New Delhi: A new video purportedly showing Indians fighting for the Islamic State terror group in Syria today triggered a frantic scrutiny process within the strategic establishment to verify its authenticity and prepare for its domestic and diplomatic fallout.
The video, posted online by a proxy media wing of the terror group, shows a group of bearded men bearing Kalashnikov rifles calling on Indians to leave their country and join a "jihad" against infidels. Later, the group also calls on others to join a "jihad" against the Syrian army.
According to the Indian Express, Fahad Tanvir Sheikh, a student of engineering from Thane (Maharashtra) who travelled to Syria in 2014, also features in the video as 'Abu Amr’ al-Hindi'.
“We will return,” Sheikh vows, “but with a sword in hand, to avenge the Babri Masjid, and the killings of Muslims in Kashmir, in Gujarat, and in Muzaffarnagar,” reported the Indian Express.
“To those in the Indian state who wish to understand our actions”, says an unidentified jihadist, “I say you have only three options: to accept Islam, to pay jizya, or to prepare to be slaughtered,” reported the English daily.
The private US-based SITE Intelligence Group said in a statement that the video appeared a part of a series of clips released in recent weeks by the IS on "foreign fighters in their ranks" to encourage others to join the group.
But till late evening, the ministry of external affairs here had made no official comment on the video, and Indian officials said they were still verifying whether those shown in the video were indeed Indians.
According to the government, no more than two dozen Indians have joined the IS fighting ranks in all, in Iraq and Syria. But at least another two dozen have been apprehended either in India before they could leave for West Asia, or in countries like Turkey, the UAE and even Syria.
The role of Indians involved with the IS is both politically and diplomatically sensitive for New Delhi.
Security agencies in India have in recent months adopted a traditional, hard-nosed anti-terror approach, in particular since the November 2015 Paris attacks carried out by men who had returned from Syria and Iraq after fighting for the IS.
But publicly, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Rajnath Singh have repeatedly tried to downplay any attraction the IS may have for Indian Muslims. "We must de-link terrorism from religion," Modi told a group of Sufi scholars in New Delhi in March.
Diplomatically, unlike the West, India has maintained ties with the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, and rejects the concept of "regime change" foisted from outside. It is also keen to avoid appearing to take sides in what is essentially a Shia-Sunni conflict.
Iran's rising profile in West Asia, especially after the nuclear deal it has struck with the West, is an important recruiting tool the IS uses to lure young Sunnis to join its ranks.