The conversation on an online jihadi chat forum read:
USAYRIM: Do you know about vehicle bombs, thermite bombs, IED?
*Khalid: Which warm-blooded Mujahid does not know about it?
USAYRIM: What are you waiting for? There are plenty of opportunities and good targets around here
Khalid: Are you willing to help?
USAYRIM: Yes. Inshallah, whenever possible.
(* The name has been changed so as not to hamper investigations)
Usayrim, who is believed to have entered paradise without offering a single prayer, was the online chat identity that 24-year-old techie Anees Ansari used with foreign jihadi elements in a closed online chat group. Anees was picked up by the anti-terrorism squad of the Maharashtra Police from Kurla, here, on October 20 on a tip-off from the Americans. He’s in jail now and the charge sheet against him, for among other things planning an attack on the American School in the Bandra-Kurla Complex, will be filed anytime now.
The transformation of Anees, from a tech-savvy professional to a lone wolf jihadi did not happen overnight. It started with Anees telling his parents not to watch television; then he stopped subscribing to the daily newspaper at home, said investigators.
Shakeel Ahmed, his 59-year-old father who worked as a freelance journalist, often warned Anees against the radicals preaching of the Islamic State, especially when he spoke about a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. But he knew nothing about his son’s activities online.
“To interact with jihadis online, Anees used only his computer at the multinational firm that employed him at the Special Economic and Export Promotion Zone (SEEPZ) in Andheri,” said an investigator, requesting anonymity.
Anees may never have been exposed if this computer had not been linked to the direct leased line that connected the multinational firm to its associates in the United States. Anees’ references to the American school as a potential target for a terrorist strike caught the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). A covert enquiry was launched and directors of the firm were first questioned to establish the identity of their employee. Later, the Research and Analysis Wing was informed, which led to the ATS arresting him.
Indian intelligence agencies, including the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), are only just waking up to threat the internet poses as a medium for indoctrinating terrorists. The spectre of scores of lone wolf jihadis who can easily stay under the radar till it is time to strike is very real.
“We Indians always thought the internet to be another medium of entertainment. But radical elements have identified the reach of internet, especially social media, and are using it a potent weapon for indoctrination and recruitment,” said a seasoned terror investigator, requesting anonymity.
Besides, the proliferation of cheap smartphones has widened access to the internet to all sections of society. “We are looking at a situation where we have the second largest Muslim population in the world, and at the same time are set to undergo a technological revolution. Today there are more than 900 million subscribers using mobile phones in India, and with smart phones available as cheap as Rs5,000, the internet is just a click away,” said a senior IPS officer, who has been tracking terror.
The indoctrination and recruitment of a jihadi is a complex process that can take months. It is only after potential recruits spend long hours in a closed online chat group that the first approach is made. The recruiters have devised elaborate methods to check the antecedents of potential recruits to ensure their organisation is not penetrated by security agencies. “Once the recruiter gets in touch, he either asks his target to call from a local PCO or through VoIP, and in some cases only after leaving the country,” said an IPS officer.
What worries Indian agencies is the ease with which jihadi elements have managed to translate and circulate fanatical messages from Arabic to local languages such as Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada through seemingly innocuous web pages.
Areeb Majeed and his three friends from Kalyan who went to join the Islamic State; Shoeb Khan and Mudassir Shah from Hingoli and Yavatmal in Maharashtra who were arrested in Hyderabad while trying to leave the country to join al Qaeda; and Mehdi Masroor Biswas arrested on the charge of being twitter handler for ISIS are all youth who were indoctrinated via the internet.