Australian Connection

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There’s an emerging Australian connection in India’s war against terrorism. While some Indian youth are getting radicalized there while on study programmes, others are transiting Down Under to camouflage their journey to join the Islamic State in Syria. By PANKAJ PRASUN

Australia is not always about sun, sand, kangaroos and koala bears. There’s been a noticeable movement of its youth to jihadi theatres controlled by the Islamic State (IS). As many as 150 young Australians have travelled to Iraq/Syria to fight alongside the IS. Of these, around 30 have come back while 60 are still suspected to be there.

“Since many youth from Australia have reportedly joined ISIS, it is a serious matter of concern for us considering that many Indians are living in that country,” said an Indian intelligence official on condition of anonymity. It soon became clear that Australia was emerging as a transit point for Indian youth heading for Syria to join the Islamic State (IS). Whether the Australians knew or suspected is not clear, but a bilateral joint working group on terrorism has brought key players in that country on board.

The IB’s suspicions were confirmed in 2013 when Adil Fayaz Wada from J&K, who had gone to Australia to study for an MBA, joined the IS. It is suspected that he got in touch with certain radical groups during his stay in Australia, contacts that were perhaps facilitated by an NGO, Australian Street Dawa, which was promoting Islam in the country.

There’s the case of Haja Fakkrudeen Uslam Ali, a Singapore citizen of Indian origin, who travelled to Syria in November 2013 with his family, made contact with some Chechens, and returned. He turned up in Chennai later that year, met a professor of the Arabic language, and in Jan. 2014, left Chennai for Turkey with his family. He is presumably somewhere in Syria.

A journalist from Kerala is also reported to have joined the group recently. In all, there may be as many as 13 Indians, whether from India or residing in other countries, who have joined the IS. According to another assessment, six Indians are currently with IS in Iraq and Syria, with one in a combat role. Six have died while Kalyan youth Areeb Majeed, who was among the first lot to join the IS, has returned. Australia-based Wada and Uslam from Singapore are also among those who are still with the IS.

Back home, intelligence agencies have been able to stop more than 25 Indian youth from leaving the country to join the IS. Of them 17 belonged to Telangana and the others were from Maharashtra. While the domestic ramifications are something India has to contend with, the Australian connection with terrorism figured in talks between India and the visiting Australian Defence Minister Kevin Andrews.

“This is a growing threat that all countries are facing. India is facing it as well as Australia,” he acknowledged, underscoring the threat to Australia from fighters returning from Iraq and Syria. He also warned of the growing threat of online radicalization, an issue he discussed with AK Doval, National Security Adviser. “Youngsters who get radicalized online through computers while sitting in their bedrooms will not necessarily belong to any group.”

Officials of the two countries have worked out plans for enhanced cooperation on counter-terrorism, including real-time sharing of intelligence between the IB and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS).

India also flagged its concerns about the activities of a section of the Sikh community in Australia, notably their backing of extremist groups like the Sikh Students Federation and the Khalistan Liberation Force. It was pointed out that this group was lobbying the Australian government to categorize as genocide, the 1984 killings of Sikhs following Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

Australia has its concerns too, notably Sri Lankan Tamils being smuggled there from India. In this case, India is probably the transit point. One could say the Indian angle here is probably not so dangerous given that the LTTE no longer exists. But the IS is a clear and present danger when looked at from its ability to radicalize (at long range) and draw converts to its cause. The Australian connection may be only one of many new emerging connections.

The Australian connection with terrorism figured in talks between India and the visiting Australian Defence Minister

Kevin Andrews

Summary

  • In recent years, the Intelligence Bureau has spotted an Australian connection involving the Islamic State and Indian youth
  • Indians studying in Australia have been radicalized there and some have used that country as a transit point to Syria and the IS
  • Indian and Australian security and intelligence experts are now sharing information and exchanging ideas
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