Bangalore, Jan 13, 2015: It seems the banned terror outfit Indian Mujahideen (IM) was planning to expand its network using popular social media and micro-blogging sites.
Preliminary investigations by the Bangalore Police have revealed that IM had a well-thought-out plan to launch a full-scale online jihadi campaign by recruiting techies and engineers from colleges.
(From left) Abdul Subur, Saddam Hussein, and Syed Ismal Afaq are accused of being Indian Mujahideen operatives. Karnataka Police also arrested a fourth suspect on January 10.
Last week, the police nabbed three persons, suspected to be operatives of IM, and a fourth suspect was taken into custody on Saturday night from Mangalore Airport.
A large cache of explosives and communication equipment were seized from them.
During their interrogation, it was revealed that the terror network’s activities were being revived in India by one of its founders, Riyaz Bhatkal (Riyaz Ismail Shahbandri), who is hiding in Pakistan, using local contacts in Bhatkal.
Apparently, this time they decided to take the internet route to spread their ideology following the model of Islamic State (IS).
Sources in the police department pointed out that one of the accused, Syed Ismail Afaq (34), had visited several engineering colleges across Karnataka to ‘recruit’ students to the organisation and set up a Social Media Cell.
A self-styled homeopathy doctor, he had allegedly interacted with students from engineering colleges in Bengaluru, Mysuru, Mangaluru, Uttara Kannada and Dakshina districts, Hubballi, Kalburgi and Davanagere in the last one year. These cities have a sizeable number of engineering colleges.
“It appears that they had futuristic plans targeted at carrying out an effective jihadi digital campaign by radicalising engineers and techies who are fresh out of colleges. It was modelled on the lines of IS, which is recruiting volunteers from the European nations using social media sites and Twitter. The local IM module had planned something similar and had done extensive groundwork. But they did not launch it,” sources in the police said.
The police sources contended that Afaq was in touch with as many as 50-plus youths from different engineering colleges, and they were unsure how many of them were indoctrinated.
“They may have conducted a preliminary survey to ascertain the interest levels of the students. We have got the names of a few students whom we will contact in the coming days as part of the probe,” the sources added.
It is also being ascertained whether the accused had already created accounts on social media networks and micro-blogging sites to begin their campaign.
It is said that in the last two months, their work to set up the Social Media Cell had slowed down after the Bengaluru Police arrested IS sympathiser Mehdi Masroor Biswas, who was exposed by a British TV channel.
“They became alert after we started closely scrutinising social media sites and the internet for jihadi campaign being carried out by miscreants. They did not want to us know that they were planning something similar,” the sources added.
In the past, IM had effectively used the internet to inform the media and the police of bomb attacks in various Indian cities. Engineers employed by IM had hacked into unsecured Wifi networks to send e-mails to the media.
Mohammed Mansoor Asghar Peerbhoy (31), Mobin Kader Shaikh (24) and Asif Bashruddin Shaikh (22), who were allegedly part of the media cell, were arrested in 2008 by the Mumbai Police.
There are indications that Riyaz Bhatkal may have been working towards providing the back-end IT support for the Social Media Cell.
“The IS has shown how best information technology and the internet can be used for the online jehadi campaign. Some of their Twitter handles are hosted on shared servers, as a consequence of which the IP addresses keep changing, often making it difficult for investigators to quickly zero in on the users. Maybe something was being planned in a similar manner by IM,” the police sources said.
The police have until January 21 to question the accused.