So-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) pamphlets and flags have appeared in parts of Pakistan and India, alongside signs that the Takfiri 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 terrorists, who have captured large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria in a drive to set up a self-declared caliphate.
“We respect them (ISIL). If they ask us for help, we will look into it and decide,” Jamat-ul Ahrar’s leader and a prominent Taliban figure, Ehsanullah Ehsan, told Reuters by telephone.
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 terrorists 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 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 al-Qaeda across South Asia.
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 ISIL stickers have also been spotted around Peshawar.
Sameeulah Hanifi, a prayer leader in a Peshawar neighborhood populated mainly by Afghans, said the pamphlets were being distributed by a little-known local group called Islami Khalifat, an outspoken ISIL supporter.
A Pakistani security official said the pamphlets came from Afghanistan’s neighboring Kunar province where a group of Taliban fighters was spotted distributing them.
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 ISIL 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.
Some ISIL 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.
ISIL is also trying to lure Muslims in mainland India, who have largely stayed away from foreign battlefields despite repeated calls from al-Qaeda.
In mid-July, an ISIL 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 Indians to join the terrorist group of ISIL.
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 hinting at ISIL terrorists’ beliefs. It soon turned out that the men had joined a group of terrorists to join ISIL in Iraq.