In sharp contrast to the National Investigation Agency’s (NIA) earlier disclosure that it had arrested 127 people with links to Islamic State (ISIS) until late 2019, it has now refused to answer my right to information (RTI) application about arrests and crime stats related to ISIS activities in India.
NIA, which deals with terror-related crimes in India, has refused to share state-wise data on the arrests of people linked to ISIS, its affiliates and similar Islamist organisations such as Al-Qaeda and others in response to a right to information (RTI) request I had filed, stating that it is exempted from offering details except in cases involving corruption and human-rights violation.
This is a huge departure from NIA’s earlier position, which is to generously provide information on the number of ISIS and Al-Qaeda-related cases registered in India. My repeated efforts to elicit response from Dr Jaya Roy, assistant inspector general of police and Central Public Information Officer at NIA, were unsuccessful.
“As per the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension (Department of Personnel and Training), Government of India, notification dated 09/06/2011 (published in the Gazette of India vide GSR 442(E) No 306), read with section 24 of the RTI Act, 2005 (22 of 2005), the National Investigation Agency has been included in second schedule of RTI Act 2005 and as such is exempted from providing the information sought for under the RTI Act except in cases involving corruption and human rights violations,” Dr Jaya Roy of NIA said in a reply to my RTI plea (see scan above) seeking the total number and state-wise numbers of arrests by NIA so far over ISIS/Al-Qaeda links. The second schedule of the RTI Act comprises names of organisations that are exempt from the purview of the Act.
My RTI application, filed in late September, also sought particulars of ISIS modules identified so far by the NIA, with details of place and time as well as the conviction rate of those arrested with ISIS/Al-Qaeda links in India.
Interestingly, neither NIA nor the home ministry has been silent until recently about ISIS and Al-Qaeda’s activities in India and their efforts to recruit people to their fold. In fact, both have been vocal about the growth of Islamism in India, external funding, ISIS’s bid to create sleeper cells and modules in India and so on. Occasionally, they have provided the number of such cases and arrests besides details of deaths and return of people who had travelled to destinations in the Middle East, including war-ravaged Syria and trouble-torn Afghanistan, to join the ISIS and similar Islamist outfits, alone and with families.
NIA was set up in 2008 following the 26/11 attack in Mumbai that exposed India’s lack of preparedness and paucity in intelligence gathering to tackle such cross-border terrorist strikes. The young agency has been successful in cracking a number of terrorist plots and foiling many attacks through preemptive strikes and arrests.
Which is why the unwillingness on the part of NIA now to share data on ISIS-related arrests is unexpected and shocking.
Even as late as September 16, the BJP’s Vinay Sahasrabuddhe raised the following question in the Rajya Sabha:
“Will the Minister of home be pleased to state: (a) in furtherance of reports of the presence of Islamic terrorists in southern states of India, what steps have been taken to nab them and what are the details in this regard;
(b) the details of States in which these Islamic State terrorists are most active; and (c) whether the Government has any information on how these people are being funded and whether they are getting any foreign funding to activate their terror activities?”
Sahasrabuddhe did get a response from the government.
G. Kishan Reddy, Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs, answered, “(a) Some instances of individuals from different states, including southern states, having joined Islamic State (IS) have come to the notice of Central and State Security Agencies. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has registered 17 cases related to the presence of IS in Southern states of Telangana, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and arrested 122 accused persons. Islamic State/Islamic State of Iraq and Levant/Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/ Daish/ Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP)/ISIS Wilayat Khorasan/Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham-Khorasan (ISIS-K) and all its manifestations have been notified as terrorist organisation and included in the First Schedule to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 by the Central Government. IS is using various internet-based social media platforms to propagate its ideology. Cyber space is being closely watched in this regard by the agencies concerned and action is taken as per law. (b) Investigations by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) have revealed that the IS is most active in Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir.”
To the third question, the minister simply said, “(c): Yes, sir” without disclosing details of any foreign funding. India also dismissed as incorrect a UN report that said ISIS terrorists have a significant presence in states such as Kerala and Karnataka.
The time period in which these 17 cases were registered by NIA was also not divulged.
Meanwhile, I subsequently filed an appeal stating that details provided to the RTI application were unsatisfactory, but the appeal was shortly disposed of by Ashutosh Agnihotri, First Appellate Authority (FAA) and Joint Secretary, CTCR (Counter Terrorism and Counter Radicalization Division), which falls under the Union Home Ministry, on November 2, 2020. I was asked to file another appeal if I am aggrieved at the decision.
Strangely, NIA, which is now silent, had said on October 13, 2019, that it had till then arrested 127 people with links to ISIS. Alok Mittal, then Inspector General, NIA, Ministry of Home Affairs, had said at an NIA event that of those arrested, 33 are from Tamil Nadu, 19 from Uttar Pradesh, 17 from Kerala and 14 from Telangana.
He had also said that some of those arrested from Kerala and Tamil Nadu had admitted to NIA that they were radicalised after watching the videos of Zahran Hashim, the mastermind of the Easter day bombings in Sri Lanka who has spent some time in India.