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SAIR Archive            SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW          LATEST ON SATP
Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 16, No. 14, October 3, 2017

Data and assessments from SAIR can be freely published in any form with credit to the South Asia Intelligence Review of the
South Asia Terrorism Portal


ASSESSMENT


INDIA
MYANMAR
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Volatile Borders
Nijeesh N.
Research Assistant; Institute for Conflict Management

In the early hours of September 27, 2017, the Indian Army’s Para Regiment commandos, inflicted heavy casualties on the Khaplang faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) in an operation at an unidentified location near Arunachal Pradesh’s Longding District and Nagaland’s Mon District, close to Langkhu village in Myanmar, along the India-Myanmar international border. According to reports, after getting specific intelligence inputs about a major infiltration bid by NSCN-K militants in the area, the Army waited for the militants to cross the border into Indian territory before launching a major attack in which at least 30 militants were killed. Ministry of Defence (MoD) sources said that, without the recovery of bodies, it was difficult to estimate exact casualties, but they were relying on ground reports.

Soon after the operation, the Army's Eastern Command announced that its Forces did not cross the international border and it was not a “surgical strike”. A statement on September 27, 2017 disclosed, “In the early morning hours of 27 Sep, a column of Indian Army while operating on Indo-Myanmar border was fired upon by unidentified insurgents. Own troops reacted swiftly and brought down heavy retaliatory fire on the insurgents. The insurgents then broke contact and fled from the spot. As per inputs, a large number of casualties were suffered by the insurgents. Own troops suffered no casualties during the fire fight.”

However, NSCN-K’s spokesperson/PRO (Public Relations Officer) ‘colonel’ Isak Sumi, in a Facebook post, claimed that “three Indian soldiers were killed and an unconfirmed number injured, but there was no casualty or injury on the Naga Army during the encounter, which happened at Langkhu village in Naga Self-Administered Zone inside Myanmar.” Further on September 28, 2017, Isak Sumi countered the Indian Army claim, asserting, “Indian Army shall learn to respect their fellow those who took martyrdom on September 27, 2017 (sic)… History is evident that none was able to evade Naga’s security system. Hence, in future too, no enemy can evade Naga’s security to create any damage to Naga Army.”

Security Forces (SFs) had been tracking the movement of militants, especially NSCN-K’s Mobile 2 Unit led by self-styled ‘lieutenant colonel’ Bopa Wangsa along the Indo-Myanmar border and had been carrying out aggressive operations over recent months. On September 4, 2017, troops of 21 Para Special Forces and 16 Assam Rifles (AR) had launched a ‘major strike’ on NSCN-K, killing one militant, injuring another, and destroying a camp near Votnu village under Wakka circle in the Longding District of Arunachal Pradesh, along the Indo-Myanmar border. An unnamed official at Army Headquarters had then claimed "Several other militants managed to escape into the nearby dense forest because of dense fog in the area. The Special Forces recovered an AK-56, a radio set and a hand grenade, along with live bullets. During a combing operation, the forces located a camp of the rebels and destroyed it." Army Chief General Bipin Rawat later had stated later that day, "These are normal and routine operations. Such operations happen every day." The encounter site was around 15 kilometres from the Indo-Myanmar border.

Earlier, in the night of September 1,, 2017, SFs had killed a self-styled ‘corporal’ of the NSCN-K, identified as Honcham Wangsa, in an operation near Kunsa village in Longding District, along the Indo-Myanmar border. A pistol and other incriminating evidence were recovered from the slain militant. A defence source disclosed, on September 2, 2017, that SFs had carried out the operation acting on specific intelligence about NSCN-K cadres trying to exfiltrate from Indian territory into Myanmar. Other NSCN-K cadres managed to escape using the cover of darkness and bad weather.

Significantly, just five days after the June 4, 2015, attack at Chandel in Manipur in which 18 Army personnel were killed, the Indian Army had carried out ‘surgical operations’ inside Myanmar on June 9, 2015, to target militant groups believed to be ‘responsible’ for the killing and reportedly killed ‘several’ insurgents in different militant camps there. Though there was much initial chest-thumping by the Indian Government, after being pressurised buy the Myanmarese Government, a course correction was made. Significantly, the gallantry award (2015) citations of the heroes of the strike made no mention of the neighbouring nation (Myanmar), suggesting instead that the operation took place within Manipur and Nagaland.  

