The Islamic State Is Now Trying to Convince India's Muslims to Come Join the Caliphate

The Islamic State has released a video that references riots in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state that killed hundreds of Muslims in 2002.
May 22, 2016, 3:00pm
Kashmiri Muslim protesters hold the Islamic State's flag during a protest in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir in 2015. (Photo by Farooq Khan/EPA)

In an attempt to appeal to India's Muslim minority, the Islamic State (IS) has released a video that says the group's fighters are planning to avenge the deaths of hundreds of Muslims who were killed during riots in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat in 2002.

India is home to more than 170 million Muslims, but the IS's messaging hasn't had the same pull in the Hindu-majority nation as it has in Russia and parts of Europe. As of November 2015, according to the Soufan Group, just 23 Indians had left to fight for the Islamic State in Syria or Iraq. That estimate is unconfirmed, however, and the actual number may be higher.

In the video, which surfaced on Thursday, IS fighters mock Muslims who live in harmony with Hindus, and urge them to travel to the militant group's self-proclaimed "caliphate."

"In this land you get to have hatred for the kuffar," an Indian fighter, who is identified as Abu Salman al-Hindi said, using a derogatory term for nonbelievers. "In this land, you get to perform jihad... In this land, your religion is safe. In this land, Allah's law is the highest. In this land you have nothing that stops you from doing good deeds, from doing da'wah, from preaching Islam. In this land your life, your honor, your property is protected."

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Another fighter in the video says IS will come to India to liberate Muslims and avenge the violence of the 2002 riots. More than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed in Gujarat during three days of rioting, which occurred while Modi was serving as the state's chief minister. Modi was accused of not doing enough to stop the bloodshed, but an investigation ordered by India's Supreme Court later found no wrongdoing on his part.

Martha Nussbaum, an American political scientist and philosopher, has written that the riots were "ethnic cleansing," "premeditated," and "carried out with the complicity of the state government and officers of the law." The riots followed an incident where 59 people, including many Hindu pilgrims, were killed after a train they were traveling in caught fire. Modi called the fire an act of terrorism, and some blamed Pakistan's intelligence agency and local Muslims, which fueled the ensuing violence.

The IS video also vowed to avenge the destruction of a mosque by Hindu fanatics in 1992, and reclaim the disputed Kashmir region along the border with Pakistan.

"We will come back, with the sword, to free you, to avenge Babri mosque, Gujarat, Kashmir," the fighter said in the video.

Related: Christians and Muslims Face More Persecution by Hindu Extremists in India, Groups Say

In a manifesto last year titled "Black Flags from the Islamic State," the militant group vowed to expand beyond Iraq and Syria into India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, among other countries.

The group also urged Indian Muslims to wage jihad against their own government, currently led by Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

India has been hit by Islamist attacks in the past. In 2008, a militant group based in Pakistan carried out coordinated bombing and shooting attacks in Mumbai that lasted four days and killed 166 people.

Last month, India Today reported that IS fighters were plotting "guerilla attacks" in India with assistance from terror groups in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Indian officials have credited the country's strong secular democracy with curbing IS's appeal in the country, but the government has taken steps to curtail its reach, such as blocking dozens of websites — including Vimeo and Daily Motion — for hosting pro-IS content or propaganda.

Related: Nationalism and Dissent: A Battle Over Free Speech Is Raging in India

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