Tracking terrorism in the virtual world

Hyderabad has more intelligence surveillance set up by both state police wings and Central agencies.

The evening azaan was minutes away when police constable Jameel (name changed) received a phone call from his informer. “Something is happening near the local masjid at Nazeeb Nagar. You might want to check this out,” said the informer in a hushed tone. An undercover cop with the intelligence wing of Telangana police, Jameel wore his civvy clothes and headed to the mosque. As the day was about to get dark in Hyderabad, few men gathered in front of the masjid were protesting against Israel’s war on Gaza. Among the agitators, Jameel noticed that a lean youngster with well-combed hair and trimmed beard was abnormally excited.

It was the month of Ramzan in 2014. Following orders from his superiors, Jameel shadowed the youngster for the next few weeks. Cyber experts at the intelligence wing tracked every likes and comments he made in ISIS propaganda Facebook pages. And later, on August 31 in the same year, the Telangana police captured him along with three others at a small hotel in Kolkata, from where he was planning to cross the Bangladesh border to travel to Syria to join ISIS. One year later, the police arrested him again at Nagpur airport, from where he allegedly planned to travel to Kashmir with his two cousins to cross border and join ISIS. The youth was none other than Abdul Basith, a 22-year-old student from Chandrayangutta who is now serving jail in Hyderabad under judicial remand with charges under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

Being one of hotspots of ISIS fans, Hyderabad now probably has more intelligence surveillance set up by the both state police wings and Central agencies. According to sources, a dedicated wing of cyber experts are snooping on cyber activities of suspected individuals day and night. The arrests of Abdul Basith and others, whose journeys were so secret that even their closest friends were not aware of, wouldn’t have been possible if there were no such meticulous intelligence gathering.

“There are several Facebook pages and groups of “certain interest” hosted by both Indians and foreign nationals. Many of them discuss issues of Gujarat pogrom, Babri Masjid demolition, Kashmir and Gaza. Among the other normal users, there are youngsters with radical ideas flocked to these groups to discuss extreme ideas. Monitoring these groups have helped the police track ISIS sympathisers,” said an intelligence official.

“Initially, many were openly commenting on the ISIS propaganda pages, which sprang up online after the rise of ISIS in Syria. It is not so difficult to track the local sympathiser once you spot him on these pages, ” he added. The Hyderabadi woman and alleged ISIS online recruiter Afsha Jabeen, who was arrested in the city after deportation from Dubai, was also running an FB page with similar ideas to attract youth.

The intelligence official says that the success lies in tracking the targets in both cyber world and physical world. But the importance is given to online snooping since the ISIS has successfully spread its tentacles far and wide in interwebs. Officials say they cannot divulge more details on intelligence gathering since publishing such details might help terrorist to build immunity, but assert that they have highly secret and efficient methods to track their subjects. Earlier, Wikileaks cables had revealed that the state police has been a customer of Italian malware giant Hacking Team since 2011. The leaked emails of Hacking Team showed that Telangana cops attempted to buy a high tech “cellular interception hardware” that can be used for advanced electronic surveillance. No officials are ready to confirm this purchase. But experts say these equipments must have been put to use to track the ISIS sympathisers.

After his first capture in Kolkata, the police had counselled Basith and three others and let them off without registering any cases. However, when he and his cousins again tried to leave the country to join ISIS, the police arrested them and slapped serious charges. But cops still believe counselling is a great way to deradicalise youth. “Counselling is an established way in the world to deradicalise a person. It did yield positive results in the case of most youngsters in Hyderabad. But a few people remained unchanged and we arrested them,” said Hyderabad police commissioner Mahender Reddy.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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