GCC and India should be alert on social media terror chatter
Information sharing with GCC countries important in age of web warfare.
India must be watchful, not fearful of the Daesh threat and do more to close the gaps in tracking its nationals at home and abroad. Last week, an Indian expat woman based in the UAE was arrested when she landed at Hyderabad airport in South India for her alleged role in recruiting people to join Daesh.
Indian newspapers also reported two men were sent back by from the Gulf for allegedly being in contact with Daesh sympathisers on social networking sites, only to walk free - home and dry. Another Indian youth who was deported last month, was detained when he arrived at Kozhikode airport in Kerala, but charges were not brought against him. Indian media reported 10 others have also been arrested in the Gulf for their alleged support to the terror group on social media.
This raises questions about the Indian government's commitment to combat the threat jointly with state agencies even as Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh expressed concerns about the spread of extremist ideology on social media. And are local state security agencies doing enough to monitor and tackle extremist elements sent home from abroad?
Security officials in Kerala said no action would be taken against the two youths for their alleged support to the group. An intelligence official told Khaleej Times that the two deported men had "only shared some pro-Daesh materials in their Facebook pages". This did not indicate any "open support" to the group. "Some posts were innocent comments," the official said.
This runs contrary to the Indian home (interior) ministry's views that the "threat of Daesh is a matter of serious concern and there is need for close cooperation between countries, and exchange of information to monitor their activity".
There is a need to counter the "extensive media propaganda by Daesh in cyber space", the Indian government said recently. Jihadi chats and online recruitment should be monitored extensively, it added.
There is a marginal presence of Indian fighters in Syria and Iraq, experts tracking their activity online told Khaleej Times. Most Indians with Daesh are not on the frontline, but provide logistical support and run errands for the terrorists. However, an Indian suicide bomber died in action in the Hama Governate, located in Western-Central Syria. He was identified as Umar. Another recruit named Arif Majeed, who was recruited from Kalyan in Maharashtra, also saw action in Syria, but was arrested upon his return to India last November.
A journalist from a Malayalam daily, who worked briefly in Qatar, also recently joined a terror group in Syria. Daesh handlers recruited him via social media.
Many countries are keeping track of extremist Net chatter and several Indians are under scrutiny for their alleged ties to these outfits, but not enough information on their activity is being shared by government agencies.
Gulf countries view online transgressions seriously. The UAE has even drafted a tough anti-terror law that bars any individual from making contact with Daesh, Al Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood.
"Whoever seeks or communicates with a foreign state, terrorist organisation, or with anyone who works for their interests, to commit a terrorist act, shall be punished with imprisonment for life while the death penalty will be imposed if the terrorist act has been carried out," says the law.
The UAE and US launched a digital messaging centre called Sawab to counter Daesh propaganda on social media because they believe the ideological battle must be first fought online to win the larger war against the group.
"The UAE is mentioned frequently by Daesh-affiliated Twitter accounts we monitor. The number of Indian expats in the UAE and the Gulf more broadly is a significant population that is in the sight-line of Daesh recruiters,'' said Veryan Khan, a senior expert with the US-based Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, who listens to Net conversations and monitors social media terror recruitment.
It is, therefore, important to extend online counter terror efforts to India even though Daesh may not pose a high risk there as compared to the Middle East. The group may have grand plans for the Sub-Continent, but the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium said it was riddled with holes.
That's because Indian scholars and religious bodies have been vocal in their unanimous denouncing of the group. Indian government estimates 10-17 Indian youths have attempted to or have joined Daesh so far. Unofficial figures put the numbers higher, at over 300.
"To decode the vulnerability of Indians to Daesh ideology at home and abroad, we need to examine cultural factors in India and the Gulf region as well as political narratives."
States like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir have a dominant political presence of extremist or anti-India political narratives.
Intelligence sharing between India and its Gulf allies in this regard is of absolute importance as many people from these states work in the UAE and other GCC countries.
Nations should know what their citizens are doing abroad in the age of web warfare. This could prevent an actual terror event. "At home, this requires the enterprise of local law enforcement as well as inter-agency cooperation at federal and international levels," said the expert.