Islamic State Turns Attention to Kashmir

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 30 August 2021

Al-Naba 301, page ten, headline reads: “Abu Khattab al-Kashmiri — May God Accept Him”

The Islamic State’s weekly newsletter, Al-Naba, released its 301st issue on 26 August. Page ten has an obituary for an Indian jihadist named as Zahed Dass (Abu Khattab al-Kashmiri).

AL-NABA’S PROFILE OF ZAHED DASS

Dass was one of the “soldiers of the caliphate [who] in every place are still sacrificing their lives and shedding their blood cheaply in order to support Islam and restore its authority among the people, as was the case in the era of the Prophet, the Rashidun [Rightly-guided] Caliphs, and those who followed them in goodness.” For such people, says Al-Naba, “they do not care … in which land they are killed”, so long as they achieve this “loft purpose”. When “striving in the way of God Almighty and on the method of His Prophet”, the only desired outcomes are “victory or martyrdom”.

Dass joined the Islamic State (IS) in India (“Al-Hind”), following a cousin, according to Al-Naba, which—in a standard trope of the genre—says he was consistent in his doctrinal purity “from the beginning” and was “tireless” in his promotion of “monotheism”, which is to say IS’s version of Islam.

“On one occasion”, according to Al-Naba, apparently relaying a story from his “brothers”, Dass “pounced on a mushrikeen [polytheist, idolater, i.e. Hindu] and beat him, seizing his weapon, and withdrawing from the area, following the [example of the] Hadith of the Prophet”. Al-Naba goes on to say Dass was “keen on planning and carrying out operations by himself against the forces of the mushrikeen”.

It is claimed that Dass at one point attacked the Indian army in Bijbehara, in the Anantnag province of Kashmir, “killed three [soldiers] and sowed terror in their hearts”, before he “withdrew from the area safely”.

Another story Al-Naba recounts is that Dass was in a safehouse with two other “mujahideen” when they were surrounded by Indian troops, but he came out “like a lion and started shooting at them. Despite their numerical superiority, the kufr [infidels, unbelievers] fled, and he and his brothers were able to escape the siege safely”.

Dass “would always tell his brothers that he wanted to be killed attacking the infidels, not defending or repelling their attack”, Al-Naba says, and to this end he initiated a series of surprise attacks on Indian troops.

Wanted by the Indian security forces, the government “harassed his family to pressure him to surrender, but this did not weaken his resolve and did not prevent him from continuing the duty of jihad”. Undeterred from his “path”, Dass nonetheless had to leave Bijehara and move to the city of Srinagar, still within Kashmir.

In Sringar, Dass set about building a base for IS in Kashmir, using “his skills and knowledge of guerrilla warfare (baharb al-aysabat)”. Dass “taught his brothers” military tactics and methods of operational security. But Dass’ “mission did not stop there”: “he also arranged for them shelter, food, ammunition, and everything they needed.”

Dass was killed on 12 Dhu al-Hijjah 1441 [2 August 2020], according to Al-Naba, which describes Dass’ safehouse being surrounded by a large number of Indian troops, and Dass of course putting up a brave fight, killing and wounding a number of them, “until the moment he wished for came” and God granted him martyrdom.

ANALYSIS

As mentioned, most of the details in this biography are stereotypical of IS’s martyrdom notices. The real interest is what it says about IS’s areas of focus. While the Centre, in Iraq and Syria, continues to face the pressure of U.S.-led Coalition forces, particular air power, other wilayats or “provinces” of the caliphate have shown increased activity and power, notably West Africa, where IS has been assisted by Al-Qaeda’s setbacks, and Afghanistan, where IS is one of the major beneficiaries of the recent Taliban conquest of the country.

IS’s “Khorasan Province” (ISKP) in Afghanistan, long downplayed by the U.S. government and many analysts, has been biding its time, rebuilding out of sight, including forging overseas links. ISKP has been conducting intermittent “spectaculars” to ensure it is not forgotten and last week took global centre stage with the massacre at Kabul airport. The Taliban nor any of the other jihadists Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have mustered to occupy Afghanistan can control that country entirely, and in the governance gaps ISKP will find its room to move.

More than that, there are already signs of extensive ISKP infiltration of the Taliban, and IS has outright peeled away sections of the Haqqani Network element in the cities. With the Taliban’s decision to co-operate with the West in allowing the evacuation, IS has thrown down a challenge—emphasised in blood last Thursday—to the Taliban’s jihadist purity that will draw away many in the rank-and-file who cannot reconcile the ideology with the Taliban’s behaviour.

The Islamic State, in short, is well-placed to compete with the jihadists attached to the Pakistani ISI in Afghanistan, and this Al-Naba article is an indication IS intends to press that competition where it matters most to the ISI: in Kashmir.

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