The hope expressed by former Indian Mujahideen chief Yasin Bhatkal that he will be able to escape from Hyderabad jail with the help of his fellow terrorists in Damascus may be a boast or a pipe dream. The fact that he made the claim in a telephonic conversation with his wife showed that he was not willing to hide his supposed plans. Nor did he speak in riddles. Although Bhatkal must have suspected that the call, which he is allowed to make once a week, may be intercepted, he was quite frank about what he expected will happen as he was about the source from where he expected help.
However, even if the co-conspirator in the 2011 Mumbai serial blasts case was merely bragging, or even if the chances of his escaping are remote, the substance of the phone call is disturbing, for it says much about the expanding terrorist network. At the centre of this black widow spider web is Damascus, as Bhatkal says, the new hub of Islamic terror, as it is the headquarters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which appears to have supplanted the Al-Qaeda as the fountainhead of Islamic bigotry and terror. It is possible, of course, that the ISIS works in tandem with the Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and other terror groups across West Asia and Africa. But, the fact that an Indian Mujahideen operative can talk in a matter-of-fact manner about the role of Damascus in the heart of India is a worrying sign. If anything, it means the terrorists in India and outside have found a new symbol of inspiration for their cruelty and killings in the aftermath of the Al-Qaeda’s diminution of clout after Osama bin Laden’s capture and death. Now, the ISIS is a distant menace for Indians, who are more perturbed about the activities of the Pakistan-sponsored terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba or the Haqqani network.
However, reports that the ISIS is establishing bases in the Af-Pak region suggest that the jihadis are coming closer to India, already said to be the target of a major attack by Al-Qaeda. Although an alarmist reaction is unwarranted, what is obvious is that the Indian security agencies have to step up their vigilance against a threat that is bound to grow, at least in the near future. It isn’t only the borders that have to be guarded, but sleeper cells within the country have to be weeded out.