The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group has recently ramped up a propaganda campaign on social media, flooding various platforms with radical material in “vernacular languages” native to regions across India, the country’s National Investigation Agency (NIA), revealed Friday.
“Global terrorist groups, including ISIS, have expedited their attempt to radicalise and recruit individuals by using radical propaganda on social media platforms in vernacular languages,” a senior officer of the NIA, which is India’s federal counter-terrorism taskforce, told Asian News International (ANI) on August 13. The officer, who spoke anonymously, said the NIA identified some of the recent propaganda material circulated by ISIS online as “anti-India.”
ISIS members post radical content on social media platforms and then monitor and gauge “[an] individual’s reaction” to the material, according to the NIA officer. If an individual responds to the ISIS posting with a favorable or “violent reaction,” then ISIS recruiters “contact such people through direct message,” he said. If an individual posts a statement or other material publicly on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook and an ISIS member happens to see and approve of the post, the terror group will directly reach out to the user via private message, he continued.
“From these private messages, the engagement grows,” according to the NIA officer. He said his organization confirmed ISIS recruitment tactics online after recently arresting and interrogating “sympathizers” of the Sunni jihadist group. The officer referred to the NIA’s arrest of Jufri Jawhar Damudi, an online ISIS propagandist operating within India, on August 6. Jufri is a resident of the city of Karnataka in the southwestern Indian state of Bengaluru.
“Jufri was in touch with ISIS leadership currently operating out of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region who provided him propaganda material and also gave directions for its dissemination,” the NIA said at the time.
“For this purpose … Jufri had created multiple pseudonymous identities on encrypted chat platforms and was also a member of various online propaganda channels of ISIS,” according to the agency.
Jufri specifically worked to produce and promote an online ISIS propaganda magazine known as Voice of Hind, which incites Muslims against non-Muslims within India and exhorts them to “rise against the government of India and join ISIS,” according to the Hindu newspaper.
The NIA registered a criminal case against Jufri in the Indian national capital, New Delhi, on June 29 “in connection with the conspiracy of the proscribed terrorist organization ISIS to radicalize and recruit impressionable Muslim youth in India to wage violent jihad against the Indian State,” the agency said in a statement at the time.
“Jufri was translating radical materials into Malayalam,” the anonymous NIA officer told ANI on August 13. Malayalam is a language spoken in the Indian state of Kerala, which borders Bengaluru.
ISIS also recruits members who can translate its propaganda material into other Indian languages such as Bengali, Assamese, or Hindi, according to the officer.
“We have found in other cases also that the recruiters, who sit outside the country, send [Islamic] religious texts which are of their like and they expect it to be translated,” he added. “They want to see how good you are in translation because they need translators in the local language.”
Bengali is the second-most widely spoken language within India after Hindi. Assamese is spoken mainly in the northeastern Indian state of Assam.
News of ISIS propaganda flourishing across social media platforms used by Indians comes one day after Twitter made headlines for censoring the accounts of Indian government officials on August 12. Rohan Gupta — the social media coordinator for India’s largest opposition party, the Indian National Congress (INC) — said INC’s main Twitter account was locked by Twitter authorities on Thursday, along with 5,000 accounts belonging to party officials and staff.
Twitter said it blocked INC’s accounts after being notified by India’s child protective services that the handles shared tweets that violated Indian laws protecting the identities of sexual assault victims. The INC accounts shared a photo clearly depicting the family of a child who was allegedly raped, murdered, and forcibly cremated in Delhi on August 1. The photo revealed the identity of the child’s parents and thus made it possible for people to identify the sexual assault victim, which is illegal in India.
“Certain types of private information carry higher risks than others, and our aim is always to protect individuals’ privacy and safety. We strongly encourage everyone on the service to familiarize themselves with the Twitter Rules and report anything they believe is in violation,” Twitter said in a statement addressing the INC account suspensions.
Twitter has repeatedly blocked content within India at the request of the country’s current government, run by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms removed posts by users in India in April that allegedly created “panic” about a then-surging coronavirus caseload nationwide after India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) complained that the tweets spread “fake or misleading information.”