Bangladeshi radicals now shift to a safer, encrypted social media site developed exclusively to promote extremism
Radical Islamists have always used and searched for social media platforms that provide them with greater privacy, security features that make it harder for law enforcers to eavesdrop on their activities.
ChirpWire – an encrypted social media app sharing a number of similarities with Facebook – has now become a safe haven for extremists from all around the globe.
This correspondent, through extensive studies and investigation, has found that an increasing number of Bangladeshi militants have since June this year shifted their activities and communications to ChirpWire to stay below the radar.
They were seen opening accounts, forming groups and sharing propaganda contents of different pro-al Qaeda radical groups, and disseminating their media publications.
Developed, funded, and run by jihadists and their organizations, this platform is also a treasure trove for all types of religious and jihadi materials, available in many languages, including Bangla.
The ChirpWire domain was registered in 2014, the year Islamic State (IS) emerged in Iraq and Syria with a brutal caliphate ideology, but it was limited within a small circle of radicals.
Also Read- Bangladeshis and the Afghan-Soviet war
It was only in the mid-2000s that the existence of this platform came to light.
This platform is still new and somewhat unknown to extremists in Bangladesh.
However, there was a discussion over this on Facebook last month.
One Facebook user named Ibn Abdullah, wrote on his account: “What is ChirpWire? Brothers, I have never heard about it.”
Soon another Facebook user, named Shafayat Musanna Isha, commented: “This is a social networking site like Facebook, Twitter. I assume this is a site controlled by the mujahideens.”
Shafayat Musanna Isa is Zobaidah Siddika Nabila, whom police arrested in Dhaka on August 26, two days after she had this conversation about the platform with Ibn Abdullah on Facebook.
The main reason why Bangladeshi radicals are shifting to ChirpWire is the heightened monitoring by law enforcement agencies of Facebook and other mainstream social media platforms, which has led to the arrests of many of their fellow militants in recent years.
“Our Facebook accounts are being disabled. So, we need an alternative to keep operations running,” a Bangladeshi radical posted on Facebook last month.
Several Facebook users, most of them suspected militants and extremists, were seen discussing this issue and were actively looking for alternatives.
For many years, radicals used the existing social media platforms for recruitment and spreading their message by uploading photos and videos related to extremism.
But Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, along with other popular social media sites, strengthened their community standard guidelines, putting restrictions on sharing content, including that of extreme religious and political ones, which was a catalyst for these people to move to ChirpWire, which has no such limitations.
Thus, radicals can write or share content at their will and this is one of the many reasons why this platform is gaining popularity among local extremists.
Bangladeshi radicals in ChirpWire
This platform has become a cozy virtual space for extremists from all around the globe. But Bangladeshi radicals primarily use Facebook and other messaging apps for their day-to-day activities.
A detailed study of ChirpWire revealed that Bangladeshi radicals operate both individually and in groups.
But it is difficult to ascertain the number of Bangladeshis currently using the platform.
However, this correspondent was able to find at least 10 groups where more than 700 local extremists are involved.
They all share various Islamic and jihadi contents in Bangla.
One of these groups, called “al Jihadi Team (BD),” has a total of 92 members. Another group named “Al-Hikmah Media” was found to be very active.
Several such groups, most of them comprising Bangladeshis, were seen in ChirpWire while many kept operating on an individual level.
The perks of ChirpWire
Although the platform is not for the masses, anyone can open an account there with a random username and password.
Unlike Facebook, no email or phone number is required to have an account with ChirpWire. The platform also does not share its user details with third parties.
Here account holders can open groups to communicate and share anything without any content filtration or moderation.
They can make anyone a member of their already formed groups, the number of which could not be ascertained by this correspondent.
They can also create and communicate via private channels on the platform.
This social media app supports multiple languages but maintains Telegram accounts in Arabic and Urdu.
It was found that ChirpWire operates in altogether 19 languages, including Pashto, Urdu, Chino Simplificado, English, French, Japanese, Arabic, Persian, Russian, and languages of a number of several European countries.
Bangla is not an official language of the platform but there is no shortage of Bangla Jihadi content on the site.
Bangladeshi radicals were seen actively sharing photos, videos and quotes aimed at building a strong network among other mujahideens.
The site has an option called “Islamic Translation Centre,” by using which one can translate contents from one language to another.
Information about who from where operates this platform is not available as the platform has everything encrypted and hidden.
However, the contents shared and the activities of members do help to determine that ChirpWire was developed by people who promote extremism.
In fact, a lot could not be found about the site when searched using Google’s search engine.
Memri.org – a multiple languages Washington-based research organization – reported on August 2020 that “an al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent-affiliated Urdu-language magazine launched an account on the newly-launched encrypted social media app Chirpwire, which offers Twitter-like features and does not require a phone number or email address to open an account.”
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, a Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) official, seeking anonymity, said that the CTTC had strengthened its monitoring and investigation efforts to collect more information on Bangladeshi extremists using ChirpWire.