Islamic State-Inspired Extremist Threat Looms Large in India

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 17 Issue: 3


Despite massive territorial losses and military setbacks in the Middle East, the violent ideals espoused by Islamic State (IS) remain resilient and seem to be resonating in the hearts and minds of a section of inspired Indian Muslims. After a brief lull in IS-inspired or directed events in the country, Indian security agencies have unearthed multiple covert pro-IS networks, foiling conspiracies to carry out terrorist attacks targeting vital and sensitive installations and sites in and around the national capital, New Delhi, and places in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra States.

In late December 2018, the National Investigation Agency (NIA)—India’s elite anti-terrorism agency—conducted a major joint operation with Delhi and Uttar Pradesh police to crack down on pro-IS activities in the country. During the operation, authorities arrested at least 10 people belonging to an IS-inspired group called Harkat-ul-Harb-e-Islam (HuHI). The ring leader of the HuHI was identified as Muhammed Suhail (a.k.a. Hazrath), a native of Amroha city in Uttar Pradesh where he is engaged as a mufti (Islamic jurist) in a madrasa located at Hakim Mahtab Uddin Hashmi Road (, December 26, 2018).

Other members of HuHI were identified as Anas Yunus, Rashid Zafar Raq, Raees Ahmad and Zubair Malik. Further investigation of the case is still ongoing in order to unearth the extent of this IS-inspired terrorism conspiracy in the country.

The initial investigations by NIA indicated that Muhammed Suhail—who lives near Delhi—along with his associates from nearby towns mobilized funds and logistics to carry out bombings and suicide attacks at places of importance in and around the national capital. [1] Police have seized large quantities of explosive materials (Potassium Nitrate, Ammonium Nitrate, Sulphur, etc.), arms and ammunition, including one locally made rocket/grenade launcher; and IS literature while carrying out search and sweep operations in Jaffrabad and Seelampur, Delhi, as well as in Amroha, Lucknow, Hapur, and Meerut, Uttar Pradesh (United News of India, December 26, 2018).

Almost a month after a cell in Amroha was exposed, the NIA and Maharashtra police discovered another IS-inspired cell operating under the banner of Ummat-e-Mohammadiya (UeM) on January 22. The UeM’s networks, which spanned from Thane to Aurangabad in Maharashtra, have been involved in plotting terror attacks across India. Investigations into the case revealed that the group has devised new tactics to poison food and water sources at religious gatherings and to provoke communal violence. There has been suspicion that the UeM’s chemical attack plot would be targeting the Kumbh Mela gatherings (Hindu pilgrimage) in Uttar Pradesh or water pipelines in Mumbai. However, the investigating agencies have yet to verify these theories.

In a similar IS-related development in November 2017, Kerala police issued an alert to the Thrissur railway station about possible poisoning of Sabarimala Temple pilgrims by Islamic State terrorists. The alert was based on a Malayalam language audio clip from the IS operative Rashid Abdullah, the leader of the Kasaragod IS cell who had left to join Islamic State in Afghanistan (Hindustan Times, March 12, 2017). Rashid purportedly called for war against India and lone-wolf terror attacks on crowds thronging Hindu religious events like the Kumbh Mela and Thrissur festivals (Outlook India, November 27, 2017).

According to senior police official Mohan Dahikar, the UeM members are well educated (engineers and pharmacists) and are in touch with an unidentified Islamic State operative based out of India (Times Now News, January 23). The arrested members of the IS-inspired UeM group are Salman Khan, Fahad Shah, Zamen Kutepadi, Mohammad Mazhar Shaikh among others. The police suspected that Mohseen Khan, the elder of three brothers involved in UeM, was perhaps in touch with a propaganda cell of IS. There have also been media reports linking the arrested individuals to the Popular Front of India (PFI) in Kerala (The Hindu, January 23).

Reports have recently alleged that the Popular Front of India (PFI)—a radical Islamic organization involved in proselytizing and illegal financing—is connected with IS, as several members have travelled to Syria and Afghanistan to join the group (India Today, November 2, 2017). Last December, the Kerala police confirmed at least ten people from the southern state had joined the Islamic State-Khurasan (IS-K) in Afghanistan and some were former PFI members (, December 14, 2018). While the investigations into these IS-inspired cases are ongoing, those arrested have been charged under various sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Indian Penal Code’s Section dealing with criminal conspiracy against the State.

In Maharashtra state, the UeM is the second IS-inspired organization intercepted by the security agencies. In January 2016, the Anti-terrorism squad of Maharashtra police and NIA busted the Junood-e-Khalifa-e-Hind (JeKH) group with the arrest of 15 operatives across the country. The JeKH—which was organized by IS recruiter and fugitive member of the Indian Mujahideen terrorist group, Shafi Armar—had managed to expand its activities mostly in the southwestern states of Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Armar, who was also the online handler for IS, was involved in radicalizing Muslim youths in India from his hideouts in Syria. He even appointed several of JeKH’s core operatives, such as Mudabbir Sheikh from Mumbra, Maharashtra as emir-e-hind (chief) of JeKH’s India operation, Rizwan as deputy chief, and Najmal Huda as operations commander (Times of India, February 9, 2016).

For the first time, in May 2016, a video message from the Islamic State featuring its Indian brigade purportedly located in the ‘Homs’ province (Wilāyat Ḥimṣ) titled “The Bilad al-Hind (Land of India): Between Pain and Hope” called Indian Muslims to travel to Syria (hijra) and join IS. [2] The message apparently threatened to wage jihad against India and to take revenge for the atrocities against Indian Muslims in Kashmir, the demolition of Babri Masjid, and for the communal riots in Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar. The video message was aimed at recruiting more Indian fighters and promoting how those in the Caliphate (Syria and Iraq) live in peace and harmony while fighting for the cause of Allah (DNA India, May 21, 2016; The Hindu, May 24, 2016).

In comparison to other countries where hundreds or thousands of individuals have flocked to IS-controlled territories, India has far fewer militants fighting with Islamic State and does not currently face a significant threat from the group or its returning fighters. However, since mid-2014, Indian security agencies have been intercepting, arresting, and counseling several IS sympathizers, supporters, and operatives in the country. According to a former director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), only about 108 Indian Muslims have joined IS and half of them were from the Indian diaspora communities in Middle Eastern countries (Times of India, December 7, 2018). Another important dataset, compiled largely from open sources by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, depicted a detailed breakdown of IS sympathizers and operatives who have either been arrested or traveled to Syria and Iraq. It estimated a total of 261 people have demonstratively sympathized or been inspired by IS’ ideology through 2018. Among them, 88 have traveled to IS strongholds in the Middle East and Afghanistan and 25 have been killed while fighting there (, December 31, 2018).

Although India does not face a significant foreign fighter threat, the fact that IS’ outreach efforts continue to have ideological traction within India is worrisome. The IS brand has certainly been inspiring both existing and dormant Islamists, mostly those affiliated with the defunct Indian Mujahideen or banned Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and including a section of radicalized individuals. India’s elite anti-terrorism agencies may have thwarted the plots of IS-inspired Islamists from HuHI or UeM, but India still has countless subdued militant groups that are likely waiting to rear their heads at any opportune moment while taking inspiration from transnational jihadist groups like IS.


[1] “NIA crackdown on ISIS cell ‘Harkat-ul- Harb-e-Islam’ NIA Press Release, December 26, 2018,

[2] New video message from The Islamic State: “The Land of India: Between Pain and Hope – Wilāyat Ḥimṣ”,, May 19, 2016,