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Terror recruiters target Indians on internet

by Prasad Krishna last modified Jul 18, 2014 06:57 AM
What's in a name? If it indicates your religious identity, then you could get trolled by strangers wanting to draw you in with videos on the importance of archaic customs and doctored accounts of world history.

The article by Sandhya Soman was published in the Times of India on July 18, 2014. Sunil Abraham gave his inputs.

City-based lawyer Shakeel Ahmed recently took one such bait on the Holocaust from a stranger on WhatsApp just to know what kind of propaganda is in circulation.

"I can laugh at such videos and false images but they might confuse youngsters," says Ahmed. Online baiting to lure sympathizers and recruits by seasoned extremists has been on the police radar. If the four youngsters from Thane and Kalyan are indeed now in Iraq fighting for the Islamic militia ISIS, then a good part of their indoctrination could have happened online, say experts.

ISIS is known to have an aggressive social media policy, including an Arabic-language Twitter app, to spread their message and recruit supporters even after the Iraqi government curtailed internet in areas captured by the group recently. "There are many websites, including jihadi ones, favoured by people with extremist leanings," says Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief Himanshu Roy. Often, the initial contact is made on social networking sites and messenger services.

"The organizations spot youngsters and befriend them before inviting the trusted select to closed chat rooms," says K P Raghuvanshi, senior police official and former ATS head.

The discussion ranges from arranging finance to direct involvement, says Roy. "We have reason to believe that these four boys, who are all educated and come from reasonably well-off families, would have visited such sites and exchanged views with others," he says, refusing to elaborate. The youngsters are supposed to have been in touch with each other.

Those without a wide social network are easy targets, says Sunil Abraham, executive director of Centre for Internet and Society, a research organization. "If, as a young Muslim, you are in touch with only your friends and family, you might believe the false information that enters your circle of trust," he says. Contrary to belief, you don't meet a variety of people on social media. "Unless you have a critical understanding of internet, the medium with its interactivity and multi-media potential could aid propaganda," he says.

It was terrorist group Al-Qaeda that started using technology effectively since 2001. Its supporters came together to upload good quality videos of beheadings and suicide bombings to grab attention. Now, there is a variety of 'jihadist' software to prevent detection, whether it is a plug-in for instant messaging service, encryption for text messages or a stealth online network, according to media reports.

In India, terrorists took to technology in a big way from 2008 onwards when Indian groups like Indian Mujahideen recruited educated people, says an official. "Even a man who didn't know English, learnt to type Hindi using English alphabets and send and receive attachments," says the officer.

While officials say that it is difficult to monitor all the online activity, Roy says that ATS will tackle it. "This is the first instance of youngsters from Maharashtra going out to fight some other war," he says.

ASPI-CIS Partnership


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