A 16-year-old college girl from Pune, who was allegedly in touch with arrested Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) executive Mohammed Sirajuddin, has been put under surveillance for her suspected links with the Islamic State (IS), assistant commissioner of police Bhanupratap Barge of the anti-terrorism squad, Pune unit, said on Thursday.
Sirajuddin had formed closed groups of IS sympathizers, including boys and girls from Maharashtra, on Facebook and WhatsApp. He was allegedly spreading IS activities online and trying to recruit Indian youths for the terrorist group. He was arrested in Jaipur last week.
The girl, from an elite, city-based Muslim family, was deeply influenced by IS activities and radicalized online. She was in regular touch with many sympathizers of the dreaded terrorist group, Barge said.
“We have kept the girl under surveillance,” Barge said. “Efforts are on to de-radicalize her. Her parents, religious scholars and Muslim community leaders have been asked to help.” Religious scholars have been told to sensitise the girl about Islam and how the IS is wrong, he said.
Officials said the girl was in touch with Sirajuddin and was about to visit Iran or Syria because IS members were ready to bear her medical education and other expenses. They had told her that she should be in a position to do anything in her country for Islam, they said.
Technical investigations and contacts helped the ATS identify the girl, a Class XI science student in a city-based college. During investigations, the ATS discovered that the girl has around 200 friends on Facebook. She was regularly interacting with IS sympathizers on WhatsApp and Twitter and exchanging mails with people in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Jammu & Kashmir and Karnataka, and countries such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Kenya and some in Europe.
ATS additional director general of police Vivek Phansalkar and special inspector general of police Niket Kaushik had received reliable information that some young boys and girls from Pune were in regular touch with IS through social-networking sites.
Investigations showed that the girl was attracted to the IS ideology while watching a television channel four months ago. She began searching for more information on IS on internet portals and established contact with an IS agent in Sri Lanka.
ATS officials said the girl began believing that the world should follow an Islamic ideology and Muslims in India should “do anything for the sake of Islam”. Her parents noticed a sudden change in her behaviour. She gave up wearing T-shirts, jeans and dresses to college and began to sport a burqa.
“We have not registered a complaint against the girl because she is a minor and she did not radicalize others,” Barge told TOI. “As part of our national programme, we have undertaken an exercise for the past eight days to de-radicalize her with support from her parents.”
Barge said they had prevented the girl from joining IS. “The girl has shown remarkable signs of improvement because she has realized that she has done something wrong,” he said.
Teams have been sent to collect more details of Sirajuddin and other ATS units have been alerted. They have information about IS sympathizers who were constantly in touch with the Pune girl.
The ATS Pune unit has told parents with children in the 14-20 age group to contact them if they notice a change in their behaviour to prevent them from following the IS. Parents should monitor the activities of their children and keep a watch on their social-media interactions, the unit said.