The US government has advised India to strengthen security, as the Islamic State (IS) terror outfit plans to launch attacks in the South Asian country.

The US Embassy in New Delhi issued a statement a couple of days ago, saying that American citizens, currently staying in India, should “maintain a high level of vigilance and increase their security awareness”. The embassy further advised the Americans not to visit religious sites, markets and festival venues in India, saying that the IS was fully prepared to trigger blasts in crowded areas.

In the past, the American Embassy had issued security advisories, mentioning that Islamic extremist groups, like Indian Mujahideen (IM) and Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba, could target public places in India. This is the first time when the US government mentioned IS as a possible threat.

Talking to the media, Heritage Foundation’s senior research fellow Lisa Curtis said that last month’s discovery of an IS cell in the southern Indian province of Kerala was significant. According to her, the discovery prompted the Barack Obama administration to issue a fresh security advisory. “These arrests may have led to additional information about the IS terror threat in India,” stressed Curtis.

Curtis, the former CIA analyst who served as a diplomat in US Embassies in India and Pakistan, claimed that the IS recently tapped local Islamic networks in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries to carry out attacks successfully. “IS operators may be trying to employ the same tactic in India by linking up with groups, like the IM. The IS released a recruiting video in May, showing Muslims calling on Indian Muslims to avenge … purported injustices in Kashmir,” she told reporters.

Australia, too, issued a travel advisory to its people planning to visit India, asking them to observe “a high degree of caution in India overall”. In the advisory, the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade stated: “On November 1, the US government warned of an increased threat of terrorist attack to places in India frequented by Westerners. Travellers should maintain heightened vigilance in public places at this time. The level of our advice has not changed. We continue to advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in India overall. Higher levels apply in some parts of India.”

Meanwhile, Indian experts have claimed that the US and Australian advisories’ impact on the inflow of foreign tourists into the country would not have a great impact. Chairperson of Stic Travel Subhash Goyal stressed: “We do not see much impact due to the advisory. Those, who have booked months in advance, will not cancel their trips, though there could be some deferrals. Overall, the impact of advisory will not be more than 1-2%.”

Islam is the second largest religion in India, with around 15% of the country’s population or roughly 184 million people identifying as Muslims (2016 census).

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]

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