Your hot date could be terrorists' bait, warns Anti-Terrorism Squad

Updated: 26 November, 2018 16:24 IST | Suraj Ojha | Mumbai

Anti-Terrorism Squad officers have stumbled upon trick used by terror outfits to lure youngsters through popular dating apps

9 No. of apps cops have found terrorists using
9 No. of apps cops have found terrorists using

Looking for love online? Your blind date might turn out to be bait from terror groups. The Maharashtra Anti- Terrorism Squad (ATS) has discovered a new trick that IS and other terror outfits are using to lure youngsters into their fold — dating and chatting apps. The cops have found at least nine such apps, with conveniently high encryption levels, that are being used as honeytraps to radicalise and recruit young men.

The ATS warned that they have found a growing trend of young men being catfished by terrorist recruiters posing as girls on apps like Tinder. "We have noticed this in dating apps like Tinder, where young boys search for women. They look at the girls' pictures and send them requests to chat. The recruiters use pictures of beautiful girls to attract the attention of these boys," said an ATS officer.

IS handlers create many accounts, posing as women of various ages, to appeal to a wider range of men. Once they zero in on a target, the IS cyber experts try to get as much information on the person through his social media accounts, and then use this to lure him. The same trick has been used by terror groups based in Pakistan to recruit youngsters from Kashmir, said sources.

The ATS has found terrorist recruiters catfishing youngsters on nine dating and chatting apps. Representation Pic/Getty Images
The ATS has found terrorist recruiters catfishing youngsters on nine dating and chatting apps. Representation Pic/Getty Images

State ATS chief Atulchandra Kulkarni said, "We urge youngsters not to chat with strangers, or at least be careful. Terror recruiters have been found to be active on dating apps, where youngsters often chat with strangers and are vulnerable to getting honey-trapped." In the past, IS had used Facebook and Twitter as well to radicalise youngsters in Maharashtra.

when it comes to private chatting and dating apps, the ATS has found terrorist activity on Tinder, Signal, Chat Secure, Red Phone, Silent Circle, Telegram, Wickr, Threema and Surespot. While these nine have come on the radar of ATS so far, sources said recruiters are likely using many other apps to get in touch with youngsters.

Beat them at their own game
The ATS's cyber team is keeping an eye on all dating sites and apps, as well as social media sites, scanning for vulnerable youngsters who may be brainwashed. An officer said, "Earlier, on Facebook or Twitter, anybody could check citizens' post to analyse what their ideology or behaviour, but dating and chatting apps are encrypted, and no one can see the identity of the users or their conversations without permission."

Sources revealed that the investigating agency has taken a leaf out of the recruiters' book, and created a few dummy accounts on such sites and apps. When they find any suspicious activity, they try to engage with the user. Once they get confirmation of radicalisation, they try to reach out to the person and de-radicalise them.

Vulnerable youth
As per a senior ATS officer, the handlers try to exploit youngsters who are either unemployed or going through some crisis. "If these boys and girls are shown the right path, and helped to stand on their own feet, they readily cooperate and also help to spread the word in their community," said cops.

Often, when word gets out about their interaction with terror outfits, these youths and their kin are ostracised by society and employers. The ATS has helped several such victims by enrolling them at Rural Self Employment Training Institutes (RSETIs). So far, the Maharashtra ATS has helped 300 victims to get a fresh start in this manner. ATS chief Kulkarni said, "We enroll these youngsters and their relatives in the RSETI programme, and we have got positive response from them." The ATS has also helped 26 people who were radicalised through the promise of loans. These victims are now in the process of starting their own businesses. 30 others have started their own ventures using bank loans.

Apps they've tapped
Tinder, Signal, Chat Secure, Red Phone, Silent Circle, Telegram, Wickr, Threema and Surespot

Case study
In 2016, the ATS found a young salesman in the Marathwada region who was going through a major life crisis. He was in the middle of a land dispute with his relative, who tried to register a false complaint of kidnapping against him. Unable to focus on work, the youth ended up losing his job. IS recruiters zeroed in on him and radicalised him within three to four months. They offered him a better job opportunity with good pay. They provoked him by asking what the Indian government had done for him. Maharashtra ATS found out about the youth through the cyber cell. After provising counselling, the ATS enrolled him for a mobile repair training programme. He has since launched his own mobile repair shop.

Also Read: Missing Mulund student: Family flips, but no clean chit from police or ATS

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First Published: 26 November, 2018 13:50 IST

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