The internet is still the primary mode of communication for terrorists despite attempts to monitor social media and communication apps. The top contender is Facebook, followed by one-to-one communication through other apps. Most of these apps have not fully come under scrutiny as yet.
According to online communication analysts, terrorists are using public group chats on quite a few pages to spread their ideologies, given the easy access of these pages to the public.
The use of the popular app Telegram has been rising recently amongst terrorists to exchange important and top secret information. The app has been used to send and receive texts about jihad, as well as to claim responsibility for attacks. Communication analysts have identified Facebook as the primary tool for these groups, citing commercial interests for Facebook's lack of response. The extent of these activities have consequences beyond Bangladesh, they added.
According to sources, the Facebook pages in question regularly post extremist religious ideologies, citing misinterpretations or incomplete information from scripture to attract recruits. Blogs and websites are also being used to spread extremist ideologies and gain followers for 'jihad.' Even though some Facebook pages, accounts, blogs and websites have been shut down, terrorists are quick to open new pages or accounts under different names to continue their activities.
Terrorism and new media researcher Nirjhor Majumder believes that it is not yet possible to fully monitor Telegram. He said: “If a Twitter account follows 'X', 'Y' and 'Z', then Telegram connects those three accounts through a group or public channel. If that particular Twitter account is closed and a new one opened, and the link to the Telegram group or channel is provided to that account, then those users can immediately find the new Twitter account. This makes closing those accounts almost useless.”
He added: “The main issue is that as soon as an account is deactivated, a new account can connect to its old followers really quickly. This makes it difficult to stop their propaganda effectively. Because of this trick, we often see that as soon as an account is closed, the material on that account becomes available again very shortly.”
Terrorist organisations also use hard-to-find Twitter hashtags to communicate less important information amongst themselves. It becomes extremely difficult to track these communications if that specific hashtag is not known even if the information is exchanged publicly.
When asked about possible steps to be taken, Nirjhor Majumder said: “These groups have become so advanced in spreading their propaganda and communicating amongst themselves, that it has become extremely difficult to discover their communications or monitor those technologies. The only possible step is to monitor their public propaganda media, to try and gain information from those and to figure out who is running them, or at least which country they are running them from.”
Security analyst Maj Gen Rashid told the Bangla Tribune: “We are not confident in our ability to monitor Facebook properly. If these pages have lots of likes on their posts and high communication traffic, it is a business interest for Facebook, so they attempt to remain neutral. The number of pages that have been shut down is insignificant. The sooner the world realises the global threat of this issue, the better. They should monitor the sites to prevent jihadi texts from being spread. It is not that difficult to monitor Bangla content either.”
Deputy Inspector General Monirul Islam, head of the police Counter-terrorism and Transnational Crimes unit told the Bangla Tribune: “The task of target motivation is primarily carried out through Facebook. Other apps are then used for further one-to-one communication.”
When asked about the use of Telegram to spread jihadi texts, he said: “We have found examples of other apps being used for this purpose as well.”
On the topic of monitoring, he said: “We are trying to keep tabs on all communications.”