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ISIS sympathizers are anti-nationals, not misguided youths

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ISIS

By Nithin Sridhar

The threat posed by the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) to the safety and security of India is continuously increasing day after day.

On 22 January, the National Investigation Agency, or NIA arrested 14 people from various cities for planning attacks on different parts of India. Jihadi literature, cash, and circuits for detonating bombs were among the items found in their position. According to the media reports, they belonged to a group that called themselves ‘Janood-ul-Khalifa-e-Hind’ (Army of Caliph of India), suggesting their links with the Islamic Caliphate.

The crackdown clearly brought forward four facts:

  1. Terror networks with links with ISIS has already been established in India. These networks may be working directly under ISIS or they may have borrowed the ideology of ISIS and working in conjunction with them.
  2. These terror networks are very widespread and not limited to any particular region or state. The NIA had arrested those 14 people from six cities spread across four states–Bangalore, Tumkur, Mangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Lucknow.
  3. The group has reportedly said that they had plans to topple the Indian government and impose Sharia rule. They had further planned to obtain huge amounts of weapons and were in constant touch with ISIS.
  4. The arrests also revealed the return of the Indian Mujahideen (IM) into India under the banner of ISIS. Those who were arrested revealed that they had been guided by Mohammad Shafi Armar alias Yousuf from Bhatkal who handles Ansar-ul-Tawhid (AuT), formed by IM militants.

Add to this the Zee News report brought out on January 28. The report stated that at least 30,000 people in India are in contact with ISIS and they were all ready to wage war against India. The report further noted how ISIS has created an underground community of hackers who are trying to retrieve sensitive data, which ISIS plans to use in its attacks on India.

In my previous article- ‘Why India should not ignore IS threat’, I had mentioned about the three possible threats from ISIS: Indian youths joining ISIS, ISIS giving new lease to militancy in Kashmir, and ISIS joining hands with other terror groups to infiltrate and destabilize India.

It appears that ISIS has already achieved a fair amount of ground on all the three counts. Its influence on Kashmiri youth in increasing and If the Zee News report is indeed correct, then ISIS has not only managed to bring outfits like IM under its fold, it has already started creating a huge network of its own in India. After all, 30,000 sympathizers is no small number.

The threat of ISIS to India is real and non-ignorable and it needs measures that are strict and non-compromising. Thus, the arrest of 14 ISIS activists who were planning to plant multiple bombs across India is a welcome step. The arrest also shows how Indian Intelligence agencies are deeply monitoring ISIS related activities. Yet, there are few areas where more stringent actions are required.

Regarding the arrest of 14 people, NIA officials have been quoted as stating: “They have been under the radar for past few months. When we came to know that they are in the process of procuring explosive material and weapons, we arrested them.” Though, this reveals that agencies are minutely monitoring various activities, it also reveals how an arrest was made only at the last moment when the group was in the process of procuring explosive material. In other words, if the agencies had failed to nab the group at the last moment, these people may have succeeded in carrying out their attacks and killing hundreds of people.

The Indian government must implement a policy wherein anybody who is being contacted by ISIS recruits and/or who is being exposed to Jihadi and ISIS literature and/or who in any way exhibit sympathy for ISIS must be detained, questioned, and de-radicalized immediately. If, de-radicalization is doubtful to succeed, such suspects must be arrested and tried.

More importantly, India has shown a lenient attitude towards people who are being deported back to India from countries like UAE, where they were either found to be planning to go to Syria or were linked to ISIS in some other way or had sympathies and affinity towards ISIS ideology. Just two days ago, UAE detained three such Indians, who were allegedly planning to carry out terror attacks on India and few other countries. In 2015, around 30 people were sent back from UAE on similar grounds.

The Indian establishment has largely treated them leniently by simply questioning them, making them undergo De-radicalization process, and letting them off. Though, they have kept a watch of such people, the threat from these people are very high. Despite of all the counseling, there is no surety that these people have been sent back to India to act as sleeper terror networks that may become activated few years down the line.

In the light of the grave risk posed by these suspects, India should explore the option of revoking their citizenship and not allowing them to land in India. But, such a move may come with humanitarian issues, and may lead to further radicalization among the families of such suspects. An alternate to this option could be to arrest all such deported people and try them and send them to jail, where de-radicalization programs can be conducted. They must undergo punishment and de-radicalization together. This will ensure that those who return back are isolated from the rest of the society so that they do not exert any influence on the rest and also not work as part of any underground movement.

The government should also consider taking up a few long term measures to fight increasing extremism among the Muslim community. Two such measures could be enrolling of Muslims into Police forces and deploying them in Muslim dominated areas, and paving the way for Muslim communities to take up various vocational businesses and become economically prosper.

