Amid refusal by security agencies, ‘Islamic State’ grows in Kashmir

Srinagar: Post Arab Spring, dozens of copies of Dabiq – an online ISIS magazine tailored towards foreign recruits – were being downloaded in 2014 in Kashmir before American agencies could block it.

Mugees Ahmad Mir, then 22, of Parimpora locality in Srinagar was one of the dozens of youth in Kashmir who got access to Dabiq and other Jihadi literature, a senior police official said.

Before picking up arms in April 2016, Mir was working as an Over Ground Worker (OGW) with Hizbul Mujahideen. Mir came under the radar of the security forces after he allegedly hurled a grenade in Anantnag last year in which a policeman was killed, forcing him to join militants.

“Dabiq and other Jihadi material were being circulated in Kashmir after Arab Spring ended, resulting in the creation of Islamic State militant outfit. And Mugees was one of the first proponents of the ideology in Kashmir,” said a senior police official. He said the Jihadi literature changed the predominant nationalism and freedom narrative in Kashmir to making the valley part of a larger Islamic State.

Mir was killed on November 17 at Zakura locality in Srinagar in a brief gunfight, which also left a police sub-inspector dead and a policeman wounded.

SITE Intel Group, an online militant tracker site, has claimed that Islamic State-backed news agency Amaq took responsibility for the Zakura attack.

“Amaq Reports 1st IS Attack in Kashmir Valley with Killing of Police Officer in Srinagar,” SITE tweeted on Saturday.

However, Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen (TeM) – a Pakistan based militant outfit – also took responsibility for the attack and said Mir alias Umar Bin-e-Khatab was its district commander.

“After killing of Mugees, the forces draped his body with ISIS flag to defame the ongoing movement in Kashmir. New Delhi and its forces cannot suppress Kashmiris with its military might. Our struggle is only for freedom of Kashmir and we don’t have any international agenda,” the TeM spokesperson Abdul Haq said.

The motive of relating Kashmir movement with ISIS or Taliban is only to turn Kashmir into Afghanistan, the statement read.

“New Delhi won’t succeed in hoodwinking the peace-loving international community about Kashmir dispute. We cannot allow sellout of unflinching sacrifices of martyrs,” Haq said in the statement.

Even the Director General of Police S P Vaid didn’t confirm Mir’s links with the Islamic State. “No, it is yet to be verified and I don’t think ISIS has any imprints here,” Vaid said.

However, as the J&K government refuses to acknowledge the links of Kashmiri militants with Islamic State, police sources say the influence of Islamic State is “certainly growing in Kashmir”.

They say the current discourse of militancy is neither plebiscite nor conflict resolution of Kashmir.

“It is either about retribution from India or it is about global Jihad as these young boys think Islam is under threat of infidels,” he said.

The glimpses of Islamic State in Kashmir were seen in the funeral of Mir on November 18, where youth waved black flags, similar to the ones of the Islamic State. The body of Mir, who was also wearing a T-shirt with an Islamic flag on it at the time of death, was wrapped in a black flag before being laid to rest.

Amid agreements and disagreements over the presence of IS in Kashmir, a well-known militant outfit Ansar Gazwat-ul-Hind, an al-Qaeda offshoot in Kashmir, is openly challenging the Pakistan’s narrative in Kashmir.

“Our struggle is for implementation of Shariah. It is an Islamic struggle and not a political struggle,” the AGH commander, Zakir Musa has said.

Musa, who split from the Hizbul Mujahideen, says that militants in Kashmir are sacrificing their lives for the establishment of Islamic State and not for making the region a part of Pakistan.

Musa group comprises of only 10 militants including two foreigners, who are believed to be hiding in the forests of south Kashmir. However, police sources said Musa enjoys much more support as Jihadi ideology was attracting more youth in Kashmir. “Islamic State has a profound influence in Old City Srinagar, Batamaloo and several pockets of south Kashmir,” they said.

Senior separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik have also denied the links of Kashmir’s freedom struggle with Islamic State and said on May 9 that the Kashmir issue is political and the ongoing movement is indigenous and has nothing to do with organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. They blamed “Indian agencies for maligning the movement under a well-thought-out plan”.

Geelani, who had led funeral in absentia of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, said, “The groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda are nonexistent in the State and that there is no role for these groups within our movement. The agencies are hiring some sick-minded and Ikhwan-type goons who have been assigned the task of creating chaos in the state.”

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