Facebook targets Babbar Khalsa International as “Former” Leader Faces Immigration Hearing

 

The Growth in Sikh Extremist Content on Social Media

It seems that for many countries the threat of Sikh extremism has gotten lost in the post 9/11 focus on Islamic extremism. Yet almost 29 years after the bombing of Air India 182 and the attempted bombing of Air India 201 the growth of Sikh Extremism in Canada, United Kingdom, and Germany has flourished.  In fact by my account and many colleagues that study terrorist’s use of social media, the most active and successful groups have been the Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) and the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF). Using social media these groups have distributed mass amounts of hate rhetoric towards India in their propaganda and recruiting campaigns. Many of their comments go beyond mere calls for a separate homeland (Khalistan) in advocating violence to achieve these goals. In fact in the last year the Babbar Khalsa even established it’s own internet radio channel (below) openly touting its affiliation to the banned terrorist group.

BK Radio

In the last few years there has been an increase in gurdwaras affiliating themselves with the ISYF, Babbar Khalsa and Khalistan Liberation Force. That these religious organizations continue to operate with charitable status reflects the disinterest or lack of resources in following these groups. Examining Sikh terrorist sites on social media it is easy to find several gurdwaras in the UK openly demonstrating their affiliations to the Babbar Khalsa International and the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF).

In the last five years several charities have been linked to Sikh extremist groups in Canada and the UK including a Sikh charity in British Columbia that was sponsoring terrorist websites and social media.  In the prevent model of combating terrorism these institutions need to be challenged as to their views if terrorism legislation and law enforcement agencies are to be perceived as effective. At the very least a reassessment of their charitable status needs to take place to ensure that public tax dollars are not going to organizations supporting extremism.

In the last 6 months Babbar Khalsa International has launched no less than three facebook pages. In many cases these sites have direct links to high ranking members as can be seen with Babbar Khalsa International’s facebook page being linked to Resham Singh Babbar (see below). Overt membership by leaders in mediums like social media gives others the impression that the group is untouchable.

Resham Singh Babbar affiliation to BKI

The most recent BKI Facebook page removed by Facebook (Feb 2014) which featured recruitment material and BKI Press Releases.

BKI Facebook II
 

The “Former” BKI Leader, Gurmej Singh Babbar

This past week Gurmej Singh Gill, known better to his followers as Gurmej Singh Babbar,  was called to an immigration hearing to determine his admissibility to Canada. Mr. Gill claimed that the British Babbar Khalsa was different from that in other countries. Mr. Gill further stated that he had no affiliation to the Babbar Khalsa International.

On the first point any lines that may have been drawn distinguishing the Babbar Khalsa from the Babbar Khalsa International have definitely been blurred in the age of social media. Extremists on both sides of the pond, both in the UK and Canada, now commonly join under the banner of  both the Babbar Khalsa and Babbar Khalsa International.  In fact a quick look at Babbar Khalsa sites on facebook and you will see the two symbols used side by side along with KLF media.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Babbar-Khalsa-Rise-Of-Pride/176075015918120

https://www.facebook.com/bkhalsa

https://www.facebook.com/jathedarbhaisukhdevsinghbabbar

On the second assertion made by Mr. Gill that he no longer is a leader of the Babbar Khalsa or has any ties to Babbar Khalsa International, all I can say is you can’t use social media to promote your cause one day and then deny it the next. I like to call my self a “former” coffee addict but at the end of the day you will still find me in the drive through at some point buying coffee.

In fact Mr. Gill (in blue below) has been photographed with the “Leaders” of Babbar Khalsa International on multiple occasions between 2007 and 2013.

