Taking on direct-to-home jihad – Times of India

Last Friday, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested four terror suspects in Hyderabad who were allegedly planning mayhem on January 26. The interrogation that followed revealed a disturbing piece of information: each of them had been radicalized online. One of them had even learnt the deadly craft of making bombs courtesy Google.
“They were inspired by several recent Islamic State (IS) strikes, including the Paris attacks which they had followed closely on the internet and TV. Nobody had recruited them. And they had no handlers as in previous terror cases,” said a senior Telangana police officer.
From San Bernardino to Singapore, Bengaluru to Mumbai — anti-terrorism sleuths are getting nightmares at the growing number of self-radicalized youth. Intelligence sources estimate about 25 young Muslims from India have travelled to Syria to join IS. Of them, six are already dead. Around 150-200 others are on the watchlist of security agencies.
“From summary executions to inflammatory speeches, terrorist outfits are indulging in online propaganda on a massive scale in their efforts to brainwash youth without any recruiter physically motivating them. Self-radicalization is happening on a large scale in India. It’s a reality we can’t ignore,” says a worried intelligence official.
Security analyst Gurmeet Kanwal, former director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, explains why. “Just like the so-called physical caliphate, the IS is also trying to create a cyber caliphate. Those owing allegiance to Al Baghdadi are using laptops and the internet to influence young minds. This is a challenge for intelligence agencies,” he says.
Back in April 2013 after the Boston marathon bombings, US President Barack Obama spoke of the dangers of “self-radicalized individuals” who “in some cases, might not be part of any network”. The germ of such an idea is nearly a decade old. In a 2014 commentary titled ‘Countering the Self-Radicalized Lone Wolf’, Singapore-based academic Kumar Ramakrishna wrote that ideological trends in violent Islamist circles have stressed operational decentralization to small autonomous cells and lone wolves globally since the mid-2000s. Ramakrishna said the late Anwar al-Awlaki of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the al-Qaida Syrian propagandist Abu Musab al-Suri had argued for autonomous small-scale attacks that are tougher to detect and prevent. “The online English-language AQAP magazine, Inspire, even had an article called, Make a Bomb in your Mom’s Kitchen, translated into Bahasa by Indonesian jihadists,” he wrote.
Over the past two years, cops have arrested several self-indoctrinated young men in Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Mumbai. In Bengaluru, IS’s multi-faceted influence came to light in December 2014 with the arrest of Mehdi Masroor Biswas, a 25-year-old MNC executive who ran ‘Shami Witness’, a pro-IS Twitter handle. An ADGP of Karnataka Police told Tehelka that “what drives him is his thought that the community is being victimized and the social media platform with thousands of followers gave him a sense of power.” The cops investigating the digital jihadi got threatening posts. A few of these Twitter accounts belonged to “self-radicalized” Bengaluru youth who had no terror links but flirted with “dangerous causes” as ISIS sympathizers.
The driving force behind the radicalization of Muslim youth is a subject of debate. Political scientist Imtiaz Ahmad says that Muslim radicalization in India articulates itself in various ways. First, through a more elaborate and demonstrable celebration of rituals and practices. Second, a deep sense of grievance arising from a feeling of being unfairly treated in the country which can draw misled youth towards radical groups, either home-grown or global such as IS.
According to Ahmad, the second form of radicalization is worrying though he also adds that the number of youngsters ready to wage a war is not very large. “Most Indian Muslim clerics and the Muslim middle class are against such radicalization. They have been trying to wean the youth away from the path of violence. If the Indian government’s overall policy vis-a-vis Muslims remains moderate, radicalization would be subdued. If it becomes aggressive, then the process could accelerate,” he says.
Kanwal says it is important to have a counter-radicalization strategy in place. By which he means a strict watch on internet traffic, including social media and emails, while ensuring that laws and rules are in place and democratic norms are followed. “Schools, especially madrassas, should be made to ensure that kids don’t stray. There’s an urgent need to fight the menace before it strikes,” he says. That’s easier said than done. As Kanwal himself says, the entire exercise is resource intensive and would require large, trained manpower.
Muslim clerics, too, are worried. Renowned Sunni Barelvi cleric, Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan considers self-radicalization through internet as a serious problem and expounds on methods being used to counter the menace. “A wide network of clerics who visit villages for taqrir (religious speeches) condemn the activities of IS and other terrorist organizations. During these interactions, the clerics also spot young men who appear to be under the influence of these organizations,” says Khan.
He maintains that such youngsters are counselled with the help of their family. “We tell them that Islam is against killing of innocents and these terrorist organizations are not Islamic but keep Muslim names to trap youth. The counselling helps us to show them the right path. But if need arises, we will contact the police and the ATS,” he says.
Mufti Mohammed Salim Noori, a teacher at Jamia Razviya Manazar-e-Islam madrassa in Bareilly says the seminary has introduced a specialization within the Hadith course, titled ‘Islam and terrorism’. “It offers the students a chance to compare the original text from the Quran with the translations offered by terrorist groups to show how the religious text is being misused. We also conduct regular workshops at madrassas to show how religion is abused to spread terrorism and influence young and impressionable students,” he said.
Noori added that students have been asked to refrain from reading or watching any material available on the internet posted by terrorists groups. “If any student is found reading it, strict action will be taken and they will be expelled,” he said.
The cat-and-mouse game between radicalization and counter-radicalization is truly on.
With inputs from Bharti Jain, Srinath Vudali, Arun Dev, Sandeep Rai & Priyangi Agarwal.

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