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Kashmir: Killing of Telangana Militant Revives Talk of IS, Al Qaeda in Kashmir

Saturday 17 March 2018, by siawi3

Source: https://thewire.in/states/telangana-militant-killing-revives-talk-of-is-al-qaeda-kashmir

Killing of Telangana Militant Revives Talk of IS, Al Qaeda in Kashmir

Taufeeq is the first person from ’mainland India’ to join the militancy in Kashmir and be killed in 10 years.

Photo: For some analysts, the latest incident is an indicator of the creeping presence of the Islamic State in Kashmir, while for others it is a reflection of the faction-prone dynamics of the militancy today. Credit: Reuters/Amit Gupta

Mudasir Ahmad

March 16, 2018

Srinagar: Four days after one of the three militants killed in a shootout in Haura village of Anantnag district turned out to be from Telangana, security forces are still trying to make sense of the meaning and implications of this development.

For some analysts, the latest incident is an indicator of the creeping presence of the Islamic State in Kashmir, while for others it is a reflection of the faction-prone dynamics of the militancy today.

Soon after the pre-dawn encounter on March 12, the Jammu and Kashmir police identified two of the dead men as local militants, Muhammad Ehsan Fazili and Syed Owais. Though the the Ansar Ghazwatul Hind – an extremist outfit operating in Kashmir with links to Al Qaeda – announced that the third militant was from Hyderabad in south India, it was only on the evening of March 14 that the police identified him as Muhammad Taufeeq from Telangana.

Taufeeq is the first person from ‘mainland India’ to join the militancy in Kashmir and be killed in 10 years. In 2008, two men from Kerala who joined the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, were killed by the security forces in Kupwara.

Who was Taufeeq?

There are sketchy details about the 26-year old youth from the Manuguru area of Telangana. A press note from the Telangana police, released by J&K director general of police, S.P. Vaid, claimed that Toufeeq was radicalised into the Islamic State (IS) ideology through social media and had gone to Kashmir to join the militancy.

“He was not wanted in any of the criminal cases in Telengana state. Further details are being verified…,” reads the note tweeted by the DGP.

During the past few years, some youth from southern states have been reportedly recruited into IS in Syria and other Middle East countries. However Taufeeq was the first youth, “influenced by IS ideology” from mainland India to enter Kashmir at a time when the region has been witnessing sporadic pro IS and Al Qaeda protests and slogans during militants’ funerals.

According to a senior police official, Toufeeq left home towards the end of last year to join Ansar ul Gazwat ul Hind in Jammu and Kashmir. The outfit is headed by Zakir Musa who last year rebelled against indigenous militant outfit Hizbul Mujahedeen and was subsequently named as head of the Al Qaeda unit in the Valley.

A day after the Hakura encounter, Al-Qaeda, in a statement in Al-Nasr, news bulletin of Ansar ul Gazwat ul Hind, said Taufeeq was among the first in the ranks of its unit in Kashmir.

“Responding to the call of shariat or shahadat (martyrdom), Mohammad Taufeeq started his jihadi journey in 2017 after making hijrah (migration) from India’s Hyderabad city to the mountains of Kashmir and was among the first in the ranks of Ansar Ghazwatul Hind,” the statement said. Gazwat, however, didn’t own the two local militants Fazili of Soura and Ovais of Vailoo-Kokernag.

Talking to The Wire, the DGP Vaid said Telangana police had two years ago got a whiff of Taufeeq’s inclinations towards the radical group. “That time he was counselled…but he was again drawn into this radicalised world due to social media and two months ago he suddenly went missing from his home,” said Vaid.

The immediate worry for the police is how Taufeeq came in contact with militants in Kashmir from his home state, thousands of miles away, and how he travelled to the Valley unnoticed.

“That is being investigated,” said the DGP, though he insisted that Taufeeq’s flight to Kashmir should be looked at as an “abberation”.

In October 2008 two militants were killed in two separate encounters with the security forces at Dever Mirgi and Lolab respectively. Later the police had identified them as Abdur Rahim from Malappuram and Muhammad Fayaz from Kannur.

Talk of IS, Al-Qaeda in Kashmir

While Telangana police confirmed that Toufeeq was an IS recruit, the 22-year old Fazili is believed to be IS’s first recruit in the Valley. A resident of Soura on Srinagar outskirts, he was a B.Tech student at Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah (BGSB) University in Rajouri before he joined militant ranks in August 2017.

“He first operated as Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen’s (TeM) district commander for Srinagar but then there were news reports that he had joined IS,” said the police official, adding there were also some reports that he was initially close to Musa but fell apart after Musa announced association with Al Qaeda linked cell in Kashmir.

The police had however said Fazili was “involved” in the attack on a police guard post at Soura on February 25, in which one police constable was killed.

The IS owned the attack the next day through its news agency Amaq. “Assassinated a policeman in Srinagar in Kashmir yesterday,” it had said.

On the day of the killings, the TeM, in a statement carried by a local media, had said Fazili was the organization’s district commander. It had identified 22-year old Owais who was also a B.Tech student from Rajouri University as an affiliate of the Hizbul Mujahedeen. Both Fazili and Owais were close friends and Owais too had joined the militancy in August last year.

During the past seven months Fazili released several videos in which he said he was fighting for establishment of an Islamic caliphate and not a nation state. However, unlike Musa, he never opposed the policies of Pakistan and the Hurriyat.

Talking to The Wire, DGP Vaid said there was no concrete evidence of the IS presence in Kashmir but acknowledged that there could be individuals influenced by the outfit’s ideology. “We are investigating the claims,” the DGP said.

But the Soura attack, owned by the IS, and involving Fazili wasn’t the first of its kind claimed by the global outfit. In November 2017, the IS claimed responsibility for the Zakura attack in Srinagar that left a sub-inspector dead and a cop injured, through its news agency Amaq.

A militant, Mugees Ahmad Mir from the summer capital who was reported to be close to Eisa, was also killed in the attack. However the TeM had also owned the attack and said Mir was the outfit’s district commander.

While the latest militant killings, including the one from Telangana, have again led to talk about the presence and role of IS and Al Qaeda in the Valley, another police official said the “support for IS was only confined to Srinagar city” and most of the militants who had shown allegiance with the outfit were “basically recruits of Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen”.

“With the death of Fazili and his associate (Owais) and earlier Mugees, the group is now left with Dawood Khalid from Srinagar,” said the police official wishing not to be named.

However, the Musa-led Al Qaeda unit, according to the official, has eight to 10 militants operating in Kashmir and all of them come from south Kashmir’s Awantipora area and Tral, the native town of Musa and slain Hizb commander Burhan Wani.

Soon after taking over as chief of the Hizb in Kashmir in the wake of the killing of Wani, Musa had parted ways with the outfit in May last year following differences over his rebellion against Hurriyat leaders. He had termed the separatist leadership as “thorns” in the struggle for imposition of Shariah.

“Most of the militants who are rallying behind Musa had rebelled against the Hizb, barring a few fresh recruits,” said the official, asserting that the outfit hasn’t carried out any attack on the security forces since its formation.