Flickr - Babbar Khalsa International photo at Gurdwara Frankfurt with Gurmaj Singh Babbar and other BKI Leaders 31 Aug 2008 Part C
 

Facebook of Resham Singh Babbar with Gurmeg Singh Babbar Posted Feb 2013

These two photos in particular are interesting in that Mr. Gill, or rather Mr. Babbar as he is labelled in all these photos, appears in front of banners representing both the Babbar Khalsa and Babbar Khalsa International. In addition the one photo was actually posted in February of 2013 on the Facebook site of Resham Singh Babbar who also is a leader in the Babbar Khalsa International. So it would appear, just like my coffee addiction, being a “former” leader in a terrorist group is easier said than done.

Author: Jeff R. Weyers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Facebook Removes Al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham Page

On November 20th of this month the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS), in yet another example of extremists’ preference towards social media, started up its official Facebook page   https://www.facebook.com/Islamicstateofirakandsham (below). The page which featured daily posts by the group was torn down by Facebook on November 28th.

ISIS Facebook Page2

The site which quickly gained 400 followers in less than a week, featured martyrdom videos, extremist preachings, and ISIS success stories in fighting against the Assad Regime in Syria.  In content featuring a quote by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, he confirms Tarkhan Batirashvili (Abu Omar Al-Shishani) as the commander of ISIS northern forces and praises his fighting abilities. Shishani (red beard below) has received particular attention in recent reports for the speed with which he gained power and control over different rebel factions.

Shishani

Shishani featured on ISIS Facebook article confirming his position in the organization.

Of interest to intelligence agencies were the numerous links to individuals from western countries on this page. As the fighting continues and more foreign fighters flood into Syria, countries have been struggling with the question of assessing returning citizens who may have fought alongside extremist linked groups like ISIS.

While analysis on the content of this Facebook page will continue, the evidence for utilizing terrorist social media pages for intelligence gathering has numerous applications. As I have said before, to “like”, “friend”, or “join” an extremist group on social media is a strong public statement open to the world. Perhaps it’s time we start listening.

Author: Jeff R. Weyers

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Last Push or Second Wave: Al-Shabab’s Recruiting Tactics

With this latest attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi Kenya much has been said of the gradual decline of Al-Shabab by security officials. The popular opinion appears to be that Al-Shabab is an organization in its dying days. The effort by UN and Kenyan forces to push the organization out of its strongholds combined with a withdrawal of foreign fighters, and poor public support are said to have crippled Al-Shabab.

Despite these claims Al-shabab remains intact in many parts of Somalia and one of the few al-Qaeda organizations that maintains a consistent and active social media presence on facebook, twitter and alqimmah.net. Much of this presence is devoted towards demonstrating its activities within Somalia, however an equal amount of effort has been directed towards the recruitment of foreign nationals from Europe, the United States and Canada. al-shabab on facebook Mapping the social network of Al-Shabab on Facebook

Following along the lines of Inspire magazine Al-shabab has been progressive in its English language recruitment and training videos. Many of Al-Shabab’s fighters have recorded their martyrdom videos in English which were then distributed to the internet. Al-Shabab’s former US recruit, Omar Hammami was even known to produce jihadi rap videos. That is until his recent demise at the hands of the same terrorist organization for a very public difference of opinion.

Of greater concern to me are the activities of Al-Shabab in country over the last two years. While many nations were indifferent to one of the largest droughts to hit Somalia in a generation Al-Shabab attempted to established itself as a presence that could care for the population. The latest figures by the UN estimate that nearly 260,000 civilians were killed by famine with half of those being children.

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Images captured from Al-Shabab Facebook page.

Examining these 2011 social media promotional pictures Al-Shabab can be seen hosting a community event providing food, transportation, music, gifts and their own brand of Islam. In the second image children can be seen brandishing toy ak-47s on stage below the banner of Al-Shabab.

Many analyst have speculated as to where the latest batch of recruits were drawn from.  Given that numerous foreign fighters are still unaccounted for it is very likely that they made up some of the attackers in this latest terrorist incident. If, however, we are to believe Al-Shabab’s own images it would appear they may have created inroads with a second generation of disaffected youth in Somalia. Youth that most definitely felt abandoned by western countries during this last famine while the terrorists held out their hand. Proof yet again that counter-terrorism involves more than just killing and displacing terrorists. It requires us to be a reliable presence in a time of need or risk losing that influence to those who will provide.

