Lucknow encounter: ATS performed admirably, let's not overplay terrorist's Islamic State connection
On 8 March, the Anti-Terrorism Squad of the Uttar Pradesh police neutralised Saifullah alias Ikrama, a dreaded terrorist believed to be inspired by the ISIS. Saifullah belonged to the ISIS Khorasan module, which is thought to be behind terror acts in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, although its primary target remains India.
On 8 March, the Anti-Terrorism Squad of the Uttar Pradesh police neutralised Saifullah alias Ikrama, a dreaded terrorist believed to be inspired by the ISIS. Saifullah belonged to the Islamic State's Khorasan module, which is thought to be behind terror acts in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, although its primary target remains India.
But for the timely intervention of the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), Saifullah and his associates could have continued to spread their tentacles and perhaps caused unimaginable devastation.
It was disappointing to read in one of the prominent national dailies on Thursday that a senior official of the Union Home Ministry raised questions about the encounter, doubting whether the terrorists were really linked to the Islamic State. While it is important to establish which terror outfit the latest module was affiliated to, we must remember that a terrorist is a terrorist.
It is naive to think that the Islamic State is dormant in India. It's a common knowledge now that Islamic State has already cast a profound spell on some Indian youth, misled through radicalisation programmes often dictated from Syria.
One does not need a Baghdadi to indoctrinate a segment of the Indian youth who have, unfortunately, gravitated towards Islamic State ideology.
We have numerous cases of National Investigation Agency-led action busting pro- Islamic State modules in states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. Social media is playing an important role in indoctrinating youngsters.
Thanks to several pro- Islamic State Twitter handles, it is easy for the youth to fall under the spell of radicals. This help to churn out several Saifullahs who'd prefer attaining 'shahadat' rather than surrendering to the police and divulging their structural and operational details. Such is the grit and commitment of these cadres.
This argument is buttressed by the fact that Saifullah, despite being exhorted to surrender, did not oblige. Displaying rare patience, ATS officials also managed to get Saifulla's brother to prevail upon him to surrender. However, all their efforts were in vain. The point is, the ATS only went ahead with its operation after all other alternatives were exhausted.
Reverting to the questions being raised by an official in the Home Ministry, it is also alleged that "officials in both states should have exercised restraint before airing premature comments ...". The ministry has recommended a probe by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is fine, but to appeal for restraint has a demoralising impact for state forces, especially when the Uttar Pradesh ATS is relentlessly and decisively neutralising terror threats.
As an overseeing apex government body, the Ministry of Home Affairs should exhibit vision, closely coordinate and guide states to ensure that anti-terror operations are sending the right message to the remaining terrorists, thus keeping them demoralised. Unwarranted statements will only weaken police resolve .
Islamic State-inspired local terror groups are striking up almost all over the world. Any footprint in India should not come as a surprise but a wake-up call. The question is, are we simply seeing a trailer before the real movie unfolds?
Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, Kabul and a host of other places have witnessed several attacks recently. There is hardly any time to assess which group is responsible for what or if they are linked to Islamic State or not. Action should take precedence over such a debate.
Also, the morale of the forces engaged (the UP Anti-Terrorism Squad in this instance) must take top priority. Her are two indicators of how challenging this task was: the operation was ed by a senior Inspector General-level officer and it lasted for over thirteen hours.
Patience and the use of all possible options to catch the terrorist alive were employed. Thakurganj is a communally-sensitive area and the police had the additional responsibility to ensure there was no collateral damage or a flare-up. During election time, politicians are known to use these situations to polarise the populace and make political gain.
The UP police, keeping all this in mind, exercised tremendous restraint and displayed true professionalism. The operation started on the eve of the final phase of UP elections. Imagine the pressure the cops were under.
Top officers were reeling under 'threats' of the encounter being declared fake. It was a tough call but in the larger interest, the mission was accomplished despite the looming threat of the issue being politicised.
A quick glance at the profile of Saifullah and his cadres would reveal that terrorists under one Atiq Muzaffar were using Lucknow as their headquarters for northern India. Profiles of other associates are available with the intelligence agencies.
Although Saifullah's associates look determined to do harm, the Uttar Pradesh ATS has struck hard. It is expected that this would cause some deterrence, at least for the foreseeable future and minimise the number of possible terror strikes.
In the meanwhile, let things remain apolitical. Let the National Investigation Agency carry out an independent and professional probe.
This is the time to jointly fight terror— Islamic State or non- Islamic State—anything else is of merely academic interest.
The writer is a retired IPS officer of UP cadre and a security analyst. He is also a Senior Fellow with India Police Foundation
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