Pakistan’s National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) has launched a drive to purge social media platforms of Daesh recruiters, as it was revealed during investigations how the militant network recruits young and impressionable Pakistanis via Facebook and Telegram, a media report said yesterday.
Shaikh Mohammed Imran, a Daesh recruiter who was arrested earlier this month, said he used to lure young people on Facebook before adding them to the group’s Telegram channel.
“Social media has no boundaries, so it is a challenge for us to curb the online activities of Daesh, including recruitment of our youth,” Ihsan Ghani, chief of NACTA, told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
However, he said that numerous measures had been taken in recent years to stop the online activities of the militant outfit, though a lot more was still needed to be done.
“Daesh presence on social media is worrisome for us,” he said.
“NACTA, along with other institutions, is doing a lot of work to check the online presence of not only Daesh but also other militant outfits.”
Pakistan has already blocked at least 10 websites and 1,447 web addresses in the past two years. However, security agencies are still struggling to develop a cogent mechanism to purge social media of the presence of militant groups.
“Modern tools are now used to promote, recruit and train militants besides funds collection and transfers,” says a 37-page report, “Cultivating Peace National Action Plan,” published by NACTA on Dec. 31, 2017.
Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) earlier this month arrested a militant, Imran alias Saif-ul-Islam Khilafati, from Karachi for operating at least 50 social media accounts to recruit young people for Daesh.
“It is a daunting task for us because the militants neither need an office nor huge resources to operate on social media websites,” Ghani admitted.
“The militants target the youth active on social media to brainwash and recruit them,” he said, adding that it is also the responsibility of society and parents to keep an eye on children who use the Internet and social media platforms.
NACTA has also been compiling data of Pakistanis who joined Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past couple of years to avoid any backlash in case they returned to their country. Daesh has effectively been defeated in Syria and Iraq, and the outfit is now trying to spread its tentacles in different areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
Ghani informed Arab News that a permanent “fusion center” had been established within NACTA where all relevant institutions, including intelligence agencies, gave their regular input about Pakistani members of Daesh.
“A monthly meeting in the fusion center reviews progress of the relevant institutions for tracking down the Daesh-linked militants,” he said. “Our security institutions quickly clamp down on the militants who return from the Middle East.”
“There is no evidence of any large-scale movement of Pakistanis to join Daesh in the Middle East,” he said. “But yes, they are in their hundreds and we are keeping an eye on them.”
NACTA and other relevant institutions have gathered data about Pakistanis joining Daesh in Syria and Iraq from airports, land routes via Iran, and border security agencies.
Khawaja Khalid Farooq, former Inspector General of Police and security analyst, told Arab News that Daesh had developed its influence in Balochistan and Sindh provinces, and social media provided the group with an effective tool to recruit people.
“Our youth is most vulnerable to Daesh recruiters and just blocking a few websites or web pages won’t help address the problem,” he said. “There is a need to present counter-narratives on social media to educate our youth about the true teachings of Islam.”
He added that Daesh could pose a major security threat to Pakistan if our state institutions failed to counter it immediately.
Ghani, however, denied any organized presence of Daesh in Pakistan and pledged to eliminate its “random rebels.”
“They [Daesh] are not in a position to harm us,” he said. “We have restored peace through multiple security operations and will maintain it.”