ISIS has set up shop in India

In November, I asked if ISIS was establishing itself in South Asia and suggested that we will face severe consequences if we ignore this “possibly game-changing threat.” Having just returned from almost a month in South Asia, I can say confidently that this is no longer a question:  ISIS is in South Asia, and it might already have set up shop in India.

My November piece focused on Bangladesh and a suspected ISIS headquarters in the capital of Dhaka.  In the short time since then, more evidence of an increasingly powerful ISIS there has emerged.  Its November claim taking credit for the murder of a Bangladeshi policeman is no longer in dispute.  More recently, ISIS has murdered a Hindu priest in Northern Bangladesh and takes credit for killing a Shiite in Southwestern Bangladesh.  Police dispute the claim, variously attributing the murder to “drug addicts” and “groups aligned with political parties that are in opposition to the current government.”  Statements by the Bangladeshi police should be suspect, however.  They are notoriously corrupt and openly beholden to political parties.  As the ruling Awami League and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed have a strong interest in maintaining the fiction that Bangladesh is a “moderate” country and that any threats to moderation come from their political rivals, the police denial is not unexpected.

On February 12, 2016, the US State Department issued a travel advisory, “alert[ing] U.S. citizens to the ongoing potential for extremist violence in Bangladesh…. Since September 2015, Bangladesh has experienced a series of increasingly sophisticated violent attacks. These include the murders of two foreign nationals, as well as bombs and other attacks against gatherings of religious groups and security forces. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) publicly claimed credit for many of these attacks.”  State never equivocated about ISIS/ISIL or doubted the ISIS presence, despite its penchant for mollifying local governments.

Pakistan is hardly worth a mention as the ISIS presence is so well-established that even the mainstream media acknowledged it over a year ago.

The most frightening development, however, is the opening of an ISIS center in Kolkata [formerly Calcutta], India.  During my time in that city, I was able to investigate the alleged center, map out entry points and security, and even snap some photos.  Moreover, I was able to walk from that office to the undisguised office the Islamist Jamaat e Islami in less than five minutes during a high traffic time of day.  While some questions remain, it is clear that we are seeing increased Islamist activity and cooperation in India.  The State of West Bengal (where Kolkata is located) has long been hospitable to radical Muslims; and whether under communist rule (1977-2011) or since, the state has refused to plug gaping holes in its border, allowed agents to smooth the illegals’ merger into West Bengal society, and has sat by idly while the process has led to marked demographic change in the state; as documented in my book, A Quiet Case of Ethnic Cleansing: the Murder of Bangladesh’s Hindus.

Officially, the region’s major intelligence agencies (India’s Research and Analysis Wing or RAW; Bangladesh’s Directorate General of Forces Intelligence or DGFI, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI, which the US lists as a terrorist group) deny any ISIS presence; however, those public denials do not comport with their private statements.

The danger is serious and growing.  South Asia has more than 4.5 times as many Muslims than the Middle East, which means a greater pool for radicalization.  It is easier for South Asians to enter the US, and it is almost automatic for them to enter the EU, gain citizenship, and take a plane here.  We have opportunities to stop it, especially by supporting the one regional ally as opposed to radical Islam as we are:  Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  He faces a host of domestic and regional challenges where we can help (job-creating joint ventures in the growing economy; backing for anti-terrorist actions in Kashmir; and more).  Unfortunately, Modi like Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, is not one of the Obama Administration’s favorites; and that window of opportunity is closing.