26/11 and beyond: Tracking ‘online’ modules, lone wolf operatives’ a major challenge

In the last one year, various agencies probing terror cases have questioned some suspects living in Pune, including foreign nationals and even local residents, who had started believing in the propaganda of the Islamic State (IS) to establish a ‘Caliphate’.

Written by Chandan Haygunde , Sushant Kulkarni | Pune | Published:November 26, 2016 9:31 am
cyber crime, cyber crime in india, cyber terror, 26/11. 26/11 terror attack, india news, indian express, Photo for representational purpose. (File Photo)

Eight years after India faced its worst terror attack, in Mumbai on 26/11, officials from investigation agencies have warned about the emergence of “cyber terrorism” as a major threat. According to them, it is a challenge to gather information about online terror modules, particularly ‘lone wolf operatives’ who are indoctrinated by terror handlers through the internet to single-handedly carry out terror strikes.
“In the global cyber space, it is very difficult to know who is talking what, with whom, and from which place. Even if any input about suspicious conversations on social networking sites is obtained, the process of contacting the authorities of these sites, who are usually based in foreign countries, and getting essential information from them is a very tedious process. Apparently, terror operatives are using cyber space effectively for radicalising and recruiting Indian youths. Pune remains an important target for them because it is a sensitive city with several defence establishments, and it has a huge student population, including foreigners,” said sources from agencies.

In the last one year, various agencies probing terror cases have questioned some suspects living in Pune, including foreign nationals and even local residents, who had started believing in the propaganda of the Islamic State (IS) to establish a ‘Caliphate’.

Systematic procedure for brainwashing
Investigation agencies have observed a systematic procedure of brainwashing and radicalisation of youths through social networking sites, said an official. “Initially, the person who gets indoctrinated loses faith in the law of the land or the Constitution. Some of the Pune-based suspects had said during questioning that they do not consider India as their enemy, but do believe that ‘Caliphate’ and ‘Shariah law’ is above the law of the land,” said an officer.

“Then those highly indoctrinated persons are further motivated to commit jihad by waging a war against the nation by actually joining the IS. If that’s not possible, then as per the willingness and capability of the indoctrinated person, terror operatives are given instructions that range from learning how to make bombs online and then execute bomb blasts, to procuring firearms or sharp weapons, to assaulting the non-believers…,” said an official.

He added, “There are attempts to create lone wolf operatives, who plan and execute terror strikes alone…”.

The Pune case
In December last year, the Maharashtra ATS had de-radicalised a 16-year-old girl from the city, who had been brainwashed by online terror handlers to such an extent that she decided to travel to Syria to join the IS in 2017. The ATS probe revealed that the girl saw news items pertaining to the IS about four months ago and joined a Facebook (FB) group. The girl was found to be connected via FB to Mohammed Sirajuddin, an alleged IS operative who was arrested a few days earlier from Rajasthan.

Meeting of online terror recruits in Pune
The investigation by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) into the arrest of 18 persons for their alleged links with IS revealed that the accused had formed an organisation by the name of Junoo-Ul-Khalifa-Fil-Hind, a group with allegiance to the IS, seeking to establish Caliphate in India. The group also sought to recruit Muslim youths to work for the IS and commit acts of terrorism in India at the behest of Yusuf – Al – Hindi alias Shafi Armar alias Anjan Bhai.

In a press release, the NIA had aid that Shafi Armar communicated with other accused through Facebook, WhatsApp, Trillian, Skype, Surespot, Twitter, Chat Secure, Nimbuzz and Telegram for various tasks like recruitment, preparation of IEDs, identifying places in India for training and hiding, and committing terror strikes at vital installations. All the suspects had held ‘conspiracy meetings’, including one in Pune on December 18, 2015, said the NIA.

ATS chief speaks
State ATS chief Atulchandra Kulkarni said, “The cyber space is a changing world. We keep ourselves updated about the suspicious things happening in the cyber space and accordingly come up with counter plans, the specifics of which cannot be shared with media.”