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Knocking on South Asia’s door: ISIS’ presence in the region and challenges for counter-terrorism agencies

The Easter day bombings in Sri Lanka on April 21 that killed over 250 people and injured over 500 provide the evidence of the Islamic State expanding its footprints in South Asia. National Thowheeth Jama’ath, a Sri Lankan Jihadi group and ISIS affiliate, claimed responsibility for the attack that was meant to target the Christian community of the country.

This was not the first time that ISIS had claimed the responsibility for an attack in South Asia. Before Sri Lanka, Bangladesh also bore the brunt of the terrorist attack in 2016 when gunmen stormed the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe in Dhaka, killing 20 people, most of them foreigners. Later, the ISIS released pictures of five men, claiming that they carried out the attack.

The ISIS’s involvement in South Asia is not just limited to carrying out dastardly attacks, it is also attracting the youth in the region through its ideology. According to a 2018 report by Observer Research Foundation (ORF), the Indian investigating agencies like the NIA were probing above 100 cases related to the ISIS. The report also reveals that between 2014 and 2016, around 15 Indians managed to travel to West Asia or Afghanistan to join the ISIS. Besides this, the NIA has detained over 100 people, who were trying to leave India to join the global terrorist network.

According to Foreign Policy magazine, Maldives has also become a hotspot for pro-Islamic State activities with up to 450 of its citizens known to have joined the ISIS. On the other hand, the Islamic State has expanded its roots beyond the Middle East in Afghanistan and Pakistan through ISIS-Khorasan province (ISIS-KP). The ISIS-KP was established by former commanders of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan who pledged allegiance to ISIS. The ISIS-KP is reported to have approximately 2,000 fighters in Afghanistan.

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