(CNN)Indian-administered Kashmir is again in the grip of deadly violence, following a series of raids by Indian security forces against militant groups Sunday.
At least twenty people have been killed, including 13 militants, and several civilians who took to the streets to protest the army operations.
For more than two decades several domestic militant groups, demanding either independence for Kashmir or for the area to become part of Pakistan, have fought Indian security forces. Now, into this volatile mix comes a new, potentially more significant threat: al Qaeda and ISIS.
Powerful recruitment tool
ISIS first declared its intention to move into Kashmir in 2016, describing it as part of its Khorasan province. But only in the past few months have there been the first signs of activity there.
In February, ISIS claimed the killing of a police officer in Kashmir's capital, Srinagar, through a Telegram channel called 'Kashmir Villayah.' State police chief Shesh Paul Vaid said the attack was a "cause of worry," telling Indian network NDTV that though there didn't seem to be a substantial presence of ISIS in the region, the attack could have been driven by ISIS ideology.
It was the second ISIS claim in Kashmir in three months. In November, the Qaraar media outlet claiming to represent the "mujahideen of the Islamic Caliphate in the gateway of India" posted a photograph of a militant who was killed in an attack in Srinagar that left a policeman dead. At his funeral, the militant's body was wrapped in an ISIS flag.
Officials in New Delhi have flatly denied that ISIS exists in Kashmir; Vaid also asserted it had no "substantial" presence in the region. But there is concern that ISIS' ideology may attract militant Kashmiri youth. Amira Jadoon of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point says that "unlike their predecessors of the 1990s, this generation is educated and highly active on social media, a powerful recruitment tool for the Islamic State."
Militant cells in Kashmir benefit from widespread support among young Kashmiri men. On several occasions in recent months, hundreds of them have pelted security forces with stones in an effort to shield militants. The situation has been exacerbated by the lack of any political progress on Kashmir's future.