By Jeff R. Weyers and Camie Condon

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The Triple “A” Threat to the Northern Ireland G8 – Anarchists, Anonymous and the New IRA

brabo logo ireland

The G8 inevitably brings certain security elements to the host nation that have become inexplicably intertwined with the event. A simple Google of “G8 security threats” will provide you with an almost unending list of issues that other countries have had to overcome. In many ways the threats that Northern Ireland will encounter in June will be similar to those faced by other host nations. However, the surge of the New IRA and the growth of the online Anarchist movement will bring new challenges to test police resources as never before.

Anarchists

Protesting and expressions of opposition to government are indeed needed in a democracy. It reinforces checks and balances and maintains that the government must answer to the people. 17739_504673556260377_1403916775_nThousands of individuals attend the G8 meetings every year to protest peacefully in getting their message across. However the anarchist threat, which has evolved over the last two decades, cares not about politics or social change. Some members of groups like the Black Bloc are career protesters bent only on destruction and opposition to authority. Many attend the protests without any actual cause themselves just looking to take advantage of the large crowds that provide anonymity.

As noted in Toronto’s G8/G20 summit, Black Bloc supporters infiltrated harmless protesters making it extremely difficult for police to single them out or move in. As a result the Black Bloc was able to carry out millions of dollars in damage as police and media watched in real time. Certainly if we look to social media the ability for anarchists to organize, coordinate and remain anonymous has increased dramatically.

Online Group ActivityIn the last week anarchist social media traffic surrounding the Northern Ireland G8 on Facebook has peaked. The largest growth of that group being individuals between 27 and 34 years of age from the UK and Ireland, according to Facebook analytics.

For law enforcement agencies sites like these offer an opportunity to pre-screen individuals that appear to be planning criminal acts upon arrival. As we have seen with previous G8/G20 events many nations now have legislation that would allow the state to turn away individuals that threaten public safety.

 

Anonymous

If you have followed Anonymous in any way over the last 5 years then you will have seen the two masks that are representative of Anonymous collective. Behind one mask are those individuals which primarily have joined the leaderless group for altruistic purposes. Those Anonymous individuals have identified corrupt politicians, gathered evidence on criminals, and brought to light poor business practices and security issues of major corporations.

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The darker side of the mask, which is also Anonymous, is comprised of individuals that use the internet like a balaclava to hide themselves while committing criminal acts online. Some of the those acts are more innocuous like altering the homepage of government websites. Other more serious attacks have crippled websites, stolen customers personal information, and targeted denial of service attacks at multi-national corporations.  In security situations, like the upcoming G8, groups like anonymous have attempted to steal security plans in the past. So while the threat they pose is minimal from a physical or violent nature, their ability to gather intelligence to support other groups is concerning. Already we have seen Anonymous Northern Ireland align with other anarchist groups in supporting their activities and targeting the G8.

The New IRA

While the anarchists present a very real threat of physical damage and violence targeted towards police, the New IRA present the greatest overall threat to the G8 event. In fact in two separate IRA related incidents in recent months both a car bomb and modified mortar attack have been intercepted by police.

untitledThe greatest concern by analysts appears to be the consolidation of IRA interests including older Provisional IRA bomb makers with a younger generation only too eager to learn. What has caught police and law makers off guard is the speed with which this newly formed group has come together and endeavoured to carry out attacks.

That the New IRA has spurned requests for peace talks by Sinn Fein both publicly and via social media means that traditional avenues of negotiation are yet to be established.

With no guarantees that the New IRA won’t use the G8 event as an opportunity to further its goals, this will be one more direction security services will be pulled in ensuring a safe and successful G8 event.

