How the Internet helped Islamic State snag terror recruits in India

  • Rajesh Kumar Singh, Hindustan Times, Lucknow
  • Updated: Jan 24, 2016 11:59 IST
The National Intelligence Agency and Uttarakhand police arrested four persons — Akhlaq-ur-Rehman, Mohammad Osama alias Adil, Mohammad Azimu Shaan and Mehraj — in a joint operation at Roorkee on Tuesday. (File Photo)

Nobody ever thought Rizwan, a student of Buddha Inter College at Kushinagar, would hit the headlines one day. After all, he was just another 24-year-old youngster struggling with his textbooks – neither too good nor bad at studies, and definitely not destined for a life of fame.

Today, Rizwan finds himself splashed across the pages of local newspapers, but his parents don’t seem too happy about the development. After all, gaining notoriety for being an alleged member of the Islamic State’s Indian cell is no matter of pride.

Members of the Uttar Pradesh Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) say the youngster was introduced to the world of terror when his father Nizamuddin Ali, a lekhpal in the district revenue department, got him a mobile phone and a laptop. Like any person of his age would do, he gained access to social networking sites and apps – including Facebook and WhatsApp – and began scouting around the world wide web for things he found interesting. Unfortunately for Rizwan, these included jihadi literature and videos posted on social networking sites.

Following this, it didn’t take long for an Islamic State handler to find the youngster, and propose that he join the Janood-ul-Khalifa-e-Hind (the Army of the Caliph in India). When Rizwan expressed his willingness, the handler entrusted him with the task of roping in likeminded youth for jihad – a ‘holy duty’ that included asking people on his Facebook friends’ list to become soldiers in the army of self-declared caliph Abu-Bakr al Baghdadi.

Soon, eight youngsters joined the group and began holding secret meetings at Lucknow, ATS sources said. As the numbers grew, they opened offices at Kushinagar, Lucknow, Roorkee, Hyderabad, Goa, Mumbai, Chennai and Mangalore. The Islamic State handler transferred money into their accounts through hawala channels, so they could purchase laptops, tablets, mobile phones and explosives — the equipment required to strengthen the network as well as carry out sensational attacks.

However, that was when the security forces entered the picture. The National Intelligence Agency and Uttarakhand police arrested four persons — Akhlaq-ur-Rehman, Mohammad Osama alias Adil, Mohammad Azimu Shaan and Mehraj — in a joint operation at Roorkee on Tuesday, uncovering terror plots that included mounting an attack on the Ardh Kumbh in Haridwar and the Republic Day parade at New Delhi and Lucknow.

Acting on electronic surveillance data as well as information extracted from the terror suspects, security personnel then arrested Rizwan from Kushinagar and co-extremist Mohammad Alim from Lucknow – seizing mobile phones, laptops, jihadi literature and a large sum of money from their possession. A manhunt was launched for Nafish, a Hyderabad resident with close connections to terror handlers.

According to ATS sources, a majority of these terrorists hail from lower income groups. Not content with the money earned by his father from a haircutting saloon near Munshipuliya crossing in Lucknow, Alim used to study B Com through correspondence – earning some money on the side by making wedding videos. However, even his busy schedule didn’t stop the youngster from taking up a third task, which involved motivating Muslim youngsters to join the terror cause.

The ATS probe found that Alim had allegedly given Akhlaq some money to purchase explosives. “Rizwan and Alim have been questioned. We are working on the information provided by them. More arrests cannot be ruled out,” Daljit Singh Chawdhary, additional director general (law and order), said.

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