Another problematic area is media’s discourse on the issue. Their entire discourse aims to portray ISIS sympathizers as ‘misguided youths’. It is very important for Indian society to recognize the Islamic State as a Caliphate and thus any sympathies, any allegiance shown by Indians towards ISIS automatically translates into them becoming anti-nationals. Add to this how ISIS has already called India as its enemy and in a sense has declared a war on it.

Thus, it is high time that public discourse about ISIS sympathizers stop treating them as misguided youth and start treating them as enemies of the State who have allegiance to the Islamic Caliphate. As long as the Indians remain under the false impression that Islamic State is just a terror organization and not a Caliphate, Indian society will not be able to develop a proper response mechanism. (Photo: abcnews.go.com)

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English-speaking ISIS Supporters Exploit Messaging App

English-speaking Islamic State supporters are refusing to give up

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English, ISIS, Supporters, Messaging
The Telegram logo is seen on a screen of a smartphone in this illustration, April 13, 2018. VOA

English-speaking Islamic State supporters are refusing to give up on the terror group’s ability to remain a force in Syria and Iraq, according to a new study that examined their behavior on the Telegram instant messaging service.

The report, “Encrypted Extremism: Inside the English-Speaking Islamic State Ecosystem on Telegram,” released Thursday by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, looked at 636 pro-Islamic State channels and groups in the 16 months from June 2017 through October 2018.

It found that even as the terror group was losing ground in Syria and Iraq to U.S.-backed forces, and even as IS leadership was encouraging followers to start looking to progress in IS provinces elsewhere, English-speaking supporters turned to Telegram to reinforce their faith in the caliphate.

“These are supporters that like to fight uphill battles,” report co-author Bennet Clifford told VOA. “What supporters are trying to do when they’re engaging with this conversation is attempt to shift the narrative away from loss and provide justifications for it.”

English, ISIS, Supporters, Messaging
FILE – An Islamic State flag is seen in this photo illustration. VOA

At the same time, these English-speaking supporters sought to amplify their beliefs, supplementing official IS propaganda with user-generated content while also increasing the distribution of instructional material on how to carry out attacks.

“I think it’s part of an attempt in some cases to spin the narrative their way,” Clifford added.

Attraction of Telegram

IS supporters first started flocking to Telegram, an instant messaging service that promises speed and encryption for private communications, in 2015 as social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook began a crackdown aimed at Islamic State’s often violent and gory propaganda.

Since then, IS has been hooked by Telegram’s promise that it will not disclose user data to government officials and by the service’s ability to let supporters organize and share large files, including video.

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“No other platforms appear to have developed the same balance of features, user-friendliness, and basic security that could warrant a new switch,” the report said.

That ease of use has long worried counterterrorism officials, who have watched as IS has used the online ecosystem to help plan and carry out the November 2015 attacks in Paris, attacks on a Christmas market in Berlin in December 2016 and the attack on the Reina nightclub in Istanbul just weeks later.

English-speaking facilitators

In those cases, the attackers appear to have been given instructions from IS officials in Syria and Iraq. But Telegram has given rise to several key English-speaking facilitators who have been operating on the periphery.

English, ISIS, Supporters, Messaging
FILE – Karen Aizha Hamidon, who allegedly worked to encourage several Indian militants last year to join the Islamic State group in the Middle East, is surrounded by reporters after attending a hearing at the Department of Justice in Manila, Philippines, Nov. 3, 2017. VOA

One of them, according to Clifford and co-author Helen Powell, was 36-year-old Karen Aizha Hamidon, who helped mobilize sympathizers from the United States to Singapore to join the terror group or its affiliates.

Hamidon, who was arrested by Philippine authorities in October 2017, has also been linked to efforts to establish an IS province in India.

Another key player, 34-year-old Ashraf al-Safoo, took a different approach before being arrested last October by the FBI in Chicago.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, al-Safoo was a key member of the Khattab Media Foundation, which used hacked social media accounts on platforms like Twitter to disseminate IS propaganda.

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“Much of the propaganda created and distributed by Khattab promotes violent jihad on behalf of ISIS and ISIS’s media office,” the Justice Department said in a statement using a different acronym for the militant group.

While both Hamidon and al-Safoo are now in custody, showing the ability of law enforcement to penetrate their Telegram operations, others are likely to replace them because of the ongoing need of Islamic State’s English-speaking supporters to communicate and find larger audiences.

“While there are a number of disadvantages for Islamic State supporters in the use of Telegram from a security perspective they’ll continue to do it because their balance of outreach and operational security,” Clifford said. “There’s not another alternative at this point in time.” (VOA)