Is the ISIS threat catching up to Sri Lanka?

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New Delhi, Feb 2: A module alleged to be run by ISIS fan boys in India was busted. This may be just a tip of the ice-berg, but how deep is the problem in India?

When one goes through the files prepared by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and other agencies, it becomes clear that while there is a pertinent threat in India, the bigger problem will be faced by our neighbours."

ISIS

Bangladesh probably is the worst hit in the current scenario. Pakistan is expecting the ISIS threat in a big way while in Afghanistan the group has already set shop.

What about Sri Lanka? In the recent months there has been an outreach attempted by the ISIS to reach out in this island nation. If one may recall there was news recently that two Sri Lankan nationals were found to be fighting in Syria and Iraq.

A Sri Lankan national identified as Mohamed Muhsin Sharfaz Nilam was killed while fighting in Raqqa, Syria, during a US-led coalition airstrike. A probe had been ordered in Sri Lanka.

Animesh Roul, Executive Director of Research at the New Delhi-based Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict (SSPC), says that looking at Nilam's life gives clues his possible radical orientations.

Nilam's journey:

In the Jamestown.org, Raul goes on to write that Nilam a resident of Warallagama of Kandy district, received an education in Shari'a law at Pakistan's International Islamic University before returning to Sri Lanka.

He afterwards became a visiting Urdu teacher in the capital's Colombo University before 2012, and later became principal of a school in Galewala, Kandy.

Besides Urdu and Islamic law, Nilam was known locally as a martial arts trainer as he gave karate lessons at various schools as an instructor in Maharagama, Kotahena and Kandy.

However, he left the Galewala school in 2014, reportedly informing the school administration that he would travel to Mecca with his family for pilgrimage in Jan 2015.

Nilam and his entire family of six children, and parents obtained tourist visas in December 2014 to visit Turkey.

Information given in Dabiq about Nilam claimed that he was in fact leading a party of 16 Sri Lankan nationals, including his family members, to perform hijrah (migration) not to Mecca but to the Islamic State's so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

Roul says that this case has initiated a debate in Sri Lanka about the possible inroads of the Islamic State into the country and whether its local supporters are now actively scouting potential foot soldiers.

The security establishment is at present apprehensive about two things -- the existence of Islamic State-linked jihadist networks in the country and that several other Sri Lankan nationals may also be fighting for the jihadist group in Iraq and Syria.

Moreover, social networking sites have many Sri Lankan nationals and groups who claim to be affiliated with jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, and are mostly linked with the Islamic State. For instance, a Facebook group named "Seylan Muslims in Shaam" (Sri Lankan Muslims in the Levant) urged Sri Lankan people, irrespective of Tamils or native Singhalese, to join the Jihad bandwagon.

Condemnation:

While the government of Sri Lanka investigates the growing stature of the Islamic State, several Muslim clerics' organizations, like All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU), have issued a joint statement denouncing the jihadists' violent agenda and naming it as a deviant organization. The statement also condemned all or any Lankan individuals associated with the the Islamic State.

Roul further states that not only are anti-Buddhist sentiments high among a section of Muslim populations in Sri Lanka, but alarmingly, the minority population is more vulnerable to increasing attempts by Salafist sectarian groups, such as Sri Lanka Thawheed Jamaat (SLTJ), which not only promotes sectarian discord within Islam, but also attempts to preach a rabid strain of Islam that largely despises the practices and existence of other Islamic sects like Shi'as and Ahmadiyas.

These many fast shifting situations in Sri Lanka would possibly provide an opportunity for transnational jihadist groups like the Islamic State, which has been attempting to spread its influence beyond its base in Iraq and Syria.

And most certainly, the group's propaganda machinery would attempt now to portray native fighters like Nilam in an Islamic and heroic light to create an atmosphere of sympathy and support for the caliphate within the Sri Lanka's Muslim minority population, Animesh Roul says.

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