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Changing Dynamics of Terror in South Asia: The Dangerous Fringe

Published Apr 23, 2019
Updated Apr 20, 2020

Recent terrorist incidents in South Asia denote that fringe groups and C grade terrorists are able to carry out major attacks as they remain off the radar of intelligence agencies.

The Easter Sunday 21/4 multiple bomb attacks in Sri Lanka were reportedly carried out by a group named as the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) which the BBC reports is a splinter of the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath (SLTJ).

The latter has been active against the Buddhist majority but has not perpetrated any attacks against the Christian community in the country nor it has shown any signs of hate towards the same.

The nature of the 21/4 attacks however is indicative that the NTJ would have substantial support from an external agency in terms of planning, training and execution of the attack. The finger of suspicion points to the Islamic State of Iraq and al Shams/Levant (ISIS/L).

Christian and foreigners have been the main targets of the group thus connect can be established.

The NTJ’s digital presence has been limited, it is not known if it was active on chat rooms so far, the social media links of the group are also inactive for long as per the BBC.

While Sri Lankan authorities had intelligence over the possibility of the attacks being masterminded by the NTJ with five star hotels and the Indian High Commission in Colombo being the targets, why no action was undertaken especially as there were specific inputs of an Easter Sunday strike remains unclear.

In Pakistan on 18 April 14 passangers were offloaded from a bus on the Makran  Coastal Highway in Ormara, Balochistan identified as service personnel based on the national identity cards (NICs) and shot dead by a little known group the BRAS reports the Dawn.

The BRAS or Baloch Raji Aajoi Sangar is a conglomerate of groups including Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) and Baloch Republic Army (BRA)  which is now coordinating the operations against the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Pakistan military in Balochistan as per TracTerorism.

The organisation came into being in December 2018 on Twitter and claimed the first attack on 17 February on a Pak convoy on the CPEC as per TracTerrorism.

Iran and Pakistan have now agreed to coordinate border operations during the visit of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran khan to Tehran on 22 February as Pak has claimed that the BRAS operates from Sistan  Balochistan province of Iran.

 The BRAS has come to notice of agencies only after the major strike on 18 April.

In Bangladesh the attack on 01 July 2016 at Holey Bakery resulting in over 20 deaths mainly foreigners was carried out by the Neo JMB (Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh).

Neo JMB regrouped under the leadership of a Bangladeshi expatriate to Canada, Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, who was killed in a raid in Narayanganj in August 2017.

While the group’s activities were well known the links with ISIS were revealed subsequently indicating the dangers that were posed.

After the Holey Bakery incident, Bangladesh took stringent counter terrorism actions and neutralised the Neo JMB and Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT).

The ghastly terror attack in Pulwama in Kashmir was carried out by Adil Ahmad Dar, a local from Pulwama district, and a member of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

He was identified as a C grade terrorist  by the J & K Police and was thus not under stringent scrutiny.

The JeM had cultivated Dar and trained him to carry out the strike which resulted in 49 CRPF personnel killed.

In response India launched the air strike in Balakote and the resulting aerial skirmish has been well publicised.

The ability of fringe groups and lone ranger to carry out major attacks will pose a new challenge to intelligence agencies who have to devise necessary mechanisms to follow up the groups and unravel them before they are able to create mayhem.