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Online Trolling as a strategy for terrorists

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It is not new that the presence of terrorist groups in cyberspace has increased every year. Almost every terrorist group has its own niche on the Internet, which provides endless opportunities in terms of mobilization, radicalization, the dissemination of radical ideas, training, the gathering of useful information, financing, etc. Nonetheless, the Islamic State’s approach to the use of the Internet has become revolutionary and versatile compared to the online activities of other terrorist groups.

ISIS’s unprecedented reliance on social networks transformed this organization into not only the most dangerous entity, but the new jihadist global movement and brand. Its propagandist apparatus, which consists of numerous ISIS media teams, targets a particular language group of the population. As a result, under this brand name, many militants and passive supporters, who refrain from moving to ISIS held territories, have gathered around the world. Producing plenty of video, audio, and text materials on a daily basis, ISIS’s activists act as very inventive and skillful players, trying to avoid traps and barriers on social networks; thus, their skills outpace the traditionally oriented approach of security agencies.

Recently, ISIS online propagandists have adopted and implemented “online trolling” to win hearts and minds, which takes advantage of online anonymity. In fact, anonymity has a high correlation with accountability, eroding the latter. Trolling allows the infliction of a wide range of harm from posting controversial content to harassment of users. ISIS online activists have dedicated several telegram accounts to serve the following tasks: 1). organize collective reporting actions on particular public accounts on telegram, which belong to ideological competitors; 2). encourage and channel collective “comments” attacks on particular articles of media outlets in order to disrupt debates by advancing shocking ideas.

The administrators of the telegram groups create a set of rules in order to make attacks more effective. Every trolling action is conducted at a particular time, and the administrators announce daily the exact time for the next collective attack, for example, 4 pm at Mosul time. To be visible to each other, a participant of a trolling attack is advised to write the hashtag “#Islamicstate” before or after a post. This inner visibility is crucial in terms of the fulfilment of another important rule. Participants have to “like”   and/or respond to each other’s posts in order to push their comments to the top.

Conducting trolling campaigns, ISIS activists target articles in accordance to several criteria. First of all, an article has to cover ISIS related or Muslim community issues. Secondly, all articles have to be written in English. Thirdly, Facebook serves as a platform for the attacks: ISIS propagandists target media outlet Facebook accounts. As a preparatory measure, the administrators have instructed group members about how to outwit Facebook policy and establish a personal Facebook account without providing a phone number.

So far, there are several media outlets which underwent these attacks: CNN, Russia Today (RT), Al Jazeera (English), Daily Mail, and Dr Zakir Naik’s Official Fan Page.

Table: “Online Trolling attacks from May 3rd to June 6,2016”

Media outlet Number of attacks
RT 5
Daily Mail 1
Dr Zakir Naik’s Official Fan Page 4
Al Jazeera (English) 10
Mufti Ismail Menk 1
Dr. Bilal Philips 1
CNN 1
Zee News 1
FRANCE 24 English 1
Total: 25

According to the analysis of operations conducted between May 3, 2016 and June 6, 2016, the overwhelming majority of attacks (40%) targeted Al Jazeera’s (English) Public Facebook page, while 20% of trolling campaigns were conducted against the Russia Today Facebook Page. CNN attracted ISIS’s sympathizers only once on May 20th, 2016, after publication of the article “What does Trump want in a VP? His top execs take a guess”. The frequency of attacks on Facebook pages is not very high, approximately, one trolling action per day. Given the fact that it is just the first experience of trolling activities in the foreseeable future, we have to expect a rise in the number of these attacks and their brazenness.

The number of comments under each targeted articles ranges from one to fifteen. Undoubtedly, to invigorate regular group members, administrators of the telegram groups participate in these attacks. However, it is hard to determine who takes a leading role in trolling attacks: administrators or group members. Some ISIS trolls make comments, whereas others limit their participation by pushing “like”. An article posted on the Zee News Portal on May 21st, 2016, received only one comment, marked by the ISIS hangtag and six likes. Needless to say, not all people who liked this pro-ISIS post belong to the telegram group. Some articles, which administrators picked for collective attacks, failed to attract members’ interest. For example, issued on May 25th, an article which depictured the security of Euro 2016 on the news channel “France 24” did not evoke enthusiasm among group members, who refrained from commenting anything whatsoever.

