Coming in such quick succession, the Orlando (June 12), Dhaka (July 1-2) and Nice (July 14) terror attacks should confound even the most knowledgeable and further solidify the widely prevalent distrust of law enforcement’s ability to prevent further carnage. While the offenders in Orlando and Nice are said to have had psychiatric problems, there is no such report on the five involved in the Dhaka carnage. Three of the latter were actually bright young men from affluent families. In effect, the stereotype image of a terrorist — an impoverished, educated youth with no calling — does not hold water any longer.

The same is true of talks of radicalisation of youth online or in mosques. Some recent offenders have had no record of attending exhortation sessions at a mosque or elsewhere. There is no evidence either of access to online indoctrination. What’s nearer the mark seems to be the identified suspect’s generally unstable behaviour at home or work, coupled with an unhappy marriage.

The lone-wolf theory

The ‘lone wolf’ theory — an individual operating on his own without organisational support — has gained strong currency. This was the case both in Orlando and Nice, and earlier (December 2, 2015) in San Bernardino (California), where a Muslim state employee (of Pakistani origin) was the aggressor.

It is in this context that there is a live debate on the role of al Qaeda (AQ) and its offshoot, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (IS) in giving leadership to terrorist operations. First, there is a credible report of discord between the two outfits. They operate independently, and sometimes against each other. While the AQ has been outshone by the IS, especially in West Asia, the latter’s hegemony in parts of Iraq and Syria is getting whittled down because of fierce attacks by the coalition forces. Forced to flee from occupied territory, particularly in Iraq, the IS is credited with the strategy of seeking new pastures, specifically in Asia. (Bangladesh is one example. The Dhaka authorities deny the IS hand and attribute the attack to home-grown terrorists.)

The impression that both organisations have an identifiable hierarchy and any major incident is pursuant to directions from a central leadership, is fallacious. The IS’s propensity to take credit for any savagery anywhere in the world is grotesque. This is showmanship to disseminate the misleading propaganda that there is a hierarchy in control of IS sympathisers. There is nothing to suggest that either AQ or IS has a firm channel of communication through which instructions are passed down the line. Channels are actually often ad hoc and fragile.

Inexplicable appeal

There is, however, credible evidence of the IS’s continued magnetic appeal to the youth. It has attracted to its fold young volunteers from more than 20 countries; they have clandestinely exited their homes to go to Iraq and Syria. The IS’s recent reverses may have reduced the number of such youths, but the traffic cannot be said to have stopped. Parents have invariably no clue of their wards having taken up the IS cause. This came to notice in the Dhaka episode. We cannot say that the desertions were from broken homes. Stable families have also yielded volunteers to the ‘cause’.

There is undeniable anxiety over how to erode the credibility of the AQ, IS and such outfits. There is first the need to highlight the hardships and risks involved in enlisting under these banners. There was a recent story of how some IS deserters were pushed into a cauldron and boiled in water. Reports like these could act as a deterrent to prospective entrants. The IS has also been unable to act on the promise of monetary incentives, because of dwindling income from oil-fields in its control and from extortion. Nothing less than massive propaganda by the state or its auxiliaries will work to cut down the inflow of misguided youth into terror bodies.

What does all this mean for India? We may not be fertile ground for terror recruitment. Nevertheless, there are reports from time to time of young men abandoning their jobs or education to jump into the IS fray. We do not have an idea of how many have done so. Intelligence outfits alone can keep a track. It is for parents and citizen groups to contribute to this crucial endeavour to cut down influx into the IS and other terrorist bodies. Or else we may have a Nice or an Orlando misadventure being happen right here, on our soil.

The writer is a former CBI director