MHA orders major crackdown on social media operating from Pak

*Audio messages sent by LeT IT Cell intercepted

Sanjeev Pargal
JAMMU, Mar 30: The Union Ministry of Home Affairs today ordered major crackdown on “cyber terrorism’’ being fanned from Pakistan by “Information Technology Cell’’ of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) outfit, which was instigating people of Kashmir especially the youth to gather at the sites of encounters to help militants escape but, in the turn, the civilians were suffering casualties.
Top official sources told the Excelsior that the Home Ministry has directed Jammu and Kashmir Police and Intelligence agencies of the Central Government to go all out to block about 10,000 Facebook accounts and 500 WhatsApp Groups, which were being run by Lashkar’s IT Cell.
The Centre and State Governments Intelligence network has observed that all these fake accounts and WhatsApp Groups, which had instigated youth by circulating audio messages of reaching encounter site, had their origin near Adiala Jail of Rawalpindi , Muridke and Model Town, Karachi.
“All audio messages flashed by these Facebook Accounts and WhatsApp Groups on March 28 during the killing of three civilians at Chadoora in district Budgam, had been circulated from across the border and it was after these messages that youths had taken to streets during gunbattle between militants and security forces, leading to three fatal casualties of civilians and injuries to many others, apart from escape of one terrorist.
Sources said the MHA has activated Central Emergency Response Team (CERT) to take immediate measures to block the accounts and groups misleading youth from across the border.
“It’s a tough task to block all the Groups on social media. We can monitor them easily. When we block or intercept one Group or Account, the militants and their Over Ground Workers create another one. However, we are now taking all measures to check ‘cyber terrorism’ of the LeT being spread from Pakistan to fan trouble in the Kashmir valley,’’ sources said.
Sources said the audio messages sent from Pakistan on the day of Chadoora encounter included ‘Our brothers are fighting in Budgam’, ‘Our brothers are empty stomach’, ‘Our brothers will come out safely’, ‘This is not the time to sleep’, ‘Come out of your houses’, ‘Our brothers must assemble in Budgam’.
Pointing out that such type of audio messages had been sent from three different places in Pakistan, sources said all such places and mobile numbers used to send the messages have been identified. Earlier also, similar type of messages had been sent to the people, where militants were engaged in the encounters. After the messages, the people had gathered at the site of encounters leading to casualties.
DGP Dr S P Vaid said: “this is new phase in the history of Kashmir turmoil. This is one of the phases in which enemy of peace and using internet to fuel passing and instigating youths to reach sites, where security forces are engaged in gunbattle. In retaliation, there are casualties of youth’’. He added that majority of people don’t support violence and there are only handful of people, who were indulging in stone pelting.
Sources said apart from sending audio messages instigating youth to reach encounter sites, the LeT cadre had also posted certain fake video messages on Facebook Accounts and WhatsApp Groups showing security forces committing atrocities on the people. The videos, in fact, were fabricated and were meant to instigate the people against security forces and police.
“There have been specific inputs that some of the Kashmiri youths, who have crossed over to Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and reached Pakistan, have also been roped-in by the LeT outfit to run the fake Facebook Accounts and WhatsApp Groups by involving Kashmiri youth,’’ sources said.
They added that through these fake Facebook Accounts and WhatsApp Groups, the militants are even in touch with their Over Ground Workers instructing them to motivate youth into the violence and ultimately into the militancy.
Meanwhile, Director General of Police, Dr S P Vaid today said that enemies of India across the border use social networking sites to foment trouble in Kashmir and appealed youth not to commit suicide by coming to encounter sites.
Speaking to reporters in Srinagar, the DGP said that some elements misuse social media to disturb peace in the Valley. “I would say this is misuse of social media by people inimical to peace in the valley and to our country. The moment an encounter starts, they activate around 300 WhatsApp groups, each having more than 250 members, and other social networking websites like Facebook get activated, instigating young boys to reach the encounter site and throw stones so that the terrorists escape from the spot”, he said.
Vaid said that some of these accounts are being operated from across. “Some of these accounts have been traced across (the border). It is an attempt by the enemies of India to create problems. All these numbers are being monitored and we will take action against those operating them from here”, he said.
The DGP appealed youth not to get misguided by these social networking sites. “My appeal to them is don’t get misguided by these social media groups who are misusing the social media to instigate the youths”, he said.
Vaid said that youth who come to the encounter sites are commiting suicide. “In the encounter, even security forces and police take cover of a bulletproof vehicle or a house. Youths coming to the encounter sites are committing suicide”, he added.
The DGP appealed youth not to come to the encounter sites and stay home. “A bullet does not know whom it will hit. My appeal to all the young boys is that they should remain in their homes and not come to encounter sites. The youth must understand that they are being used by people for their short-term political gains”, he said.
Vaid said that it is families of these youth who suffer after their killing.  “So today just think of the mother, brother, sister or father of the people who died two days back. The actual families are the sufferers. Everything is back to the normal. We all would be doing our jobs but just think of the family who lost their member”, he said.
The DGP said that the gathering of youth at encounter sites is a challenge but security forces are evolving strategy to deal with it. “It is challenging and we keep evolving our strategies. I am sure with our experience of last 25 years, J&K police and security forces will be able to handle situations like this. Inspite of grave provocations, we have been able to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties but there is lot of provocation from the other side, instigating young boys, mislead and instigate them to pelt stones near the encounter sites”, he said.
Vaid said that Police monitoring the instigators and action will be taken against them. “All these numbers are being monitored and action will be taken against those who are here but youth must understand they are being used by people for their short term political gains by people who probably want to create chaos and mayhem in Kashmir Valley”, he said.
The DGP said that some youth are being radicalized and brainwashed to join militancy which leads to death and destruction and nothing else. “I would say these boys are being by brainwashed, radicalized which is a challenge to all of us. Ultimately where does it lead to the youth: death and destruction and that’s all. Nothing will change other than death and destruction. What will they achieve out of it?”, he asked.
The police chief said that people of Kashmir don’t want trouble as they have suffered a lot last year. “People of Kashmir do not want trouble this season. They have already suffered last summer and after that turmoil I don’t think vast majority want any trouble in Kashmir Valley. There are elements who work on the behest of enemy of this country and I think we should be careful”, he said.
Vaid said that an attempt is being made to derail the election process. “Basically this is an attempt to derail the election process. Our Indian democracy is vibrant and because the elections are around the corner all this activity is generated to sabotage. We will take care and I am sure election process will pass on”, he added.