In general, comments express admiration towards the Islamic State and its ideology. The content of comments may vary depending on the topic of the article, however their gist remains the same. In comments, ISIS trolls try to instill the fear and helplessness of any counterterrorist effort, predicting the expansion and intensification of jihad on non-Muslim countries. Calling for Muslim consolidation all over the world, they underline the exceptional mission of ISIS, which is forced to battle crusaders alone. Western states – the UK, the US, Israel, and Russia are repeatedly presented as   the main reason for issues within Muslim society. Some attackers even observe a connection between the contemporary open- door- immigration policies in the European Union and the attempt to prevent natural disasters in European states; the presence of Muslims in non-Muslim states helps to cure these infidels’ societies. Also, ISIS trolls underline the need of physical elimination of apostates, crusaders, and Jews.

To conclude, this trolling initiative has vast potential due to the malicious character of its content, easy Internet access, and the effortless nature of trolling actions, which do not demand full devotion and considerable time spending. Pro-ISIS commenting under online news articles has a collective character. While it helps consolidate ISIS’s online passive sympathizers on behalf of the Islamic State and maintains a sense of solidarity, these trolling actions help ISIS to reach and influence new audiences and extend the Islamic State’s online presence dramatically.

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Terrorism

Kashmir: EAMs at the LOC

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First, it was Zahedan where an IRGC convoy; returning home from their tour of duty, along the borders of Sistan-Baluch, are suddenly ambushed and nearly annihilated. As the sun begins to rise at dawn, on the next day, (the 14th of February), over Pulwama in Kashmir, a strikingly similar event occurs to a much larger CRPF convoy, this time returning to duty.

The authorities of the two affected nations issue immediate statements, (which are almost identical in tone and accusation), against elements resident within the territory of their shared common neighbour. Both independently issued statements seem to mirror each other in content and threat, as if they were Page 1 and Page 2 of a document seemingly prepared in advance within a spirit of “friendly collaboration”.

The initial murder of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corpsmen garnered almost no world media exposure, whereas the killing of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force para-militarymen exploded into an International Diplomatic Crisis that eventually required the frantic intervention of the Heads of State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, diplomatic envoys of the Peoples’ Republic of China, the Russia Federation, the UN and ofcourse, everyone’s favourite peacemaker and arbiter of international law and order, the US of A, to pacify emotions and reign in a possibly perceived; potentially imminent; Nuclear Confrontation between two adversarial neighbours, neither of whom recognize the legal sovereign nation status of the other.

Two weeks after Pulwama, in VietNam, whilst the US Head of State begins to dictate meaningless (and impossible to honour), terms and conditions towards the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea’s nuclear disarmament; the gravity of Pulwama is suddenly dragged onto centre stage as a possible Zero Hero event on the Doomsday Clock.

In an intentional act of war, (on the 26th of February), which is then openly glorified as live, patriotic entertainment, the Indian Air Force cross the Line of Control and bomb territory within Pakistan. In the intervening two weeks prior to this dubiously illegal infringement of a neighbour’s property, the world watched in awe at the mechanics of an electronic media that had been effectively tooled as an integrated weaponised instrument, and; also a consummate component of both, the Armed Forces and the State apparatus of an elected Government, with the sole aim of coordinating a line of thought; from which any deviation from the prescribed script was deemed to be a criminal offence.

News media, not so much the print media in terms of newspapers, but rather the online applications of instant messaging; exposed the gargantuan influence and capability that MultiNational Corporations have within any (and all), semi-developed, emerging economic nations: to create and guide a story that seamlessly blurs and oscillates between confusion and surreal fiction. Painting an illusion, as it were, or a dream swirling around disjoint facts.

On the 27th of February, the next day, the Pakistan Air Force duly retaliate and it seems that the elected Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy had finally gone rogue and had totally unhinged himself from reality with instructions to his Armed Forces to target nuclear installations within his neighbour’s territory.

At 7.40 AM Eastern Standard Time on the 27th of February, all Globex Futures Trading in the United States are suspended and the S&P, Dow and Oil indexes cease trading for over 4 hours, with the added excitement of all pending orders, prior to the halt, having their executions specifically cancelled. (Although Currency Exchange platforms remained active). Also on the 26th and 27th of February, Emergency Action Messages or EAMs of the US Nuclear Command and Control Structure commence firing up HFGCS (High Frequency Global Communication System) transmissions, which are a prelude to a Nuclear Alert.

So, why would an internal domestic attack on a police convoy within India lead to EAMs being issued at the LOC, (the Line Of Control within the disputed region of Kashmir). You may answer by saying that the reason is simply because Kashmir is a potential nuclear flashpoint, and that would be eminently correct. But my question would then be, why would this flashpoint be triggered when President Trump and Chairman Un are discussing the consequences of such an occurrence being played out for real between themselves?

The eternal question always remains, “who benefits?”. What message has the world at large been given?

