist Fighters from almost 100 countries are believed to be mobilised by ISIL. While there have been isolated instances of effective international cooperation involving a few or a group of countries, a much larger scale of collective effort is necessary." Mr Singh further asserted that the "non-local" nature of terrorism, as reflected most clearly in the growing phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters, means that no single country, acting alone, has the capacity to deal with this problem effectively. Previously, India had slammed the UN sanctions committee for taking a "selective approach" in tackling terrorism when a technical hold was put on its application to include the name of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar on the committee's list of designated terrorists.

11th Inter-State Council Meeting Discusses National Security

Chairing the 11th meeting of the Inter-State Council (ISC) on July 13th, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi observed that the nation can only progress if the State and the Centre ‘work shoulder to shoulder’ especially, in the context of internal security. The Prime Minister added that the internal security mechanism cannot be strengthened if intelligence exchange within states is not improved. He urged all states to focus on intelligence –sharing in order to maintain a proactive upper hand against any anti national activity. This is the first time the meeting was organized after 2006.

One Pak Terrorist Caught and 4 Killed in Kupwara

In an intense counter terrorism operation at Kupwara near LoC (J&K) on July 26, the Army killed four Pak militants and one terrorist is caught alive. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju, confirmed the capture of and said, “We have got one of them alive and expect some vital information from him,".

Maharashtra ATS Arrests Suspected ISIS youth

Maharashtra ATS, on July 22nd, 2016, in a joint operation with Kerala police, arrested an ISIS suspect identified as Rizwan Khan in Kalyan, Thane District. Rizwan Khan was wanted in Kerala in connection with a case on conversion issues. Rizwan was also suspected to be responsible for recruiting youths to ISIS. Earlier, on July 21st, Maharashtra ATS and Kerala Police nabbed one Arshi Qureshi for his alleged links with ISIS in connection with the case of 21 youths from Kerala reportedly missing and suspected to have joined the ISIS.
In another incident, Maharasthra ATS on July 23rd arrested a 24 year engineer Shahed Khan from district Parbhani of Marathwada region of the state also for his alleged links with ISIS. The arrest led to the seizure of 1.5 KG remotely operated Improvised Explosive Device (IED) along with other explosive material like mix of matchstick powder, Sulphur, Charcoal, Urea and Potassium Nitrate with shrapnel embedded in it. This making of IED is similar to that prepared by the Hardwar module of the IS accused during the Ardh Kumbha Mela. It is second such arrest from Parbhani. Prior to this on June 14th ATS had arrested 31 year old Naser Bin Yafai Chaus, who too was in touch with IS handler Farooque in Syria. Chaus was asked by his handler to stay in India and plan an attack. During interrogation they revealed that they were planning blasts in rural Maharashtra and in cities like Nanded, Aurangabad and Hyderabad during Ramzan period.

India-US Counter-terrorism Joint Working Group meeting at Washington

Adding strategic depth to the India-US strategic relationship, the officials of both the countries met on July 28th, 2016 for the 14th India-US Counter-terrorism Joint Working Group Meet in Washington. The Statement issued by Department of the States says that, "The United States looks forward to continued counter terrorism exchanges with India to broaden and deepen the partnership between the two countries". The US delegation was led by the acting coordinator for counter-terrorism Justin Siberell and the Indian delegation was led by Additional Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs Ravi Thapar. "The US-India counter-terrorism Joint Working Group is a regularly planned policy consultation designed to advance our common agenda and opportunities for cooperation across the full range of counter terrorism issues". In the topics like regional terrorist threats, information sharing, border security, and efforts to counter violent extremism were discussed in great detail.

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