By: Jeff R. Weyers

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The Ghost of Anwar al-Awlaki – The Virtual Martyr

When you research extremist social media and individuals being radicalized one of the loudest voices pulling individuals toward that path is actually that of a ghost. In this case the ghost in the machine is that of Anwar al-Awlaki! While killed in a drone strike in 2011, pictures, videos and writings of the Al-Qaeda leader are prominent throughout the internet. Perhaps even more concerning is the mainstream availability of his teachings through platforms like Amazon, YouTube and torrent sites. His popularity in death reinforces the threat that he posed in life. Al-Awlaki was/is an influential figure in the AQ narrative because of his communication abilities.

anwars ghost

This past week I read an article by a well known foreign policy advisor stating that “al-Alwaki’s influence as a propagandist seems to have died with him”. This view simply does not represent what is going on in the virtual world. I would assert that his influence in death is perhaps even greater than when he was alive. In the age of the internet you truly cannot kill the voice of a martyr. Anwar al-Awlaki perhaps best represents the danger of that happening. His lectures, videos, and photographs have been amplified all around the world by followers, including in the west.

Looking at a recent analysis I conducted of an islamist street gang, five of the eight members of the group had social media links to Anwar al-Awlaki (either through photos, lectures or social media pages). When we further add in other observed criteria such as an isolated peer group, hate rhetoric, weapons, and a bent knowledge of Islam the “bat symbol” starts to flash in the corner of my eye.

As the Boston bombing case unfolds, again we see how social media and “Anwar’s Ghost” appears to have played a large role in the process of radicalization. The research is growing to support that such exposure to radicalizing material is as good as being in contact with recruiters. When we examine persons who are self-radicalized this is one of the ingredients that helps an individual get there.

While it may not be possible to eliminate every trace of al-Awlaki on the internet, his virtual presence does serve a purpose in intelligence gathering. It’s not that listening to his YouTube videos or liking his facebook tribute page means you’re a terrorist. However, together with other factors, it is possible for trained individuals to use interest in extremist content to identify persons at risk. Combining this approach with a proper counter-narrative and prevention initiatives, we may be able to silence some of the demons that continue to haunt us.

By Jeff R. Weyers

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The Canadian Connection to the Boston Bombing: From Online to In Country

As the investigation into the Boston Bombing moves forward The Telegraph yesterday released information from Russian sources indicating that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been identified by Canadian jihadist William Plotnikov as an online contact. According to The Telegraph, “Plotnikov gave a list of people in Europe and the US with roots in Russia’s North Caucasus, with whom he had communicated via online social networking sites”.
Plotnikov, a convert who quickly identified with a radical version of islam, was killed in fighting with Russian forces in Dagestan. Prior to that fire fight Russian forces had interviewed Plotnikov with respect to his reason for coming to Dagestan after being tipped off by his father.

This online contact and possible direct contact between Tsarnaev and Plotnikov in Dagestan appears to have been part of the reason why the Russian FSB requested the FBI pay additional attention to him. Tsarnaev returned to the United States just two days after Plotnikov was killed by Russian forces.

Both Tsarnaev and Plotnikov demonstrated many similarities: they both had sudden changes in their religious observance, were isolated from family, engaged in online jihadist material, and were in contact with online radicalizing elements. That they both travelled to Dagestan where they were able to seek out direct access to groups like Shariat Jamaat would have further increased their susceptibility to radicalization and mobilization.

plotnikov martyr post

Plotnikov himself, a title winning boxer and former Toronto Seneca college student, is celebrated as a martyr on Chechen jihadist social media sites as seen here. Until recently Chechen extremist sites have received little attention from western media and law enforcement agencies. I strongly suspect the days of Chechnya being a Russian only problem are now far behind us.

By Jeff R. Weyers

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Exporting Terrorism – Canadians Involvement in Foreign Terrorism

Exporting Terrorism

If there were ever a time when Canada`s national security agencies were scrambling it has been the last year. It`s not that Canada has faced an attack at home, although it is estimated that CSIS and the RCMP are tracking just over 300 individuals. The real cause for concern for Canada has been the flood of foreign terrorist attacks carried out by individuals carrying Canadian citizenship.

