New Delhi: The influence of ISIS propaganda has been growing across South India, particularly in Kerala, over the last four years, according to two private social media monitoring companies.
The numbers are the result of analysis carried out by the two firms — one a Delhi-based company and the other headquartered in Gurugram — that use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to monitor social media.
The head of the Gurugram-based company told ThePrint that it analysed over 60 million social media posts, especially on Facebook and Twitter, in the last four years and found that there are growing pockets of ISIS-related Islamist extremism in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Kerala, he added, has shown the highest increase in this activity.
The firm, which claims to have worked with several government agencies including a central agency dealing with terrorism, monitors social media trends and accounts to scour for such messages.
“The content we are talking about is not generic Islamist fundamentalism but rather in the form of sophisticated propaganda built around themes that are typical to ISIS,” the head said.
He added that the social media analysis also shows increased attempts by pro-ISIS individuals to get themselves elected to management committees in masjids, madrasas and other Islamic teaching centres. “This is indicative of a deliberate and premeditated approach to increase the reach, influence and power of ISIS networks in these states,” he said.
The Gurugram firm shared a map that it said was indicative of ISIS influence spreading across southern India (see below). “This figure shows what parts of India have been most influenced by ISIS after a major national security incident, and how ISIS has exploited the incident to increase and reinforce its engagement with communities in different districts,” the firm’s head said.
Propaganda from Middle East has law enforcement worried
The founder of the Delhi-based firm, who said it has worked with the Ministry of Home Affairs, paramilitary forces BSF and CRPF, and police in several states told ThePrint that intelligence agencies in the country are worried by the propaganda being spread on social media sites. “Since 2015 or so, law enforcement has been especially worried about Indian Muslim youths getting radicalised in different parts of the country,” he said.
He added that the numbers are based on data captured and analysed by a proprietary tool. The tool analyses social media posts, information shared on encrypted messaging apps such as Telegram, terrorism-related databases and news reports.
The Gurugram company founder said that the propaganda is being translated “efficiently” into local languages and this is a major worry.
“A lot of the propaganda is from the MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) region, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia included. ISIS surprisingly seems to have a very sophisticated capability to translate the content it creates in the Middle East languages into local Indian languages,” he said. “The quality of the translations and the sophistication of the messages indicate they have dedicated PR teams with local language capabilities for India.”
Intelligence experts feel the concern about the growing ISIS influence is valid.
“Historically ISIS’ influence in India and even Pakistan has been relatively weak. This is most likely because a majority of Muslims in the South Asian region follow a moderate form of Islam deeply entrenched with Sufi rituals,” said Avinash Mohananey, a former IB officer who has served in the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.
“Going forward, however, we cannot write off the possibility of Indian Muslim youth possibly becoming radicalised by ISIS via social media given young people are perpetual consumers of the internet.”
ISIS influence rising in Kashmir
The two firms also claimed that there appears to be a possible link between Kashmiri militancy and ISIS.
The Gurugram company said ISIS-affiliated social media entities have been able to infiltrate, influence and gather support for Kashmir-based militants.
The Delhi firm too agrees. “In the 12 months between 2017 and 2018, our technology systems indicated that more than 200 people from Kashmir have joined militant groups,” its founder said. “Between 2014 and 2016 the number of people joining Kashmiri militancy had not even crossed 100.”