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Is IM using social networking sites for recruitment?

June 06, 2012 12:22 IST

Post 13/7 and the Delhi high court blasts, what foxed investigators was the complete absence of telephone conversations that led up to the planning and the execution of these blasts.

Further investigations revealed that the cadres had used social networking websites, and that's how they managed to stay under the investigators' radar. The investigators also found that some cadres of the Indian Mujahideen were trying to conduct recruitments through their Facebook accounts.

The IM has been quick in the use of technology when it came to planning and executing their operations. They started out with the use of email, then moved on to chats and later Skype, a video conferencing application.

However, when the police finally realised, the cadres improvised by using the 'save draft' option and the cache to store their messages in accounts which were accessed through a common username and password.

The planning

IM's elusive chief operative Yasin Bhatkal had extensively used social networking sites to stay in touch with his cadres. Personalised messages were sent out and status updates in coded form were used to communicate his plans which eventually led to two very horrific blasts.

The police say that the cadres had started using social networking websites as far back as 2008, but it was only used as backup.

However, post 2008, because of strict monitoring by investigators; the cadres started using social networking websites extensively.

The first use was visible during the 2010 Varanasi blast, which was orchestrated through this medium. The perpetrators used heavily-coded language to pass on the information. They used a similar modus operandi during the triple blasts in Mumbai and the Delhi HC blasts.

During the planning stage, the IM cadres in India met directly and discussed their plans. They realised that one-on-one meetings left little or no trail. Networking sites were used to communicate with their counterparts in other locations. This, of course, went unnoticed by the police, which helped them execute their plans with a great deal of ease.

Shishir Gupta, the author of the book -- Indian Mujahideen, Tracking the Enemy Within says, "For an aspiring global power, India is very vulnerable to cyber attacks by terrorist groups. Since 2005, IM modules have been communicating through the internet with the use of emails, Skype etc. So when we speak of the use of social networking sites, it is only natural that they would have upgraded their capabilities."

"Social networking sites, in fact have proven to be a safe method of communication for them," he adds.

The Danger ahead

While now it is clear that the IM has been using social networking sites to communicate, there is also this danger where the recruitments are concerned. It is not necessary that they would continue to use very popular networking sites to communicate their plans among each other. The police are not ruling out a possibility of the use of lesser-known sites for communication.

However the bigger worry ahead is the manner in which they would try and recruit and also communicate their agenda through such sites. The IM has been trying to fashion itself on the lines of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and has been quoting some social causes before they carry out their attacks. They are constantly looking for sympathy among the younger lot and have been successful to a large extent.

During the past couple of months it has been witnessed that some members of the outfit who are present on popular social networking sites have been sending out friend requests to college students, persons in high positions and also journalists.

According to cops, their 'hit rate' has not been so great, but even if they manage to bail one out of 20 people, the IM would be content.

Cyber security experts say that there is no one point solution to this problem.

"There is no point in finding out things after the damage has been done and it is necessary that the police remain one up on the game," said an expert.
Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru