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