By Kabir Taneja
07 September 2018
In 2014, Areeb Majeed, a young man from
Kalyan, Maharashtra, attempted with three others to travel to Syria to join the
so-called Islamic State. His pro-ISIS radicalisation happened online, via
social media. A woman from Philippines named Karen Aisha Hamidon allegedly
played a crucial role by flirting with Areeb, and designed a bizarre concoction
of sex, jihad and the Promised Land to push him to undertake the journey.
The fame of the so-called Islamic State
(ISIS), which has gained worldwide attention as the most brutal Islamist terror
group of our times, would not have been possible without the internet and the
reach of broadband connectivity, even in bombed out cities and towns. The fact
that ISIS managed to take over the front pages of major global news outlets was
The successful weaponisation of the
internet by ISIS, using slickly produced videos, glossy magazines et cetera has
added a new dimension to the global war on terror; one that is still in the infant
stages of being processed into the narratives of the modern day
What Research Says About Digital
The initial use of the internet as a major
propaganda tool to openly, and defiantly, showcase jihadist violence was
executed by Al Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda aligned terror group in East Africa, when
it live tweeted its attack on Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya in 2013.
While the internet was used for propaganda earlier as well, terror groups, like
common citizens, now had access to open social media platforms like everyone
else, and potential jihadists now had unfiltered access to jihadist groups
According to researchers Mia Bloom and
Chelsea Daymon of Georgia State University, “use of new technologies and its
risks should not be overlooked, especially considering that encrypted platforms
have become a primary means for radicalisation, recruitment and planning”.
Bloom and Daymon in their research paper titled ‘Assessing the Future Threat:
ISIS’s Virtual Caliphate’ join a chorus of other researchers such as Charlie
Winter and Haroro J Ingram from the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism
(ICCT) at The Hague in highlighting how ISIS has, by design and impeccable
execution, changed the way the internet can be used for radicalisation.
While Bloom and Daymon use the example of
Russia-based encrypted chat app Telegram that dubiously gained global
popularity for being the first choice of pro-ISIS activities, the narratives
emboldened by such research now demands the digital domain be given the same
precedence in counter-terrorism strategies as conventional hard power in all
kinds of theatres of conflict.
India No Stranger to the Dark Side of
From an Indian perspective, the mechanism
to not just monitor but counter threats propagating radicalisation is today
inadequate and fairly behind compared to the pace at which the internet is
being used for ulterior motives. Many of the pro-ISIS Indian cases investigated
by Indian authorities were initially flagged by foreign partner agencies, only
then did Indian mechanisms for cyber security spring into action.
Kashmir is no stranger to internet
blackouts in the state’s attempts to stop stone-pelters and other miscreants,
including cross-border terrorists, from organising themselves into groups to
take on the security forces along with attempting to check the flow of
information in the valley. Even a single person, with access to online
communication platforms today has the power to disrupt narratives, if not operations.
To put the above in perspective, a few
examples can be brought to light. Earlier this year in February, a ‘freelance
jihadist’ called Eisa Fazili, who had allegedly broken away from the group
Ghazwat al-Hind, killed a policeman in Srinagar, Kashmir. To market his own
name in the valley, and also to break through the cluster of local militant
groups, Fazili took the opportunity to tap into the world’s most prominent
terror name, ISIS.
He contacted ISIS’s Amaq News online,
possibly via the app Telegram where pro-ISIS groups run amok, and claimed he
killed the policeman in name of ISIS, pushing the narrative of it being the
first ISIS attack on Indian soil. ISIS media channels broadcasted this as an
ISIS attack, and within hours an ‘ISIS in Kashmir’ narrative was created once
The Internet & Hard Power: Equally
Important in Counter-Terrorism
The use of the internet offers a vast
communication platform that is next to impossible to monitor fully. A woman
sitting in the Philippines has the means and power to recognise and play upon a
single individual’s fears or insecurities, so much so as to convince him to
travel to another country in the name of jihad.
This trend is not a one-off, and has been
institutionalised as a method by terror organisations, raising the stakes
significantly on how states like India, with issues such as Kashmir, will look
to counter in its long-term strategies.
Kabir Taneja is an Associate Fellow with the Observer Research
Foundation, New Delhi. He also curates ORF’s ‘Tracking ISIS Influence in India’
program. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the