India investigates ISIS clip urging attacks at religious gatherings

The audio clip, purportedly from an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighter, calls for Las Vegas-type terror attacks at crowded and popular festivals such as the Kumbh Mela and Thirssur Pooram.
The audio clip, purportedly from an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighter, calls for Las Vegas-type terror attacks at crowded and popular festivals such as the Kumbh Mela and Thirssur Pooram.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI - An audio clip, purportedly from an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighter, has surfaced, with a message that encourages sympathisers to carry out attacks at religious gatherings.

Its discovery has raised fears of lone wolf attacks in the South Asian country.

The clip in Malayalam, the language spoken in the southern state of Kerala, calls for Las Vegas-type terror attacks at crowded and popular festivals such as the Kumbh Mela and Thirssur Pooram, said reports in the Indian media.

A Kerala district police chief said they are trying to ascertain if the 10-minute clip is related to the arrest of five ISIS sympathisers last month in Kannur, one of 14 districts in the state.

The Kumbh Mela, the world's largest religious gathering with tens of millions of pilgrims turning out to take a holy dip in the river Ganges every four years, will next be held in 2019. The Thirssur Pooram, a popular annual Hindu temple festival held in Kerala, will take place in April.

A Kerala police official said the clip is being investigated by state and federal law enforcement and intelligence officials.

It came to the notice of authorities as it was being shared on multiple WhatsApp groups in Kerala. Media reports say it features a man's voice, saying, "Use trucks. Drive over them at Thirssur Pooram or at Maha Kumbh Mela. Islamic State Mujahideen are doing it in several parts of the world. In Las Vegas, one of our supporters killed many people at a music concert."

The American gunman had shot dead 58 concert-goers last month.

Kerala, where 26 per cent of the population is Muslim, is among India's more prosperous states. It scores high on all social indicators, from education to healthcare, and has 2.5 million people working in the Gulf nations who send back thousands of dollars in remittances every year. Religiously diverse, it has seen a more conservative strain of Islam emerging in the last few years.

Said Kannur's District Police Chief G.Siva Vikram: "This audio clip is a matter of concern. It is being shared on many WhatsApp groups. We cannot take this clip lightly."

At the same time, the authorities are ascertaining the audio's authenticity, he added. "We do suspect a person. Investigations are on.''

The National Investigating Agency and other state and federal agencies are investigating as well, he said.

ISIS does not have a direct presence in India nor has it been successful in large-scale recruitments from India.

But there have been reports of young people from the states of Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu and Kerala travelling to Syria and Iraq to join the group.

India's home ministry said more than 90 ISIS sympathisers have been arrested by its security agencies in the last couple of years. Lately, the government has said it has intelligence linking some Rohingya Muslims in India to ISIS and expressed concern they could carry out terror attacks in India.

Analysts said though the ISIS caliphate had been dealt a body blow with the fall of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria last month, lone wolf attacks remained a threat.

Said Dr Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi: "This is something you can't predict but given the quantum of ISIS activity in India, it is not significant.

"In the last two-and-a-half years, there have just been arrests except for one low-intensity bomb in a train,'' he said.

"We should be more worried about Pakistan-based terror groups.''

gnirmala@sph.com.sg