The Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) is counselling a 16-year-old girl from a “well-to-do Muslim family” in a Pune suburb after they found that she was preparing to go to Syria in 2017 and join the Islamic State (IS).
ATS Assistant Commissioner of Police Bhanupratap Barge told The Indian Express that they are “de-radicalising the girl” with the help of Islamic clerics and with the “complete support” of her family.
ATS sources said the girl had been convinced by IS sympathisers on various social media platforms that they would get her admission to a medical course in Syria so that she could work for IS.
Sources described the girl as “bright”, with 90 per cent marks in her SSC exams. She is now a student of Class 11, pursuing the science stream in a Pune-based junior college, they said.
Investigations by ATS have also revealed that the girl was connected through her Facebook account to IOC manager Mohammed Sirajuddin, who was arrested last week from Jaipur for his alleged links with IS. But sources said there was no evidence that she had communicated with Sirajuddin.
Directed by state ATS chief Vivek Phansalkar and IG Niket Kaushik, the Pune team zeroed in on the girl “using human and technical intelligence a few days ago” based on inputs received from others who were being lured by IS propaganda on social media.
According to sources, the team contacted the girl and her “highly educated” family and opted for counselling instead of registering a case as the girl was a minor.
ATS sources said their probe revealed that the girl took the first step towards IS after she came across a news item on the militant group about four months back. Out of curiosity, they added, she joined a related Facebook group where she came in contact with a Sri Lankan national suspected to be an IS operative.
Soon, she started communicating with other IS sympathisers through Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Telegram and email, sources said.
According to ATS officials, the girl was radicalised to such an extent that she changed her personal lifestyle within a short span of time. “Earlier, she wore modern clothes and had to be forced by her family to observe certain religious customs. After radicalisation, she started wearing the burqa and observing all religious customs meticulously,” said sources.
Apart from Sirajuddin, the girl’s list of friends on Facebook also had other Indian and foreign nationals with suspected links to IS, sources said. They included IS sympathisers from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and European countries, and Indian states such as Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, sources said.
The Pune ATS team has alerted police teams in the other states and international agencies about these suspects.