NEW DELHI: A group of terrorist suspects in India said to be inspired by Islamic State wanted to emulate US whistleblower Edward Snowden and use encrypted communication tool Signal to stay in touch, it was revealed in interrogation by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
Snowden, who is known to have used encrypted communication regularly, relied on the Signal app to communicate with his contacts after he left the US with classified information related to global surveillance programmes of the National Security Agency.
NIA, which is probing the spread of IS in India, has found that the Syria-based handlers used similar encryption technology to communicate, officials said. One IS member in India, Abu Anas, was even given the task of developing a secret communication application on the lines of Signal, they said. IS members have also been known to use another encrypted chat programme called Telegram.
“I discovered Signal through open source since the other chatting applications like WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram were easily being monitored by security agencies. Signal is not under the monitoring purview of the security agencies,” Anas told the interrogators, an official said.
Anas, who holds a master’s degree in computer application, was arrested in Hyderabad in January.
It should be noted that Signal is available for free download on app stores and that the latest version of WhatsApp encrypts conversations.
The IS group, which had other computer experts, was given the responsibility by their Mumbai-based chief Mudabbir Shaikh to develop “Java software for Android mobiles security where they can talk secretly”, the official said.
Anas, who is believed to head the group according to the NIA, also planned to join IS in Syria and had applied for a tourist visa for Japan, from where he wanted to fly to Turkey. “He was of the view that visa processing is easier in Japan,” said an official who questioned Anas.
Investigations have so far revealed that former Indian Mujahideen commander Shafi Armar, who hails from Bhatkal in Karnataka and left the country in 2008, is the brains behind setting up the IS module in India. He is believed to be operating from Syria and has pledged his allegiance to IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Meanwhile, the home ministry has ordered the transfer of a probe into another IS-related case to NIA. The first information report was initially being investigated by the Delhi police special cell which had also arrested five persons in Haridwar.
The home ministry believed that the conspiracy in all these cases is common and linked to the bigger module which is being investigated by NIA. The agency has arrested 19 persons in a nationwide crackdown for setting up an IS-inspired module in India.