Investigators in Indian-administered Kashmir have identified a fringe group they claim is responsible for bringing Islamic State flags into the funerals of suspected militants and anti-India demonstrations, a police leader said Tuesday.
The unnamed group is striving to establish an Islamic caliphate in Kashmir and is led by Zakir Rashid Bhat, alias Zakir Musa, a former leader of Kashmir’s oldest separatist faction, Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), Inspector General of Police Munir Khan told BenarNews.
In July, Musa, 24, was named the head of Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, a recently established wing of al-Qaeda in Indian Kashmir. However, Khan did not confirm whether Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind was behind the recent trend of draping bodies of slain militants in IS flags – a break from the decades-old tradition of wrapping them in Pakistani flags.
“It is the handwork of a fringe militant group and is aimed at creating a false sensation about the presence of IS in Kashmir,” Khan said.
“We have arrested more than 20 supporters of Musa who were involved in raising IS flags and making pro-al-Qaeda slogans in Srinagar recently. During interrogation they revealed they were over ground workers for this unnamed outfit,” Khan said, while insisting there was no presence of the Middle East-based terror outfit in Indian Kashmir.
Black IS flags were laid on the bodies of at least three suspected militants – HM’s Sajad Gilkar and Yawar Ahmad, and Jaish-e-Muhammad’s Mukhtar Ahmad Lone – gunned down by security forces over the past few weeks, police said.
Musa quit HM in May after he publicly threatened to kill separatists opposed to the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in Muslim-majority Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan and has grappled with a separatist insurgency on its Indian side that has killed 70,000 since the late 1980s.
Police: handful of IS supporters
“We have tightened the noose around these Musa supporters who are behind the raising of IS flags in the region. We have arrested some and gunned down at least five. Musa has the backing of only a handful of supporters who subscribe to the IS ideology,” Khan said.
While Indian government officials consistently deny that IS has made any significant inroads in the country, about 70 people have been arrested and are facing trial for alleged links with the terror group.
Intelligence agencies claim about 50 Indian Muslims left for the Middle East to fight alongside IS. Among them, at least seven have died in battle.
The Kashmiris, who routinely pour out on the streets of the restive region to clash with security forces, denounced IS for its “un-Islamic and inhuman” acts of violence.
“Kashmiris will never lend support to IS,” Arif Ahmad, a Srinagar-based university student, told BenarNews.
“Violence is prohibited in Islam in all its manifestations. Maybe there are a handful of people that support the IS ideology and are trying to incite passions by wrapping militants’ bodies in IS flags. But most Kashmiris would never accept IS’s ideology,” he said.
The recent trend of waving IS flags during protests and funeral processions is a ploy to bring international attention to the decades-old violence Kashmiri separatists blame on India’s oppressive rule, according to a leading security analyst.
“It is nothing but a way to attract attention at the international level through the media,” Ajai Sahni of the New Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Management told BenarNews.
“Our security agencies need not worry or waste time on such trivial issues. The IS propaganda that is being enacted by some militants will die its own death,” Sahni said.