While it is certainly the case that Canada actively participates with its Five Eyes partners (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom) in gathering intelligence that is critical to our common interests and protection. Canada seems to of been unable to stop a steady tide of individuals radicalized in Canada and propelled towards violent extremism overseas.

Ahmad Samir Al-Taraiki notice

Ahmad Samir Al-Taraiki – On the 23rd of April the Memri Institute released a document identifying yet another Canadian who has died overseas after leaving University to fight in Syria. The report documents that TARAIKI’s death was posted on a site affiliated with Al-Nusra Front in Syria a group recently designated a terrorist organization by the Australian and American government.

The facebook page reads, “Martyr, God willing, Ahmad Samir Al-Taraiki – Misratah – Libya. Cited in the countryside of Lattakia (he) left his studies in Canada to support the brothers in Syria..”

Mahad Ali DHORE – In early April it was alleged a former Canadian York University student Mahad Ali DHORE, was involved in an al-shabaab attack on the Mogadishu court killing 35 people including the 9 militants. DHORE is believed to have left for Somalia four years ago to join with Al-Shabaab.

Ali MEDLEJ, Xris KATSIROUBAS and Aaron YOON – All three individuals left London, Ontario for Africa where officials allege they joined Al-Qaeda offshoots. KATSIROUBAS and MEDLEJ are alleged to have led an attack on an Algerian Gas plant. Taking its workers hostage the terrorist killed three dozen workers when Algerian forces moved in. Their friend Aaron YOON was arrested by Mauritanian police after he was found guilty of joining AQIM in north Mali.

Bulgarian Tour Bus attack – In July 2012 an as yet unnamed dual Canadian/Lebanese citizen linked to Hezbollah was involved in an attack on a Bulgarian tourist bus carrying Israeli citizens. The individual targeted the Israeli tourists and walked onto the bus at which point he detonated his explosive.
Toronto Star Baird report

William PLOTNIKOV – PLOTNIKOV immigrated to Canada with his parents as a child. He was an accomplished boxer who converted to Islam and was subsequently drawn into a radical form of the religion. At odds with his parents he travelled to Dagestan where it is believed he connected with Shariat Jamaat an extremist group in the North Caucasus. PLOTNIKOV and several other jihadists were eventually killed in a shoot-out with Russian military forces.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has stated that more will be done to combat violent extremism in the future. In actuality Canada is at the forefront of several projects on preventing violent extremism. In 2009 Dr Elaine Pressman released the Violent Extremist Risk Assessment (VERA) structured guidance tool. The tool enables the trained user to be able to assess the subject on a number of factors found to be influential in violent extremism. This tool is currently undergoing testing for viability in broad application.

Other researchers (withheld) using the Identifying Vulnerable Persons (IVP) structured guidance tool have shown positive results in intervening with persons at risk of recruitment to extremist groups. Developed in the UK by Jon Cole, Emily Alison, Ben Cole, and Laurence Alison the researchers examined over 300 known extremist to identify common behaviours. From that examination a list of 16 criteria were identified to help evaluate subjects at risk. Using the IVP practitioners have generated hundreds of instances of actionable intelligence on individuals and groups that have contributed to extremism investigations around the world. The tool is ideologically neutral in its application and therefor does not target individuals from a specific religion or culture.

Part of the change in mindset needs to take place at a national level. By that I mean we simply cannot rely on the police to be able to catch all of the bad guys 100 percent of the time. This is the whole purpose behind the “See Something, Say Something“ campaigns being used to help prevent terrorist attacks.

If we reframe the solution to violent extremism from the approach of prevention there needs to be a larger interaction at a government and institutional level. At school we teach prevention with regards to drugs and alcohol, sex education, bullying and school violence. In our doctor’s office they screen for signs of mental illness, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. We need to take the same approach with violent extremism, the goal not necessarily being to catching terrorists, but of preventing persons on that path to terrorism.

