Mehdi Biswas arrested: What is drawing educated Muslims to ISIS?

New Delhi: A degree in engineering, which is often seen as the gateway to a good life for an average middle-class Indian, seems to be proving inadequate for Muslim youth who are secretly getting indoctrinated online for the global Jihadi cause.

The arrest of Bangalore-based engineer Mehdi Masroor Biswas for managing a pro-IS (Islamic State) Twitter handle has again busted the myth that it’s only uneducated, economically poor youth who choose the path of fundamentalist extremism.

Prior to this incident, it was Mumbai’s engineering student Areeb Majeed and his three friends who went to Mosul in Iraq to join the IS. Majeed and his friends were all middle-class boys, and Majeed’s father is a doctor by profession.

Same is the case with Mehdi – an engineering graduate whose father is a retired employee of West Bengal Electricity Corporation. Mehdi is an executive in a multinational food company.

So, despite having a good educational background and bright career ahead, what makes these youth join a terror outfit like IS that is focused in Iraq and Middle-East?

“It has nothing to do with the educational background or economic status. It’s a matter of conviction and radicalisation. Primarily, these youth are led to believe on the basis of theological justification, unlike as it’s believed that it’s injustice, poverty or an aggrieved person joins fundamentalist outfits. Many a times, parents are ignorant about the background of a maulavi who comes to teach Arabic, Urdu etc to their children, who imparts parochial lessons,” said director, Centre for Security and Strategy, Alok Bansal.

Another new phenomenon that has emerged out of Majeed and Mehdi’s cases is online indoctrination of Muslim youth in India. Till now, the madrasas and radical elements or clerics were held responsible for radicalisation. The cases of Majeed and Mehdi have proved otherwise. The investigators have claimed that both got indoctrinated online on jihadi websites.

“Once a person enters cyber world and gets an access to jihadi websites, they are made to believe that it’s their religious duty or the religion entails one to adopt jihadi ideology. It’s a slow process, but over a time it successfully indoctrinates young minds. These is strong need for de-radicalisation through calibrated approach, because it can be viewed as a law & order or socio-economic problem,” added Bansal.

 Mehdi Biswas arrested: What is drawing educated Muslims to ISIS?

Pro-ISIS members in Iraq. Representational image. Reuters

There is an apparent failure of intelligence agencies to track Indian youth interacting on jihadi networking sites, which act as a powerful tool to indoctrinate these young people.

“It’s nothing surprising what Mehdi has reportedly been doing. There may be many more involved in such activities on Indian soil. It’s a very dangerous development taking place in the country. The online space and social networking sites have become a tool both for indoctrination and recruiting future jihadis. Unfortunately, our counter-terrorism’s cyber intelligence system is weak. Though intelligence agencies intercept calls and messages, they fails to track such activities. It’s a British channel that exposed Mehdi’s case,” says counter-terrorism analyst Anil Kamboj.

“We’ve come across such a jihadi website having intense, inflammatory material that even if one doesn’t ascribe to jihadi ideology, one is bound to get indoctrinated,” an intelligence official said on condition of anonymity.

Karnataka Director General of Police LR Pachau at a press conference on Saturday said Mehdi, who belongs to West Bengal confessed in custody that he ran the Twitter account @ShamiWitness. The police also claimed that Mehdi has more than 17,000 followers, and his tweets had a viewership of more than 2 lakh in a month. Mehdi took a 60GB monthly internet connection for tweeting purpose.

According to Karnataka police, Mehdi got interested in happenings in Egypt, Syria, Libya and other Muslim nations from 2003.

“Mehdi has been living a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde life. During the day, he was working as a company executive and nobody doubted him, whereas at night he was involved in the propaganda machinery of the IS by operating its Twitter handle to indoctrinate and motivate other youth across the globe. He used to keep a close watch on events across the Muslim world and tweeted furiously. The Karnataka police special team investigating this case is looking into several aspects, like whether any other people involved in such activity or the modus operandi of such crime. Though Mehdi has confessed to his involvement, a lot is yet to come out,” a Bengaluru police source said.

However, Mehdi’s father has denied his son’s connection with the IS. He claimed, while speaking to a TV channel that his son’s email account was hacked.

Updated Date: Dec 15, 2014 11:40:24 IST