Experts Say The Indian Ocean Region Could Be The Next Front For Global Jihad
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The investigation into the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka has now spread to neighboring India. The suspected mastermind of those attacks had spent time there. Authorities are looking at whether the region could become a new front for global jihad. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from southern India where she met families of some ISIS recruits.
BINDU SAMPATH: These are the photos.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: How old is she there?
SAMPATH: Sixteen years old.
FRAYER: Bindu Sampath leafs through old photos of her daughter's dance recitals. As a girl, she was bookish. She studied to be a dentist. Then three years ago, she converted to Islam and moved to Afghanistan. Authorities say she joined ISIS. For a while, she still sent her mother voice messages.
FRAYER: It's a child giggling.
SAMPATH: Yeah, yeah.
FRAYER: Who is that?
SAMPATH: My granddaughter.
FRAYER: All the way from Afghanistan.
FRAYER: Bindu smiles at a recording of the granddaughter she's never met and wonders if she ever will. Six months ago, her daughter's phone line went silent.
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in foreign language).
FRAYER: This is where Bindu's daughter came away to dental school and where she and her husband, a fellow convert to Islam, are believed to have been radicalized. The northern part of India's Kerala state is where dozens of people have been charged with joining ISIS more than anywhere else in the country. This is also where a follower of the Sri Lanka attacks mastermind was recently arrested, allegedly planning a suicide attack.
It's actually a beautiful area, with swaying palm trees, white sand beaches and huge villas. People say for every mansion here, there's someone working in the Gulf and sending home money. On the porch of one such mansion, Abdul Rahman Paramban slumps in a plastic chair.
ABDUL RAHMAN PARAMBAN: (Foreign language spoken).
FRAYER: He describes how a man who had spent time in the Gulf and Sri Lanka radicalized his two sons and then took them to Afghanistan. One of the sons has since been killed in a U.S. drone strike there. Indian authorities say the recruiter had been kicked out of college in Sri Lanka for advocating violent jihad. Intelligence agencies have been tracking Islamist links like these between Sri Lanka and south India. Political scientist S.D. Muni says ISIS is trying to recruit in both places as it loses territory elsewhere.
S D MUNI: This may be a message also by the Islamic State saying that, look; we are still alive and kicking. If you are pushing us out from Syria, we are very much alive in Sri Lanka. We are very much alive in South Asia.
FRAYER: ISIS has radicalized people all over the world. But heartbreaking stories from parents like these have been very rare in India because even with nearly 200 million Muslims, India had very few cases of radicalization.
ASHRAF KADAKKAL: Politically, culturally, Indian Muslims are integrated into the Indian mainstream but now...
FRAYER: But now, says political scientist Ashraf Kadakkal, Hindu nationalists are in power, and Muslims feel disenfranchised. ISIS recruitment has not been concentrated in northern India, though, where most Muslims live. It's happening in the south, which has stronger labor ties with the Gulf, Kadakkal notes.
KADAKKAL: They work in Middle Eastern region, and they come back with a new perspective. See, they consider the environment is not Islamic. Here you see the faces of women, cinema, dance, drama, everything.
FRAYER: That may be changing, though, in at least one Kerala town called Padne where many women now wear full-face veils. The Gulf influence is apparent.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I will show you the 400 years old mosque from Padne.
FRAYER: On a driving tour, a local politician points out more than two dozen mosques in a town of about 3,700 families. Some of the mosques are Salafi preaching a strict Saudi strain of Islam. This is similar to the Sri Lankan town where the ringleader of the Easter attacks grew up. Both areas are flush with Gulf money and ideas, and that may make them fertile ground for the Islamic State's new recruitment drive. Lauren Frayer, NPR News in Padne, Kerala, India. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.