ISIS operative’s data leads investigators to 32 young recruits

* The chief of ISIS media cell for Pakistan and Afghanistan is an Afghan national known as Babajani, investigators learn

KARACHI: Investigators have identified 32 young men and women across the country who were communicating with a man under investigation for managing Islamic State of Iraq and Shaam’s (ISIS) recruitment drive using social media.

During interrogations on Wednesday, Imran alias Saif-ul-Islam Al-Khilafati told officials of the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Counter Terrorism Wing (CTW) that an Afghan national, known among militants as Baba Jani, is the chief media expert of ISIS in the region. Al-Khilafati told interrogators that during the last year, Babajani had conducted several meetings with him and other media managers based along Pak-Afghan border areas using Telegram application.

“He [the chief media expert] appears to be highly qualified in the field of Information Technology,” an official privy to the interrogation told Daily Times.

Further, the official said that ISIS operatives were using a modified version of Telegram application made more secure for circulation of video messages.

The interrogators also learnt that ISIS operatives, including Al-Khilafati, prefer communicating with new recruits in Persian. “The 32 young people we have been identified so far were told by them [Babajani and Al-Khilafati] to learn Persian,” the official said.

The CTW officials have found more than over 100 social media pages developed by the operatives where they were uploading their recruitment material.

More than 150 GB of data recovered from nine USB drives found in Al-Khilafati’s possession has been sent to the Islamabad office for forensic analysis.

The official said that based on information extracted from Al-Khilafati, Babajani had worked with ISIS operatives in Iraq and Syria before he was deputed as the chief of social media for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“All the relevant information about Babajani has been shared with other intelligence agencies to ensure his timely arrest,” he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the CTW officials had said that ISIS operatives were using Telegram app, instead of more commonly used Whatsapp, to communicate with one another.

Al-Khilafati was arrested by a CTW team in an early morning raid in Karachi’s Shirin Jinnah Colony. The raid was carried out based on information extracted from his accomplice, Khalil-ur-Rehman, who was rounded up on September 28, 2017.

He was arrested when he got off a train at Cantonment Railway Station in Karachi and was apparently headed towards Al-Khilafati’s hideout. After learning about Rehman’s arrest, Al-Khilafati switched off his cell phone and escaped to Baluchistan’s Khuzdar area to remain under ground for some time before returning to Karachi ahead of his arrest.

A Daesh flag, laptop, internet devices, and mobile phones were recovered during Tuesday’s raid.

Published in Daily Times, March 8th 2018.