Timely intervention saved the boy who almost joined ISIS

Illustration/Ravi Jadhav
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

Javed* almost crossed over to the dark side. Timely intervention by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) saved the 22-year-old computer engineering student from Kerala from joining the ISIS after he came in contact with a suspected recruiter of the terrorist group on Facebook. A chance conversation led to daily chats.

It was just another day in June when Javed logged onto Facebook and scrolled through the ‘news feed’. A rather tasteless anti-Islamic post caught his eye. He commented on the post, hoping to convince the poster that he held distorted, prejudiced views of the religion. A debate then ensued.

Soon after, one of the commentators, claiming to be from Europe, sent him a personal message via Facebook Messenger, lauding him for his stand on the issue. That innocuous talk soon turned into frequent chats.

“Initially, he talked of how he agreed that Muslims are often treated as second-rate citizens in India and are vilified across the world. He stressed on the need to change people’s views about Islam,” Javed told mid-day over the phone from Kerala.

Javed was taken in by the glib talker; he began to look forward to “lessons” on Islam from him.

Intentions revealed
Within a few days, the man revealed his true intentions. He told the youngster that he was an ISIS recruiter, and was looking for intrepid youths who could take up the terrorist group’s fight “in saving Islam”.

The ISIS recruiter’s attempt at brainwashing Javed began to yield results.

“His words made a huge impact. I began to agree with whatever he said,” admitted the youngster.

Despite tottering towards the ISIS, Javed had his misgivings. Each time he allegedly felt he couldn’t give up prospects of a lucrative career to join the ISIS, the man dangled the bait of a luxurious lifestyle.

He is alleged to have told Javed that he could “travel the world” and be a key cog in the ISIS hierarchy by using his computer skills to further its propaganda.

“He repeatedly told me that I would get to serve my religion by working with it,” said Javed.

ATS gets wind
By the beginning of July, Javed and the man began chatting on Facebook Messenger for eight to 10 hours a day.

“There were times when I feared was being led down the wrong path. But I couldn’t confide in my parents. I was afraid that they would berate me and that I would become a cause for worry,” said the student.

The alleged ISIS recruiter held such a sway over Javed that the youngster felt he couldn’t trust anyone else.

“His words and teachings were that powerful,” he admitted.

By the first week of August, Javed was ready to flee the country. The ATS had been keeping an eye on inflammatory posts on social media, ever since platforms turned into the ISIS’ new hunting ground.

Alerted by an anti-Islamic post in June, it had been tracking Javed. Suspecting that he was being radicalised by a recruiter, ATS swiftly officials tracked him to a Vasai residence through his SIM card. The address was that of Javed’s uncle, who revealed that he had bought a SIM card for the youth three years ago. It was this SIM that Javed was using back home in Kerala to conduct his chats with the alleged ISIS recruiter.

The uncle was advised to ask Javed to visit Mumbai, without revealing the details. When Javed arrived in the city on August 20, he was told the ATS had come looking for him, and asked if he had fallen into bad company. This was the tipping point. Javed opened up about the sustained brainwashing on FB. The ATS later took him into custody for three days, where he was questioned and counselled. The officials explained to him that the ISIS hunts for gullible and bright youth on social media, conveniently using religion as a tool to recruit. They convinced him to use his skills to work at building his own career, and help the nation progress. He was then counselled by a psychiatrist, before being allowed to return to Kerala.

Back home, Javed told mid-day, he is now focussed on academics. He prefers staying away from FB and Twitter.

(*Name changed to protect identity)

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