There is not a single official platform to counter the propaganda narratives of extremist groups, only a handful of radical platforms and contents are taken down
A video on 44 ways to join jihad was uploaded on the social media platform Facebook on August 7. The three-and-half minute video posted from a fake account, Ibne Nuhash, began with an Arabic sermon, showing the Holy Kaaba and horse-riding warriors fighting in the desert. It was followed by a Bangla interpretation of the sermon.
Most contents in the profile--texts or audio-visuals--shared among 1, 857 friends are about waging Jihad and combat training.
The user recently posted a list of 30 Islamic books, many denouncing democracy and democratic rulers while a few were exclusively on Jihad.
The account, which is just a month old, is merely the tip of an iceberg.
For example, another user, Mohammad Bin Kasim, regularly posts photos, videos and other contents to misguide people and push them toward radical ideology.
Many of his posts call for taking up arms and getting ready for Jihad.
The user posts many tips on evading the eyes of the law enforcement agencies and opening a fake account, using VPN and tor browser to spread jihadi contents for his 5000 friends.
Both the accounts are fake but successfully promote the ideology of al Qaeda. Such fake and real Facebook accounts and pages are plenty and operated by Bangladeshis from home and abroad to promote the ideology of al Qaeda and Islamic State (IS).
Facebook is immensely popular among Bangladeshis and thus extremists still find this social media platform a suitable territory to operate, although Facebook has a policy to take down all extreme contents from its platform.
Moreover, there are numerous IPs, websites, forums, blogs and messaging channels that are full of Bangla contents aimed at attracting the young and calling them, under the flag of Jihad, to establish Allah’s rule in Bangladesh and elsewhere.
Extremist groups have their own IPs. For example, the IP using which Gazwatul Hind is being run, is perhaps one of the biggest treasure troves of religious, radical and jihadi contents.
One will need months to go through all the contents available here.
Like every radical platform, Gazwatul Hind shares links with hundreds of other platforms that are actively spreading radical ideology. One of them is Muwahdidun, a blog where guidelines are shared for those who are willing to join online Jihad. They provide instructions on how to operate as a lone wolf mujahid.
The forum has links of 32 media platforms that are run by different radical and jihadist groups in Bangladesh and elsewhere along with an archive section.
Among many records in the archives, there is a list of 24 Bangladeshis who died in Afghanistan while fighting Soviet soldiers in the 1980s. A note reads: names of those Bangladeshis who fought against the US soldiers and died will be disclosed soon.
The alfirdaws.org seems like a news site but a closer look will reveal that it is a radical site publishing articles on carrying out attacks and various activities of jihadist groups in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
The headlines, photos and videos are crafted to glorify the groups and spread a message that there is no alternative but to take up arms and join combat for the cause of Islam.
One of the latest articles describes how the mujahideen of al Shabab, an al Qaeda supported jihadist group in East Africa, occupied territory battling Ugandan soldiers.
Launched from Iceland in mid-2019, this site is being operated by a group of Bangladeshis living in different countries and has a good number of readers here in the country.
Most of these platforms are interconnected, share each other’s contents and promote their activities to expand networks. Many operate openly while others do so covertly.
A Dhaka Tribune study on a dozen radical platforms over the past couple of months has revealed that they are very active and upload Bangla contents frequently. There are contents that term the Awami League government and law enforcement agencies as Taghut (Islamic terminology denoting a focus of worship other than God) and criticizing them for going against Islam lovers. Some contents clearly hint at toppling the government and replacing it with Islamic rule.
“Hundreds of these platforms popped up during these pandemic times and are breeding a new generation of extremists,” said cybersecurity analyst Tanvir Hassan Zoha, who has been tracking radical networks since 2012.
Scanty monitoring, no official platform to counter propaganda
The law enforcement agencies cannot keep on tracking the vast trove of online radical activities and pull them down. What is surprising is that there is not a single platform run by any government agency to counter the radical platforms and their extreme religious and Jihadi narratives.
Dedicated online platforms to counter extremists have been in discussion for many years but Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) Deputy Commissioner Abdul Mannan says for each platform that is taken down, many more pop up.
“We do track and shutdown platforms but the fact is radicals don’t remain in one platform for long. They open new windows and shift there,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
Another CTTC official pointed out, “We should have several powerful websites and Facebook pages to fight radicals digitally or the radicals will have a free reign to recruit new members and grow strong.”
Extremists are in darknet
Tanvir Hassan Zoha, who is also the managing director of the IT firm Backdoor Private Ltd, says that among the patterns that have been noticed over the years is of militants successfully adapting to new technologies and social media platforms to reach a larger audience.
Last year, Hizb-ut Tahrir organized an online seminar and in its announcement poster the banned outfit used its dark web link for people to join the program live.
“Radicals now consider the surface web risky. So, they are slowly moving to darknet access which needs a certain level of tech knowledge. Many global and regional jihadists have already been in the dark web for some years now. We need to track the extremist groups in the darknet for getting a real picture of extremism and terrorism,” Zoha said.