ISIS me­nace – Cau­tion time ahead

SP's MAI - - MILITARY VIEWPOINT - The views ex­pressed herein are the per­sonal views of the au­thor.

The Bhopal-Uj­jain train blast on March 7, 2017, in­jur­ing nine peo­ple is be­ing her­alded as the first strike by the Is­lamic State in In­dia. It has now emerged that the mem­bers of this mod­ule in­spired by the Is­lamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), led by self-styled ‘emir’ Atif Muzaf­far, had criss-crossed the coun­try be­tween Fe­bru­ary 2016 and Jan­uary 2017 vis­it­ing var­i­ous bor­ders and con­tact­ing im­mi­gra­tion agents in cities with in­ter­na­tional air­ports in search for an op­por­tu­nity to exit the coun­try and mi­grate to Iraq/Syria.

Af­ter form­ing a ‘core’ group of like-minded, IS-in­flu­enced youths in Kan­pur in Fe­bru­ary 2016, Atif, along with Dan­ish and Faisal, trav­elled to Sri­na­gar, Am­rit­sar, Wa­gah and Jaisalmer, ex­plor­ing ways to ex­fil­trate to Pak­istan through the land border and con­tact­ing travel agents to get a visa to Pak­istan. Rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion and youth at­tracted to Is­lamic State is not a new phe­nom­e­non.

In Jan­uary 2017, the Na­tional In­ves­ti­ga­tion Agency (NIA) sus­pected few months back that the 22 Ker­ala youths, who had dis­ap­peared, may have joined the Is­lamic State train­ing camp in Afghanistan. Ac­cord­ing to in­tel­li­gence sources, the agency has got some leads on the miss­ing peo­ple and the NIA be­lieved that they were at Nan­gra­har in Afghanistan. There have been ear­lier re­ports of some In­dian youth hav­ing joined the ISIS, some try­ing to join and oth­ers hav­ing re­turned dis­il­lu­sioned. The one’s re­turned may well be ‘sleep­ers’ which is re­cent tac­tics of re­turn­ing vol­un­teers to par­ent coun­try for ex­e­cut­ing ‘lone wolf’/mod­ule-based ter­ror at­tacks when di­rected to do so.

ISIS flags have been ap­pear­ing in the Kash­mir Val­ley pe­ri­od­i­cally. ISIS logo T-shirts have been dis­trib­uted by rad­i­cal mul­lahs in South In­dia. Re­cently, posters invit­ing youths to join ISIS sur­faced in Bi­har’s Ro­htas district dur­ing March 2017. US in­tel­li­gence has re­cently warned that the ISIS is do­ing ac­tive re­cruit­ment in Pak­istan and Afghanistan. This is hardly sur­pris­ing be­cause we have neigh­bour Pak­istan who is con­tin­u­ously ex­per­i­ment­ing with mat­ing dif­fer­ent va­ri­ety of snakes. In­tel­li­gence re­ports in­di­cate that the ISIS and Pak­istan-based Lashkar-eJhangvi (LeJ) have joined hands un­der the tute­lage of Pak­istan’s ISI (In­ter-Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence) with eyes on South Asia; Afghanistan and In­dia in par­tic­u­lar.

There is need for ex­tra cau­tion in a lib­eral democ­racy like In­dia. In 2014, Mehdi Mas­roor

Biswas, a Bengaluru-based ex­ec­u­tive, first dis­cov­ered and re­ported by Chan­nel 4 News of UK, con­fessed he was han­dling the pro-ji­had tweeter “@ShamiWit­ness” for past sev­eral years. Ac­cord­ing to a former NSA more than 100 in­di­vid­u­als are in­volved in Mehdi-like ac­tiv­i­ties.

A Na­tional In­ves­ti­ga­tion Agency probe shows that In­dian Mu­jahideen (IM) cadres are tech savvy and have been us­ing proxy servers and com­plex code to chat: ex­cep­tional knack for IT set­ting up e-mail ac­counts that dis­ap­pear if they not ac­cessed in 24 hours, proxy servers to cam­ou­flage ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion, en­crypted files and com­pli­cated code lan­guage; use of US-based Ya­hoo Inc, Paltalk Inc, Sophidea Inc and Hur­ri­cane Elec­tric, plus providers in Nepal, Canada and Ire­land; IP ad­dress of Nim­buzz chat traced to Pak­istan Tele­com Com­pany Lim­ited and oth­ers traced to France, Ger­many, the Nether­lands, Nepal and In­dia.

Asym­me­try through non-war op­er­a­tion en­com­passes fields like fi­nance, ecol­ogy, psy­chol­ogy, me­dia, drug traf­fick­ing tech, etc. Such asym­met­ric ap­proaches will in­vari­ably be used in con­junc­tion oth­ers. In the US, a non-gov­ern­men­tal ini­tia­tive termed Counter Ex­trem­ism Project (CEP) was launched in 2014 with Is­raeli as­sis­tance to con­front the grow­ing threat from ‘ex­trem­ist ide­ol­ogy’. CEP seeks to re­fute so­cial me­dia mes­sag­ing, com­pile world’s big­gest data­base of ex­trem­ist net­works. The CEP would aug­ment the US NSA al­ready heav­ily com­mit­ted al­beit the NSA faced heavy crit­i­cism in re­cent times for snoop­ing glob­ally un­der the ‘Prism’ pro­gramme.

Par­tic­i­pa­tion of the pri­vate sec­tor is also es­sen­tial be­cause of the mag­ni­tude of the is­sues in­volved. CEP has been launched as a pri­vate sec­tor or­gan­i­sa­tion that de­scribes it­self non-par­ti­san in its ef­forts to com­bat ex­trem­ism. Its goals in­clude com­pi­la­tion of the world’s most ex­haus­tive data­base on ex­trem­ist groups and their net­works, and places un­mask­ing the fund­ing sources for ISIS high on its list of im­me­di­ate pri­or­i­ties.

Though the CEP is a non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion, it works with govern­ments ex­ploit­ing the In­ter­net to mo­bilise so­cial me­dia to counter ex­trem­ist ide­ol­ogy by ex­pos­ing the threat of ex­trem­ists and mount­ing a global counter nar­ra­tive. In­dia needs sim­i­lar public-pri­vate part­ner­ship to tackle this mam­moth prob­lem. Iron­i­cally, the rad­i­cal Zakir Naik would have con­tin­ued to preach ha­tred with­out Bangladesh point­ing out to us Naik’s rad­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties that came to light post the ter­ror­ist at­tack on a Dhaka café.

CEP works with govern­ments ex­ploit­ing the In­ter­net to mo­bilise so­cial me­dia to counter ex­trem­ist ide­ol­ogy by ex­pos­ing the threat of ex­trem­ists and mount­ing a global counter nar­ra­tive. In­dia needs sim­i­lar public-pri­vate part­ner­ship to tackle this mam­moth prob­lem.

LT GEN­ERAL

P.C. KA­TOCH (RETD)

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