CENTCOM or Central Command and the USINDOPACOM or the US Indo-Pacific Command of the US Armed Forces, are two gigantic military institutions that are run as autonomous and totally opaque entities by their respective Generals who see themselves as Roman Tribunes rather than Commanding Officers, with more power than their elected Head of State; under whom they, in effect, nominally serve. CENTCOM’s sphere of influence includes the carnage and the waste that they have laid to the sovereign nations of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and, that influence ends at the eastern border of Pakistan. In May 2018, when the previously titled entity USPACOM or US Pacific Command changed its name to the US Indo Pacific Command and suddenly incorporated India into its sphere of influence, their remit then began to encompass all territory upto the western border of India and, lo and behold, both spheres of these gigantic killing machines meet at the Line of Control within the volatile and disputed region of Kashmir.

Would the subsequent events leading from Pulwama have been a test run to gauge the effectiveness of integrated electronic media in India, which is thus by default, the most established English language denominated media at USINDOPACOM’s disposal? Would it have been a weaponised trial in propagating an explosive narrative draped as high drama in order to influence, coerce, intimidate and subsume a diverse society to toe the line? Was it to keep Pakistan on the straight and narrow and make it clear to them how close they were to being obliterated were it not for the kind benevolence of CENTCOM intervention; a similar muscular feat that China perhaps would not have been able to effectively co-ordinate so quickly.

So although, on the face of it, the Prime Minister of India plays the well rehearsed role of the village fool, entwining within it, (in order to appeal to a barely semi-literate audience); his own myth of having risen from the ranks of poverty and social ostracisation to become the elected leader of a huge and diverse nation and with the Prime Minister of Pakistan playing the well constructed role of the suave, Western debonair who achieved his elected position after years of political struggle; both however remain actors playing lines they have been given within a huge stage production.

If either of them were truly representative of the will of their constituents as well as the projection of the visions of the future that their electorates see in themselves, then neither would have played leading roles in a scene that required EAMs at the LOC.

The only beneficiaries are the Roman Tribunes of the two COMMANDs of the US Armed Forces, who quietly engaged themselves in a live-fire exercise to test their proprietary war game theories and then gathered the subsequent extrapolated algorithmic data for future reference.

As Crazy Earl says in the epic Kubrick movie, Full Metal Jacket; “These are great days we’re living, bros. We are jolly green giants, walking the Earth with guns. These people we wasted here today are the finest human beings we will ever know. After we rotate back to the world, we’re gonna miss not having anyone around that’s worth shooting”.

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Pakistan’s commitment to eradicate terrorism is more advance than UNSC

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Big blow to Indian diplomacy by United Nation Security Council (UNSC), when passed a resolution declaring JAISH-e-Muhammad (JeM) chief Maulana Masood Azhar as a global terrorist under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267, without linking him with Pulwama, or Kashmir Freedom Movement.

 India, traditional rival, has been trying to blame Masood Azhar on suspicions of his possible involvement in Pulwama Incident, Bombay Attacks, Hijacking Indian Air, or Kashmir Freedom Movement. Since 2008, the US attempted four times to get Masood Azhar listed under the UNSC resolution 1267 but every time its move was thwarted by China. “The Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning ISIL (Da’ish), al Qaeda, and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities approved the addition of entry to its ISIL (Da’ish) and Al-Qaeda Sanctions List of individuals and entities subject to the assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo.” The resolution was limited to ISIL (Da’ish), Al-Qaeda only. But Indian addition of Kashmir or other incidents related to India made the resolution unfit on technical grounds.

Pakistan had rejected earlier proposals to list the JeM chief, as India wanted to link it with the movement in Indian Occupied Kashmir where Kashmiris are waging struggle to get their inalienable right of self-determination. Pakistan’s FO spokesperson said, “India is presenting this new development as its victory and confirmation of its narrative, but these claims are unfounded and false. Once politically motivated attempts to link it with the Pulwama incident and the legitimate Kashmiri struggle for the realization of the right to self-determination were removed, the current amended listing proposal was approved.” Of course, China withdrew its opposition after consultations with Pakistan, and that Pakistan agreed to the listing after its objections were addressed. China and Pakistan are on the same page and support each other on all national, international or regional issues. During his recent visit to China, Prime Minister Imran Khan had met President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang and discussed matters of mutual interest. Reviewing with satisfaction the historical development of China-Pakistan relations and the great strides made, both sides in the joint statement agreed to further strengthen the China-Pakistan all-weather strategic cooperative partnership in line with the principles set forth by the treaty of friendship, cooperation and good-neighborly relations signed in 2005.

This time, the resolution was presented on its original merit and got passed. As per the resolution, his assets should be frozen, travel ban and arms embargo should be imposed. But, Pakistan due to its own policies, has already frozen his assets and imposed a ban on his travel and arms embargo since long ago.

