Leaving the security apparatus red-faced, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh Sunday called on Indians to “understand the reality” that the protest by students at JNU had the backing of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, following a tweet by an unidentified individual impersonating the Lahore-based Lashkar-e-Taiba chief.
Intelligence and police sources, however, told The Indian Express they had no evidence that the tweet in question was issued by the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief or an individual connected to him.
On Saturday, a post on the “fake” account @Hafeez SaeedJUD — along with the name Hafeez Muhamad Saeed — invited JNU students to Pakistan, “to continue their Pro-Kashmiri, Anti-India Propaganda in our Universities”.
The call was rapidly disseminated across the Internet, mainly by pro-Hindutva activists who cited it as evidence of the students’ “treasonous conduct”.
Late on Sunday, Saeed posted on @HafizSaeedLive, an account that he is known to have used before: “Reality of all Indian allegations including 26/11 is evident from this fake twitter account scandal. Indeed a new low for Indian gov #JNU”.
Singh’s remarks in Allahabad came after the tweet by the “fake account”, which even had Delhi Police warning Twitter users against circulating its content. Police sources also said they were seeking further data from Twitter.
But experts soon raised the red flag, noting that it was not networked with other Jama’at accounts or followed by known Islamist Twitter handles. The account, since suspended by Twitter on a request from police, also misspelt the English-language spelling Saeed has used for his name in the past.
Interestingly, all but a few known Lashkar-linked accounts have been suspended in recent weeks, as part of a Twitter effort to eliminate terrorist groups using the platform for propaganda. Apart from @HafizSaeedLive, the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief’s other accounts, @HafizSaeedJUD and @HafizSaeedJUD01, as well as organisational accounts @judofficial @karachijud and @judvideos, have been suspended by Twitter.
Taha Muneeb, who heads the Jama’at’s cyber operations, posted a tweet on Saturday saying he was on “cyber-vacation”. “Relaxed, tension-free now,” the tweet continued.
Some Lashkar-linked accounts, though, are still active. One belongs to the Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation, @FIFPakistan1. The account’s recent posts are mainly linked to “charitable work” in the drought-hit Thar region, though it has in the past promoted news of Kashmir-related mobilisation by the Jama’at.
The Falah-i-Insaniyat is proscribed both by the United Nations and the United States Treasury Department, who say it is a front for the Lashkar.
Lashkar-linked account @JuD_Rawalpindi, though in service, has not posted any material since December 14. @HSaeedOfficial, frequently used until September 2015, has become active again since January 10.
The organisation’s official website, http://www.jamatdawa.org, has also been dormant for several weeks. The site, registered by Lashkar spokesperson Abdullah Muntazir on May 23, 2002, and valid until May 23, 2017, was hosted on a server operated by multinational internet services firm GoDaddy.com.
However, several YouTube and Facebook accounts operated by the Jama’at remain active. For example, Facebook account Jamat ul Dawa has been regularly posting video of Saeed’s functions and speeches. Its last update was posted on Wednesday morning.
None of these accounts, though, had posted any material linked to the JNU protests until Sunday evening. On Friday, Delhi police had arrested Kanhaiya Kumar, leader of the university’s students union, on sedition charges after anti-India slogans were allegedly raised during a march in memory of Afzal Guru who was hanged last year on terror charges.
Saeed has used several other Twitter accounts over the years — some of which remain operational, though inactive. For example, @HafizSaeedJUD2, used extensively during the Lashkar-led Defence of Pakistan movement in 2014, has not been used since November 24 that year.
Lashkar internet communications had last disappeared from cyberspace in 2008, following intense international pressure on Pakistan after 26/11. In a video address posted when the website went online again in 2013, Saeed said the organisation wished to use its own media “in a positive way and, god willing, use it to spread our message of proselytisation and jihad”.
Before the website reopened, the Lashkar operated through a Facebook page. In a poster for a March 23, 2010 rally, slogans were superimposed over an image of burning Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai: “free Kashmir, Pakistan’s lifeline, from the enemy”; “freedom of the Muslims of Gujarat, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and the rest of India”.
Earlier, the Lashkar had been evicted from cyberspace after the 2001-2002 India-Pakistan crisis. In addition to criticising India, the site also reached out to Western jihadists. “The Americans are dishonouring our mothers and sisters,” said one article. “Therefore, jihad against America has now become mandatory.”