Herald: New challenges for counter-terrorism

New challenges for counter-terrorism

28 Dec 2018 05:51am IST
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28 Dec 2018 05:51am IST

It is the numbers and the ages that tell a frightening tale. A month before Republic Day, investigating agencies in 17 simultaneous searches, seized a rocket launcher, 134 mobile phone SIM cards, 112 alarm clocks and over 25 kg of chemicals that were to be used to make scores of remote-controlled bombs. National Investigating Agency, that cracked down on the suspected ISIS-inspired terror cell, and arrested 10 suspects, said the group was planning suicide attacks and serial blasts targeting politicians and government installations in Delhi and other parts of north India. Had the terror cell not been busted, the horror that could have been wrought about with the fire power at the disposal of this module can only be imagined.

A second shocking bit of information is the age group of what has been called a ‘high-radicalised module’ whose members are all in the ages between 20 and 35 years, youth in their most productive years who were willing to undertake suicide missions. If the young ages are not of concern, there is the fact that investigations have shown that it is completely self-funded and the members have no criminal antecedent, at least none has shown up in investigations yet. Those arrested are moderately educated barring two – an engineering student and a BA third year student – and are from middle income families. If terror modules are going to be peopled by ‘clean skins’ as these are generally called, then finding and arresting them render it a much more difficult task for the investigating authorities.

There can now be little doubt that terror outfits are targeting youth who could be more susceptible to fall to radical views and indoctrination. Deliberate strategies are being formulated by terrorists to reach out to youth, recruit them and get them to committing acts of violence, which includes giving up their lives in the attack. Look back at the 26/11 Mumbai attack and you notice that it had been orchestrated by a similar group of young terrorists, with the eldest of them being 28 years old and the leader just 25. The planners of that attack had stayed back directing the operation from the safety of being miles away across the border, sending the young men out to wreak havoc on the streets of Mumbai.

The young age also helps the terrorists exploit technology to the maximum, especially the Internet or other data-based applications, not just to recruit members but also to keep in touch with the recruits and still remain faceless. It reduces the physical contact, dropping in turn the possibility of detection. Messaging is also turning out to be a safe means of keeping in touch. The member of the terror module busted on Wednesday communicated with each other through WhatsApp and Telegram to avoid scrutiny. Also, in this case, NIA believes that the module has foreign-based handler(s), though there is no trail of foreign funding, but is still probing their identity and location. The use of the Internet does help terrorists conceal themselves and yet be in a position to call the shots.

This terror module has a lesson for counter terrorism efforts that will have to be concentrated on youth recruitment and the use of the Internet, social media and app-based communication systems. But it’s not all happening in cyberspace. The rocket launcher and some other weapons were forged by two brothers in their welding shop. All this also points to the possibility of there being more such local home-grown terror modules that can turn active at any time. Hunting them down will be that much more difficult but is also just as imperative for the safety of the citizens of this country.

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