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Sun 7 Sep 2014 10:58 AM

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After Syria and Iraq, ISIL makes inroads in South Asia

Pamphlets and flags have appeared in parts of Pakistan and India

After Syria and Iraq, ISIL makes inroads in South Asia

ISIL pamphlets and flags have appeared in parts of
Pakistan and India, alongside signs that the ultra-radical group is inspiring
militants even in the strongholds of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

A splinter group of Pakistan's Taliban insurgents,
Jamat-ul Ahrar, has already declared its support for the well-funded and
ruthless ISIL fighters, who have captured large swathes of territory in Iraq
and Syria in a drive to set up a self-declared caliphate.

"IS (ISIL) is an Islamic Jihadi organisation
working for the implementation of the Islamic system and creation of the
Caliphate," Jamat-ul Ahrar's leader and a prominent Taliban figure,
Ehsanullah Ehsan, told Reuters by telephone. "We respect them. If they ask
us for help, we will look into it and decide."

Islamist militants of various hues already hold
sway across restive and impoverished areas of South Asia, but ISIL, with its
rapid capture of territory, beheadings and mass executions, is starting to draw
a measure of support among younger fighters in the region.

Al Qaeda's ageing leaders, mostly holed up in the
lawless region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, are increasingly seen as
stale, tired and ineffectual on hardcore jihadi social media forums and Twitter
accounts that incubate potential militant recruits.

Security experts say ISIL's increasing lure may
have prompted al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahri to announce the establishment of
an Indian franchise to raise the flag of jihad across South Asia, home to more
than 400 million Muslims.

Seeking to boost its influence in the
Afghanistan-Pakistan region, a local cell with allegiance to ISIL has been
distributing pamphlets in the Pakistani city of Peshawar and eastern
Afghanistan in the past few weeks, residents said.

The 12-page booklet called "Fatah"
(Victory), published in the Pashto and Dari languages of Afghanistan, was being
mainly distributed in Afghan refugee camps on the outskirts of Peshawar.

The pamphlet's logo features an AK-47 assault rifle
and calls on local residents to support the militant group. Cars with IS
stickers have also been spotted around Peshawar.

Sameeulah Hanifi, a prayer leader in a Peshawar
neighbourhood populated mainly by Afghans, said the pamphlets were being
distributed by a little-known local group called Islami Khalifat, an outspoken ISIL
supporter.

"I know some people who received copies of
this material either from friends or were given at mosques by unidentified IS
workers," he told Reuters.

A Pakistani security official said the pamphlets
came from Afghanistan's neighbouring Kunar province where a group of Taliban
fighters was spotted distributing them.

"We came across them 22 days ago and we are
aware of their presence here," said the official. "Pakistani security
agencies are working on the Pakistan-Afghan border and have arrested a number
of Taliban fighters and recovered CDs, maps, literature in Persian, Pashto and
Dari."

"We will not permit them to work in our
country and anyone who is involved in this will be crushed by the
government."

Signs of ISIL's influence are also being seen in
Kashmir, the region claimed by both India and Pakistan and the scene of a
decades-long battle by militants against Indian rule. Security officials in
Indian-held Kashmir say they have been trying to find out the level of support
for the Arab group after IS flags and banners appeared in the summer.

Intelligence and police sources in New Delhi and
Kashmir said the flags were first seen on June 27 in a part of the state
capital Srinagar, and then in July when India's only Muslim-majority region was
marking Islam's most holy day, Eid Al Fitr.

Some IS graffiti also appeared on walls of
buildings in Srinagar. A police officer said youngsters carrying ISIL flags at
anti-India rallies had been identified but no arrests had been made.

Another officer who questions people detained in
protests against Indian rule, many of them teenagers, said most were only
focused on winning independence from India.

"The majority of them have no religious bent
of mind," he said. "Some of them, less than 1 percent, of course are
religious and radicalised and end up joining militant ranks. They are
influenced by Al Qaeda, Taliban, ISIL."

ISIL is also trying to lure Muslims in mainland
India, who make up the world's third-biggest Islamic population but who have
largely stayed away from foreign battlefields despite repeated calls from al
Qaeda.

In mid-July, an IS recruitment video surfaced
online with subtitles in the Indian languages of Hindi, Tamil and Urdu in which
a self-declared Canadian fighter, dressed in war fatigues and flanked by a gun
and a black flag, urged Muslims to enlist in global jihad.

That came out just weeks after four families in a
Mumbai suburb reported to the police that their sons had gone missing, with one
leaving behind a note about fighting to defend Islam. It soon turned out that
the men had joined a pilgrimage to Baghdad.

They later broke off from the tour group and never
returned. Indian intelligence believe the men ended up in Mosul, the Iraqi city
captured by ISIL in June, and that one of them may have died in a bomb blast.

Last week, the Times of India newspaper said four
young men, including two engineering college students, were arrested in the
eastern city of Calcutta as they tried to make their way to neighbouring
Bangladesh to join a recruiter for ISIL based there.

"It's not just these four, but our
investigations have found that there could be more youngsters who are in touch
with IS handlers and this is a bit of a scary proportion," the newspaper
quoted a senior officer as saying.

A top official at India's Intelligence Bureau in
New Delhi told Reuters: "The problem is we know so little about this
network or who is acting on their behalf here.

"We know roughly where the Lashkar-e-Taiba,
the Indian Mujahideen (organisations backed by Pakistan) support groups are,
where they make contacts. But this is a different challenge. Youth getting
radicalised in their homes on the Internet, in chatrooms and through Facebook
are not easy to track."

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