When ISIS claimed responsibility for the coordinated bombings in Sri Lanka that killed more than 350 people, it did so, as one would expect, in Arabic and English. But it also issued statements in other languages—including Tamil.
There is yet no independent verification of the terrorist group’s claim, but the pronouncement in a language spoken by about 70 million people, overwhelmingly in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, as well as in Malayalam, spoken by about 35 million people mostly in the southern Indian state of Kerala, suggests the organization has recruits fluent in what are essentially regional languages with relatively few speakers.
It is this sort of targeted outreach at which ISIS is particularly good: Like other militant groups, ISIS exploits weak governments, but it also capitalizes on disenfranchisement among Muslim minorities, speaks to their particular grievances, and looks to recruit educated professionals for its sophisticated propaganda efforts.
On the face of it, ISIS’s influence in South Asia is limited. About 180 Indians are said to have joined the group out of a population of 170 million Indian Muslims, according to the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a think tank in New Delhi. (Muslims are the largest religious minority in the nation of 1.2 billion.) But the majority of those who did are from the south. Sri Lanka’s case is similar: About 32 Sri Lankan Muslims have fought with ISIS in Syria, ORF says. (Muslims make up about 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 21 million.)