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Islamic State and Zakir Musa group are sparring for supremacy in Kashmir — on Telegram

Islamic State Jammu Kashmir and Zakir Musa's Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind both call for Sharia in Kashmir, with little presence on the ground.

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Srinagar: Discord appears to be growing between sympathisers of the Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH), an al-Qaida affiliate, and the Islamic State Jammu Kashmir (ISJK) on the social media platform Telegram, following the killing of militant commander Zakir Musa nearly three weeks ago.

Supporters of AGH, founded by Musa, are now being accused of affiliating with the Taliban by ISJK followers. And all this is going on in chats on the app Telegram, which is now abuzz with talk about infighting, say some who are watching the developments.

Matters came to a head on 11 June, when Ahlu-Tawheed Media, which claims to be the “unofficial media” of the ISJK, released a statement saying that the “Islamic State has nothing to do with Taliban-affiliated AGH”.

The statement is apparently a response to “attempts by certain media outlets” to “intermingle” AGH and ISJK, according to messages accessed by ThePrint.

According to the statement, after the killing of two militants in south Kashmir’s Shopian this week, certain sections of the media had reported that the two belonged to the AGH.

A source in the J&K police said the number of recruits the groups have is not more than a dozen now. The groups have no major attack to their name and are viewed as a low-level threat by the security officials here.

Also read: J&K authorities probing if Zakir Musa met Jaish militants a day before his encounter

After Musa’s death

With very little ground presence of armed militants, the tussle between the AGH and the ISJK on social media is not expected to spill over from the digital platform.

But it might influence the direction of the militant groups in Kashmir, where the call for global jihad has been used in the past to influence the youth.

Both groups call for the establishment of the Sharia in Kashmir. These groups rely heavily on propaganda rather than actual organised structures on the ground. Although pro-Pakistan militant groups wield more influence, security observers here say that groups like the IS prefer to inspire lone-wolf attacks the world over.

The Ahlu-Tawheed Media said in its statement that attempts were being made to showcase the ISJK and the AGH as one group. The statement also cited the killing of six AGH militants in December last year, pointing out that the media had said the slain men belonged to the ISJK.

“Today, we want to clarify that ISIS has nothing to do with Taliban-affiliated AGH. The previous spokesperson of Islamic State in Kashmir had invited them (AGH) to fight under a single banner but they went on to pledge their allegiance to the nationalist movement of Taliban, which the Islamic state is opposed to, eventually shrinking the room for any operational compatibility between the two,” the statement released on a pro-ISJK Telegram account said.

The infighting on various Telegram channels began after Musa was killed in an encounter on 23 May in south Kashmir. Hameed Lelhari succeeded Musa as the head of the AGH. The ISJK has no head as of now, after its chief Ishfaq Ahmad Sofi was gunned down in May.

In a message believed to have been sent from a pro-ISJK account last week, questions were even raised over the AGH’s commitment to jihad in Kashmir.

“Many give slogans that they are fighting for Sharia and may Allah aid them if they are and show them and us Haq (right path) but Ikhwan (brothers) again we decide what is apparent,” the message read. “Remember, we won’t talk about those who are dead as their accounts have been sealed but we talk about present.”

Other messages accuse the AGH of having been created for “tackling ISIS” and of associating with the Taliban, “which is holding talks with Russia” while they kill people in Syria.

A message to IS ‘fanboys’

AGH “followers” sent out several messages in response. “Some fanboys out there on Telegram are commenting that AGH in Kashmir was formed to tackle propaganda of ISIS in Kashmir but it seems that he didn’t know that AGH was formed way before when so called Kashmir province of ISIS was declared, even the ameer of ISJK was not in the files at that point of time,” read one message.

“And most importantly why would AGH tackle such a thing which doesn’t exist,” it added.

Sources in the J&K Police and the Army said they hadn’t ascertained the reason behind the “sparring”, but added that the two groups had not experienced any hostility in the past.

“As the two groups (ISJK and AGH) do not share the idea of seceding Kashmir from India to merge it with Pakistan, they have often been targets of pro-Pakistan outfits here,” a senior Army officer said.

“There was no alliance between them but also there was no hostility as such. This is new,” the officer added.

One security source said the diminishing ranks of the ISJK were forcing the outfit to reassert its presence by undermining other militant groups, and showcasing their unwavering commitment to Islam and jihad.

“This is a global occurrence. ISIS or the groups inspired by them like to see others as lesser Muslims. The same might be happening here, but it is too early to come to that conclusion,” said a senior police officer.

The officer, however, added that the ISJK was in a nascent stage with little scope to grow.

After Sofi was gunned down last month, counter-insurgency units in the Valley said the number of armed Kashmiri militants inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, now known as IS) was one. A police source added that, in the last month, four youths had joined the group. Likewise, the number of militants in the AGH, even at its peak, remained in single digits.

Also read: Lone local militant is all that’s left of Islamic State-inspired terror module in J&K

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