It starts with a handler spotting a potential recruit through chats on social media sites. Having identified one, the handler comes up with a trick question on the target’s personal chat window. If the receiver answers it correctly, the handler will ask the person to start chatting with him on secure app-based messenger sites. That’s when the handler shares his name. Claiming to be based in Syria, he then goes on to share a plan the potential recruit needs to execute to prove his allegiance. These details and other insights into the approach of the Islamic State to attract young men and women to its fold using the social media have been provided to security agencies by one of the arrested “ringleaders” of a module of the outfit.
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“Wazu main doosari sunnat kaunsi hai”, “Naak main paani dalna” (Which is the second step while offering namaaz? To put water in the nose). I replied and my handler then told me to create an account on app-based messenger service Telegram,” Nasir Chaus, an alleged IS recruit, who is in the custody of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), told officials.
Chaus is the alleged ringleader of the IS-Parbhani module in Maharashtra that was busted by the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) last year. The case was subsequently transferred to the NIA. This was the ‘trick’ question posed to Chaus by his handler identified as ‘Shafi Armar’ alias ‘Yusuf’ alias ‘Farooque’.
“Satisfied with his answer, Farooque invited him to Telegram where he revealed his name and told Chaus that he is an Indian national based in Syria. Chaus created an ID, Abu-hamdan, on Telegram and used the ID to chat with his handler. Subsequently, when Chaus read about an IS-module being busted by a security agency and that ‘Farqooue’ alias Shafi Armar was their handler, he checked with him. However, Farooque responded to that by saying that Shafi was a brother and they hailed from Bhatkal in Karnataka. Chaus claimed he did not probe further as there was an unstated rule on not checking or probing other members,” a senior official told The Indian Express.
Chaus claimed that after the beef-ban imposed by the BJP government in Maharashtra in 2015, he thought that the government would gradually ban namaz, growing of beard and observing fast during the month of Ramzan. It was in September 2015 that he started surfing the Internet to learn more on IS and also created a Twitter account through which he met his handler. During the course of the probe, Chaus provided a blow-by-blow account of how social media is used by IS to communicate with the youth, officials said.
“Incidents like Godhra and Muzaffarnagar riots, Dadri episode (killing of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri), killing of Pune-based techie Mohsin Sheikh made me feel the need to fight against the atrocities committed on the Muslim community. The beef ban only affirmed my belief that the Muslims were ‘cornered’ and that the government will soon impose bans on various practices followed by the community including offering prayers. I then started reading IS literature on the Internet. I felt that Muslims were safe in Syria and that they have total authority there. I, therefore, felt the need to travel to Syria and join IS,” Chaus was said to have told his interrogators.
After establishing contact with his handler through Twitter, Chaus was added to various messenger groups. Later, the ‘trick question’ was asked by the handler following which Chaus created a Telegram account and started chatting with his handler.
“I was a part of an IS group on Telegram on which only IS-related video, photographs, PDF, text were posted. On the profile pictures I could only see the initials of the first and the last names of the members. We used to also chat on ‘channel messenger’ on Telegram. On this forum, a lot of articles which stated that ‘Allah is only one’ were posted frequently. I was also a part of other channel called Islamic Book,” Chaus told the NIA.
“The advantage of the channel is that the administrator can broadcast messages, delete any messages, add members, remove members, change the channel’s name, profile image and link, as well as delete the channel completely,” Chaus told investigators.
“Channels are a tool for broadcasting public messages to large audiences. When a post is put up on a channel, the message is signed with the channel’s name. Unlike in groups, deleted posts will disappear for everyone, not just you,” an official said. “This is one of the reason why IS uses such app-based messenger service to indoctrinate youth,” the official said.
The Parbhani module which had planned to carry out an attack on former Superintendent of Police Navinchandra Reddy, who was involved in an operation against a SIMI operative in 2012, created a WhatsApp group. The group was created by one of the arrested men, Mohd Raisuddin. There were 25 members in the group. But only general information was posted on the group.
The Parbhani youth told the agency that while chatting with his handler on the private window, Farooque directed him to carry out a blast in India. “While Chaus was inclined to travel to Syria and had even got his passport made, Farooque shot down the idea and told him to stay put, claiming that Indian agencies were closing monitoring IS-related activities and arresting youths across the country. He also said that despite taking all precautions, there was a possibility of being caught at the airport. Chaus was advised to carry out an attack during the 2016 Eid ul-Fitr and Farqooue even shared a diagram of the bomb that Chaus was asked to assemble,” the official said.
Based on the diagram, Chaus then bough two 9-volt batteries, ten LED bulbs, on-off switch, black cello tape, two pieces of one-foot long wires and a horizontal plastic box.
“Chaus claims that when his relatives went for a function, he assembled the items and made an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). He placed gun powder, shrapnels in the plastic box as mentioned in the diagram and had sent a picture to Farqooue, who replied ‘sahi hai’ (it’s right),” the official said.
“At every stage, the handler plays a critical role and he is the one feeding the material to recruits, radicalising them and deciding the task they need to carry out. The final aim is to carry out lone-wolf attacks through these indoctrinated youths,” the official said.
Between July and August last year, the Maharashtra ATS busted the Parbhani-based IS module and arrested four youths from Parbhani and Hingoli — Mohd Raisuddin Mohd Siddique, Iqbal Ahmed Kabir Ahmed, Nasir Chaus and Shaheed Khan. They were subsequently chargesheeted under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Indian Penal Code.