Security services in Pakistan have found a new means to target ISIS militants - the Russian app Telegram.
They have succeeded in arresting and killing a number of ISIS militants in Peshawar after members of the group were found chatting on Telegram where a selfie uncovered the location of the plot.
Muhammad Farid, a 23-year-old ISIS militant, was arrested on June 24 during a security raid on a flour mill in the outskirts of Peshawar where the group was planning a massive attack.
Farid confessed to interrogators after arrest that he had killed 32 people including 15 policemen and five sex workers Express Tribune reported.
However, it was the Afghan citizen’s phone revealed to security officials ISIS’s preferred method of communication.
“Almost all communication was through the Telegram app,” said a Counter Terrorism Department official. “The aliases they used were common names which they changed often. They were mostly communicating with their group in Afghanistan.”
Telegram, a Russian chat app, has approximately 100 million users and has been giving law enforcement headaches the world over as it has end-to-end encryption, is difficult to crack, and has messages that self-destruct.
Furthermore, Telegram has group chat options where ISIS members were sharing potential target information.
“We found a list of 12 people who the group [in the flour mill] had identified when it was busted,” said an intelligence official who asked to remain unnamed as he is not authorized to speak to the media. “Most of these targets were randomly chosen from Facebook and Twitter on sectarian grounds.”
In Farid’s cell phone, investigators found a selfie. And while his face did not say much, it was the nine-pane window in the background that they picked up on, the report said.
The window panel in the background was a targeted location and security personnel found, 10 days later, after an extensive search,
Data for three months from the cell phones found in the flour mill operation showed that the men had made no calls but their combined internet usage exceeded 18 gigabytes, confirming to investigators the way IS was communicating.
The men were trained to use the app in Afghanistan. Once they learnt that it was being tracked, they tried to shift to another encrypted app called Signal. “They were more advanced than some countries in their communications,” remarked one official.
ISIS has been highly effective in its use of social media and the internet in general, but it is also proficient in using old-school methods such as throwing pamphlets at the scene of an attack. ISIS graffiti was reported in parts of Peshawar a long time back, but the police initially publicly dismissed it as pranks to avoid creating panic.