One of the friends of Ali MEDLEJ commented to reporters that Ali had stated he did not want to give up women and drinking. Medlej stated, “There’s things that I just can’t give up on in my lifestyle, and it’s hard for me to be a practising Muslim, so why don’t I just be a shaheed [martyr] and go straight to heaven instead of all the effort that I can’t seem to do.” . That simple comment actually strikes against two criteria on the IVP guidance tool. Those types of comments in the hands of practitioners have the potential to add great value in the assessment of individuals at risk. If we provide the tools for teachers, religious leaders, social workers, doctors and other professionals to pick up on at risk behaviours our ability to intervene increases dramatically. It isn`t about making them “spies“! It is about being able to do the same type of prevention activities that we already engage in on a day to day basis.

By Jeff R. Weyers

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“Like” us on Facebook. When people Like/Join/Follow Terror Organizations on Social Media.

alshabaab-LikeUs
This past week, Eric Harroun was arrested upon returning to the United States after it was discovered that he had been fighting with the recently banned Al-Nusra Front. According to the indictment and several news reports Harroun had posted photos of himself on Facebook and Youtube fighting alongside Al-Nusra. Having examined designated terrorist groups on social media for the last four years, the first thing you quickly recognize is that virtually all of them are on every social media platform. Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Tamil Tigers and several other groups are present. In a lot of ways I see this as a corporate branding approach the same as any other big company. They are trying to promote themselves, recruit, grow, and accomplish their goals. While some social media sites are very good at tearing them down (Facebook has made large progress), others like Twitter take a stance of free speech within the confines of their user guidelines. In fact Twitter only recently pulled down al-shabaab when it claimed responsibility for the killing of French commandos and the kidnapping of Kenyan hostages on its site. Al-shabaab has since responded by putting up a second twitter site.

If we look at the individuals on these sites you will quickly see a broad spectrum of behaviour. On one end individuals perpetuate hate and violence, glorifying martyrs and demonstrating their support as we saw with Harroun. On the other side of the spectrum are the individuals whom have just clicked “like” or “join”.

What does it mean to like/join/follow? The common reaction when I discuss this topic appears to be “Well what can we do with that? It isn’t like they are swearing allegiance at the feet of Osama Bin Laden!”

I would contend that a like/join/follow is an attempt by the individual to send a strong message about themselves. If I “join” al-Qaeda on Facebook that would garner a strong reaction from my friends, family and most definitely my employer. Perhaps it says more about the individual’s friends that they can feel confident joining a terrorist group or posting supporting terrorist content. For some individuals this is clearly about causing a stir and that can usually be determined with a little leg work. For others it is their first foray into the extremist world and what follows has the potential to have a strong influence on the path that individual follows. This is an opportune time for prevention in my opinion. As an example in 2009 the RCMP disrupted 70 individuals supporting a designated Sikh extremist Facebook site. At the end of the day links were found to known extremist members and firearms displayed on the site were seized by police.

Of course there are people following terrorist organizations for legitimate reasons. Journalists and researchers would be good example. Both have been known to tweet back and forth with terror members to get a sense of what it is the terrorists want to achieve. Another would be law enforcement and intelligence agencies, in fact the common joke in this area is that on any given extremist site a portion of its members can always be attributed to investigators and analysts “creeping” the site.

Anders Breivik, Nasser Abdo, the two young Canadian men recently involved in the Algerian gas plant attack, all had Facebook accounts. It is simply the case that it is more common for terrorists and extremists to have social media accounts than not have one. If we treat that action to “join” al-Qaeda (or some other terrorist group) the same as we would if that person were at the feet of Bin Laden, I believe we would create many more opportunities for intelligence gathering, prevention and possibly even stumble on to something big.

By Jeff R. Weyers

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