Pakistan steps up online war against Daesh

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Updated 18 March 2018
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Pakistan steps up online war against Daesh

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) has launched a drive to purge social media platforms of Daesh recruiters, as it was revealed during investigations how the militant network recruits young and impressionable Pakistanis via Facebook and Telegram.
Shaikh Mohammed Imran, a Daesh recruiter who was arrested earlier this month, said he used to lure young people on Facebook before adding them to the group’s Telegram channel.
“Social media has no boundaries, so it is a challenge for us to curb the online activities of Daesh, including recruitment of our youth,” Ihsan Ghani, chief of NACTA, told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
However, he said that numerous measures had been taken in recent years to stop the online activities of the militant outfit, though a lot more was still needed to be done.
“Daesh presence on social media is worrisome for us,” he said. “NACTA, along with other institutions, is doing a lot of work to check the online presence of not only Daesh but also other militant outfits.”
To counter online terrorism and extremism, Pakistan has also blocked at least 10 websites and 1,447 web addresses in the past two years. However, security agencies are still struggling to develop a cogent mechanism to purge social media of the presence of militant groups.
“Modern tools are now used to promote, recruit and train militants besides funds collection and transfers,” says a 37-page report, “Cultivating Peace National Action Plan,” published by NACTA on Dec. 31, 2017.
Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) earlier this month arrested a militant, Imran alias Saif-ul-Islam Khilafati, from Karachi for operating at least 50 social media accounts to recruit young people for Daesh.
“It is a daunting task for us because the militants neither need an office nor huge resources to operate on social media websites,” Ghani admitted.
“The militants target the youth active on social media to brainwash and recruit them,” he said, adding that it is also the responsibility of society and parents to keep an eye on children who use the Internet and social media platforms.
NACTA has also been compiling data of Pakistanis who joined Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past couple of years to avoid any backlash in case they returned to their country. Daesh has effectively been defeated in Syria and Iraq, and the outfit is now trying to spread its tentacles in different areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
Ghani informed Arab News that a permanent “fusion center” had been established within NACTA where all relevant institutions, including intelligence agencies, gave their regular input about Pakistani members of Daesh.
“A monthly meeting in the fusion center reviews progress of the relevant institutions for tracking down the Daesh-linked militants,” he said. “Our security institutions quickly clamp down on the militants who return from the Middle East.”
However, he denied the claim that thousands of Pakistanis had joined the militant outfit in Syria and Iraq to establish the so-called caliphate in the area.
“There is no evidence of any large-scale movement of Pakistanis to join Daesh in the Middle East,” he said. “But yes, they are in their hundreds and we are keeping an eye on them.”
NACTA and other relevant institutions have gathered data about Pakistanis joining Daesh in Syria and Iraq from airports, land routes via Iran, and border security agencies.
Khawaja Khalid Farooq, former Inspector General of Police and security analyst, told Arab News that Daesh had developed its influence in Balochistan and Sindh provinces, and social media provided the group with an effective tool to recruit people.
“Our youth is most vulnerable to Daesh recruiters and just blocking a few websites or web pages won’t help address the problem,” he said. “There is a need to present counter narratives on social media to educate our youth about the true teachings of Islam.”
He added that Daesh could pose a major security threat to Pakistan if our state institutions failed to counter it immediately.
Ghani, however, denied any organized presence of Daesh in Pakistan and pledged to eliminate its “random rebels.”
“They [Daesh] are not in a position to harm us,” he said. “We have restored peace through multiple security operations and will maintain it.”


Child bride auction in South Sudan goes viral, sparks Facebook anger

Updated 21 November 2018
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Child bride auction in South Sudan goes viral, sparks Facebook anger

JUBA: Five hundred cows, two luxury cars, $10,000, two bikes, a boat and a few cell phones made up the final price in a heated bidding war for a child bride in South Sudan that went viral after the auction was pointed out on Facebook. It is the largest dowry ever paid in the civil war-torn country, the government said.
The highest bidder was a man three times the 17-year-old’s age. At least four other men in Eastern Lakes state competed, said Philips Anyang Ngong, a human rights lawyer who tried to stop the bidding last month. Among the bidders was the state’s deputy governor.
“She has been reduced to a mere commodity,” Ngong told The Associated Press, calling it “the biggest test of child abuse, trafficking and auctioning of a human being.” Everyone involved should be held accountable, he said.
Earlier this month, Nyalong became the man’s ninth wife. Photos posted on Facebook show her sitting beside the groom, wearing a lavish dress and staring despondently at the floor. The AP is using only her first name to protect her identity.
South Sudan has a deeply rooted cultural practice of paying dowries for brides, usually in the form of cows. It also has a long history of child marriage. Even though that practice is now illegal, 40 percent of girls still marry before age 18, according to the United Nations Population Fund. The practice “threatens girls’ lives” and limits prospects for their future, said Dr. Mary Otieno, the agency’s country representative.
The bidding war has caused local and international outrage. It took several days for Facebook to remove the post that first pointed out the auction, and after it was taken down other posts “glorifying” the situation remained, George Otim, country director for Plan International South Sudan, told the AP.
“This barbaric use of technology is reminiscent of latter-day slave markets. That a girl could be sold for marriage on the world’s biggest social networking site in this day and age is beyond belief,” he said. The auction was discussed, not carried out, on the site.
Facebook did not reply to a request for comment.
While South Sudan’s government condemns the practice of child marriage it says it can’t regulate communities’ cultural norms, especially in remote areas.
“You can’t call it bidding as if it was an auction. It’s not bidding. If you see it with European eyes you’ll call it an auction,” government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told the AP. “You have to see it with an African eye, as it’s a tradition that goes back thousands of years. There’s no word for it in English.”
Some local lawmakers and activists disagree. In a statement released this week, the National Alliance for Women Lawyers in South Sudan called upon officials to comply with the government’s plan to end child marriage by 2030. Ending the practice includes putting a stop to the auctioning of girls.
South Sudan’s anti-human trafficking chief called the case reminiscent of others he has seen across the country, in which girls are forced or tricked into marriage after being told they are going to live with relatives and go to school instead.
“It is clear that some human trafficking practices are hidden in our culture,” John Mading said.
In other cases, some girls who grow up in the South Sudanese diaspora are brought back to the country and forced to marry. The AP spoke with several people who know girls who arrived for what they thought was a vacation, only to have their passports taken away and forced into marriage by their families.
“Some families want children to marry in their countries and in their ethnic communities, but most do it if the kids are misbehaving,” said Esther Ikere Eluzai, undersecretary for South Sudan’s ministry of gender.