In a matter of fact, Pakistan was the victim of terrorism for almost the last four decades. We have sacrificed 80,000 precious lives, which no other nation can afford. We suffered an economic loss of approximately 250 billion US Dollars, which no other country can afford individually. The net loss in term of time, losing 4 decades means loss of almost two generations. Emotional suffering is much more and beyond any estimation.

Pakistan was compelled to formulate “National Action Plan” at its own and has been implementing successfully for several years. Our achievement to the over-come menace of Terrorism has been acknowledged by the international community. Under the National Action Plan, Pakistan has taken all possible measures to eradicate terrorism from grassroots. Actions against Masood Azhar was part of our national priority. It has nothing to do with any third country.

UNSC’s decision in respect of Masood Azhar may be the last nail in Modi’s Elections. Indian Elections are based on “anti-Pakistan” and “hate-Pakistan”, Modi did his best to hate-Pakistan, harm-Pakistan, Isolate-Pakistan, etc. But all of his efforts went wrong and Pakistan has emerged as one of the most resilient nation, moderate, peace-loving and visionary nation. Pakistan’s narrative is more acceptable to the international community. 

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Horror in Sri Lanka and Love Fest in Vladivostok

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The horrendous Easter bombings in Sri Lanka make little sense; the question remains, why?  Following 30 years of civil war between the majority Buddhist Sinhalese (75%) and the minority and mostly Hindu Tamils (11%), who felt discriminated against after the country won independence from the British, it had enjoyed a decade of peace.

The Muslims are another minority in Sri Lanka.  They have been under attack in recent years by a new aggressive Buddhism rearing its head.  So why should Muslims attack Christians a fellow Abrahamic minority when there has never been any discord between them, and when they could be natural allies. 

After ISIS claimed responsibility displaying faces-covered photos of the bombers (except for the leader whose face was uncovered), the murkiness of the circumstances precipitated out.  He who pays the piper calls the tune they say, and the local group (National Thowheed Jam’aath) who were the instruments, did not have the wherewithal or the resources on their own — just a leader radicalized by attacks on Muslims by the extremists among Sinhalese Buddhists a year ago. 

According to ISIS, it was revenge for the New Zealand mosque bombings but it was also designed to hit the tourist trade.  Then too, Zahran Hashim the leader of the group, and who himself is thought to have carried out the attack on Colombo’s Shangri La Hotel was of Tamil background.  The cycle continues. 

Needless to say the attack on Christians also wrong-footed the security forces for they had intelligence reports since January, but clearly had little or no security presence.  Will there be retribution?  That is what Muslims fear (and ISIS wants) for it generates more recruits to continue the madness.

How did ISIS emerge?  It might be repetitious to say so, but it takes the brutality of war to generate extremists.  Think of the IRA, or the Tamil Tigers who invented the suicide bomber.  The crazed path of destruction created in the Middle East and North Africa by the US will leave a trail many years hence.

And not only there, as the revolution fomented in Ukraine has led to a civil war, with Russia backing the ethnic Russians of the Donbass region in East Ukraine.  Just this week,  Russian president Vladimir Putin issued an order simplifying the procedure for them to obtain Russian passports.  Is this another step towards eventual annexation?

Meanwhile, Mr. Putin has decided to fill the void left when Donald Trump in Vietnam walked away from what he called a bad deal with Kim Jon Un of North Korea.  Kim had demanded an end to all economic sanctions before he would begin to dismantle his nuclear weaponry.  Kim had a point:  it is clearly not easy to replace destroyed armaments unlike sanctions. 

Putin is now playing the role of global power broker with North Korea drawing the attention Trump had received briefly until the falling out.  A new bromance?  Perhaps, and one important enough for Putin to travel across seven time zones to Vladivostok for the meeting.  Kim was met with great ceremonial pomp and treated to a lavish banquet laden with delicacies; thus indulging his twin weaknesses for deference and good food.  No cheeseburgers, thank you — in marked contrast to Trump’s favorite food.

What does Putin get?  Along with being seen as an influencer in North Korea, he could well become its intermediary, the go-to guy.  The wily Putin seldom loses.  He waits and watches, watches and waits.  For Kim, his two neighbors Russia and China have been his strongest support for generations, to which he now returns.

He tried to emulate China, wanting capital and western firms to invest and kickstart a commercially moribund economy.  But Trump’s price was too high.  One wonders whether Trump will expound on the Art of the Missed Deal if he loses the next election.  But then the ‘curiouser and curiouser’ Democrats might ensure that he does not have to.

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