Despite minuscule numbers, the radical ideology propagated by the group is spreading fast, attracting educated youth.
Asif Nazir Dar, an engineering dropout, is remembered by locals and friends in Pulwama’s Panzgam area as a “polite and religious person who never participated in street protests”.
Dar was found dead on September 8 outside Srinagar’s Kashmir University campus.
Social media tussle
Soon messages on social media platforms affiliated to the Islamic State said he had been killed on the orders of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo.
However, a day later, another message was posted that Dar was killed by “Indian agencies.”
Confirming the latter post, a senior J&K police official said Dar was the tenth militant influenced by the Islamic State (IS) ideology to be killed in the past 10 months in the Valley.
The social media post showed him posing with a sophisticated weapon with the typical, black IS flag in the background.
The latest death also challenges the police narrative that the strength of IS-influenced cadre in Kashmir is in single digits, and was limited to the unfurling of black flags at the funerals of militants.
Dar alias Abu Anwar al-Kashmiri, according to the police, was the third amir (chief) of ISJK to be killed, after Eisa Fazli in March and Dawood Ahmad Sofi in June.
“Numberwise their presence is minuscule. But it is the radical ideology propagated by this group that is spreading fast. Their numbers are nothing in terms of Hizbul, who have organisational backing from Pakistan, but they are a serious challenge… There are around four-five active members and all of them are identified. They were involved in snatching weapons from policemen,” said a senior Home Ministry official.
The United Jihad Council has accused the group of “creating confusion” and warned it of “dire consequences”.
At his funeral, Dar was wrapped in a black flag with IS inscribed on it. He was a Bachelor of Technology student at Jammu when he disappeared in January 2017. He reappeared online holding a rifle.
Dar reflects the profile of most IS cadre killed or active in Kashmir at present — youth from well-educated and aspiring middle-class families, who avoid street protests but are known to discuss religious affairs. Dar’s father was an employee with the state-run BSNL; one of his brothers teaches at a government school while another is pursuing an MBA course.
According to officials, Fazli who was killed in March was associated with both Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Hizbul Mujahideen and then with Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen (TuM). TuM, which was active in the 90s when militancy was at its peak in the Valley, has bounced back in the past few months. Fazli, who enrolled for a B.Tech course at the Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University (BGSBU) in Rajouri in 2014, went missing on August 17 last year.
Later a video surfaced claiming he had joined Zakir Musa’s Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGuH), affiliated to the Al Qaeda. In May 2017, Musa a former Hizbul commander split from the organisation and pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda after he threatened “to decapitate and hang Hurriyat leaders” and warned against “calling Kashmir a political dispute but Islamic one”.
Sofi, who was killed in June, had posted a 14-minute video in December where he trashed Pakistan’s ISI and said the various terror outfits — Hizbul Mujahideen, LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) were its “proxies”. He went on to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the leader of IS.
Hurriyat under fire
“ISJK recruits are angry with the Hurriyat and the militant conglomerate United Jehad Council’s approach. They deem it too soft and are calling for a more hardline narrative and approach, in line with Sharia (Islamic jurisprudence),” a senior police officer told The Hindu.
On March 12, Mohammad Taufeeq alias Sultan Zabul al Hind, a resident of Hyderabad’s Khamam district, was killed in Anantnag along with two local militants of the ISJK. In April, Qamer Uz Zaman, a resident of Jamunamukh town in central Assam’s Hojai, was seen posing with a gun in pro-militant online accounts. He was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police this week.
On September 7, Delhi police arrested two Kashmiri men for allegedly collecting weapons for the ISJK.
Since October, 2017 Al Qaraar, an IS-backed social media channel is engaged in fierce competition the Al Qaeda to promote its propaganda through social media.
A senior Home Ministry official said Al Qaraar had some arrangement with Amaq, the official channel of the IS to air its messages on the latter’s platform.
In February, Al Qaraar claimed that IS carried out two attacks in the Valley. The first attack referred to an encounter in the Zakura area on the outskirts of Srinagar on November 17, where a J&K police Sub-Inspector was killed, a Special Police Officer was injured and an alleged militant Mugees Ahmed was gunned down. At the time, TuM had also claimed responsibility for the attack.
The second attack claimed by IS was on February 25 when Constable Farooq Ahmed Yatoo was killed by the group while he was guarding the residence of separatist leader Fazal Haq Qureshi in Soura, on the outskirts of Srinagar. That attack was also claimed by TuM and AGuH. (The Hindu)