From custom-made apps to GPS: How militants used ‘smart gear’ in Kashmir

  • Toufiq Rashid, Hindustan Times, Srinagar
  • Updated: Sep 23, 2016 07:46 IST
A soldier near the army base which was attacked in Uri on Sunday. Islamabad has denied any role in the attack that left 18 soldiers dead. (Waseem Andrabi/HT )

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is relying on a damaged global positioning system (GPS) device to track the journey of a group of militants suspected to have travelled from Pakistan to attack an army camp in Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday.

Mapping of the cross-border journey assumes importance as the militants left very little evidence to suggest their Pakistan connection, which will reinforce India’s claims that the attack was carried out by militants based in the neighbouring country.

Islamabad has denied any role in the attack that left 18 soldiers dead at Uri. Two damaged GPS sets have been recovered from the attack site. One of the sets has been given to the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) for retrieving data. The investigators also found a handset similar to those used by militants in the past.

Read: Pakistan has ‘nothing to gain’ from Uri attack, says its foreign office

This is not the first time that non-local militants have been caught with ‘smart gear’ that helps them not only cross the border without local guides but keeps them off the security surveillance radar. A senior police officer said Pakistan-based militant organisations are using technology in their operations since 2010.

Instead of using satellite phones, the militants are using cognitive radio communication devices that are difficult to track and smartphones with software mimicking popular social networking sites.

“Earlier militants needed a local guide to cross over, the guide could be co-opted and most of the bids were foiled that way,’’ an officer said but now GPS can help the militants reach their destinations without any help.”

Once near the target, the militants use the specially developed smart phones having software named after commercially available mobile apps — like Skype becomes Skipe.

Read: Besides diplomatic manoeuvring, govt’s Uri action plan includes military options

The apps help them remain in touch with their handlers without being detected by the army’s technical surveillance,’’ the official said, adding that a new app called “Calculator” used to communicate between a small group of militants was found on the smartphones. The app leaves no trace of the messages exchanged unlike WhatsApp or WeChat.

A senior officer also said that the apps are indigenously developed by Lashkar’s information technology cell and are frequently changed. “Most of the apps can be downloaded from off-air network created specifically for them,” he added.

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