Maharashtra is mulling giving reprieve to youngsters lured by the Islamic State in a bid to deradicalise ISIS sympathisers.
As a first step in this direction, the state Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) has convinced Zubair Khan, a self-proclaimed journalist who was detained in New Delhi last week after visiting the Iraq Embassy, to make a public appeal against falling for propaganda disseminated by the ISIS during an Independence Day function in Navi Mumbai today.
Khan is the first in a series of possible turncoats the Maharashtra ATS plans to tap to stem the trend of young individuals becoming radicalised online and joining the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“We have more or less convinced him to appear during the Independence Day celebrations in Navi Mumbai and appeal to youth to not be lured by ISIS propaganda. This (Independence Day) is as good a platform as any to spread the message of peace and harmony through the same people who once held extreme views against the state,” said a senior officer.
The step has been initiated by the state government following a meeting of home secretaries from various states in New Delhi earlier this month to discuss measures to deradicalise youth lured by ISIS.
The first measures, officials said, would be to assess if the arrest of ISIS sympathisers could be avoided. This, however, applies strictly to sympathisers, and not to people who have actually gone to Iraq and Syria and worked for ISIS.
“Just as the ISIS is brainwashing them with videos and messages online, we need to counter their propaganda with a similar strategy. Zubair Khan is not the only person we are looking at to send across a message to Indian youth to not join ISIS. There are many more you will see in the future, disseminating a message of peace,” said a senior state official.
Navi Mumbai-based Zubair Khan was detained on August 6 after visiting the Iraq Embassy and expressing his wish to travel to Iraq to join ISIS.
He claimed to be running a weekly magazine called Journalist for International Peace, and had written several blogs on his wish to be the voice of Indian Muslims.
He claimed to have visited the embassy to ‘submit a memorandum to Caliphate Bagdadi’. In one his posts, Khan had called Yakub Memon, the 1993 blasts convict who was hanged last month, a martyr.
Police had said Khan appeared depressed over family matters and the loss of a job.