Two men arrested in India over the weekend deny that they are supporters of the terrorist group Islamic State (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, ISIS), despite appearing in a widely distributed image of 26 Muslim men wearing ISIS t-shirts.
The image began circulating on social media last week. The youths appear to be celebrating Eid at a mosque in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. They all wear black shirts with the Roman letters “ISIS” in the front, as well as the Arabic letters popularized by the flag associated with the Islamic State.
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India’s NDTV broadcast footage of the arrest, explaining that the two men – Mohammed Rinwan and Abdul Rahman, both in their twenties – were investigated for criminal conspiracy and abetting insurgent threats. Police did not find any official ties between the other 24 men, who were also all taken into custody previously, and the jihadist group.
The two plotted to manufacture 100 copies of the shirts and distribute them, NDTV adds. The men have claimed that they do not support ISIS, but instead wanted to pay homage to the group for releasing a group of Indian nurses that they had abducted in Iraq. First Post reports, however, that the group of men told mosque officials the photo they were taking was a “prank.” Officials claim they warned the group against taking the photo. A senior police officer told the network that the Islamic State is not banned in India but that supporting any jihadist activity and abetting insurgents is, and supporting ISIS could be tantamount to inciting violence.
While the two men appear unlikely to face charges, police are continuing their investigation, seeking more information on the company that manufactured the t-shirts. “We will watch their activities, though prima facie there is nothing serious,” Superintendent of Police N.M. Mylvahanan told the newspaper The Hindu.
Islamic State paraphernalia – from t-shirts to headbands to flags and figurines – has become especially popular in Muslim countries where the group has no substantial presence of mujahideen. Online stores in Indonesia, for example, sell a wide variety of clothing and accessories that promote the jihadist group. In Lebanon, where ISIS had no formal presence until this week, market vendors reported that ISIS flags and clothing sold well, as people supported them the way one would a soccer team.