The recent incidents show that vulnerabilities along the Indo-Myanmar border persist. Almost the entire area along the 1,640 kilometre-long border, which stretches across four north-eastern states – Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur – remains volatile and has witnessed deadly militant attacks on SFs in the recent past.

On April 10, 2017, Union Minister of State for Home Hansraj Gangaram Ahir disclosed in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Indian Parliament) that insurgent activities in the Northeast along the Indo-Myanmar border had registered an increase compared to the Indo-Bangladesh border over the past three years. During the period 2015 to March 31, 2017, terror activities along the Indo-Myanmar border had risen alarmingly as a result of insurgents groups shifting their bases from Bangladesh to territories within Myanmar and China. According to the Minister:
The Indo-Myanmar border has been witnessing steady rise in insurgent activities during the period with as many as 206 encounters reported between militants and security personnel spread across four North-eastern States, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. While 18 security personnel lost their lives, 32 insurgents were killed in these encounters. A total 337 rebels were arrested from the international border in the four States during this period. Among the four North-eastern States sharing Myanmar border, maximum number of encounters took place in Arunachal Pradesh. As many as 81 encounters were reported in that State where three security personnel and 13 militants were killed. During this period, 114 suspected insurgents were arrested. Even in 2017, 13 encounter cases have been reported till March in Arunachal along the border with Myanmar.

Similarly, in the Northeast Security Review meeting, chaired by Union Home Minister (UHM) Rajnath Singh, held at New Delhi on May 16, 2017, it was emphasized that five contiguous Districts of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland along the Indo-Myanmar border (Tirap, Changlang and Longding Districts of Arunachal; and Mon and Tuensang Districts of Nagaland) had emerged as the hub of the ‘last remaining militants’ in the Northeast. During the meeting one official stated, "The biggest advantage of these five Districts is their proximity to the NSCN-K-controlled areas of Myanmar and their highly difficult terrain, which makes patrolling a difficult task for security agencies."

According to partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM), between January 1, 2006, and October 1, 2017, there were at least 792 fatalities, including 176 civilians, 145 SF personnel and 471 militants, in 12 Districts spread across the four north-eastern States [Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, and Nagaland] of India that shares borders with Myanmar. In terms of such fatalities, three Manipur Districts were the worst affected: Chandel, accounting for 255 fatalities (56 civilians, 67 SF personnel and 132 militants), followed by Churachandpur, with 155 fatalities (51 civilians, 18 SF personnel and 86 militants); Ukhrul, with 134 fatalities (31 civilians, 36 SF personnel and 67 militants). The other border Districts which recorded fatalities included Tirap, 66 (2 civilians, 8 SF personnel and 56 militants); Tuensang, 47 (17 civilians and 30 militants); Mon, 46 (3 civilians, 9 SF personnel and 34 militants); Phek, 33 (5 civilians and 28 militants); Changlang, 18 (3 civilians, 3 SF personnel and 12 militants); Kiphire, 14 (1 civilian and 13 militants); Kamjong, 9 (2 civilians, 2 SF personnel and 5 militants); Longding, 8 (all militants); and Tengnoupal, 7 (5 civilians and 2 SF personnel). There are 18 Districts along the India-Myanmar border in the region, including Phek, Tuensang, Mon and Kiphire Districts in Nagaland; Tirap, Changlang, Anjaw and Longding in Arunachal Pradesh; Chandel, Ukhrul, Churachandpur, Kamjong and Tengnoupal in Manipur; and Champhai, Serchhip, Lunglei, Lawngtlai and Saiha in Mizoram. Champhai, Serchhip, Lunglei, Lawngtlai, Saiha and Anjaw recorded no such fatalities in this period. Two new Districts, Kamjong and Tengnoupal were created in December 2016, carved out from Ukhrul and Chandel Districts of Manipur, respectively.

NSCN-K lost its ‘founding chairman’ S.S. Khaplang, who died due to prolonged illness on June 9, 2017. It nevertheless remains the biggest worry in this region. Along with the umbrella group formed under Khaplang’s leadership, the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFWESEA) was found responsible for at least 123 fatalities (seven civilians, 34 SF personnel and 82 militants) of the 572 fatalities (where the identity of the group involved has been established) out of a total 792 fatalities recorded across the Northeast region along the Indo-Myanmar border (between January 1, 2006, and October 1, 2017). Moreover, most of the recent major attacks on SFs along the Indo-Myanmar border, including the June 4, 2015, Chandel attack, were carried out by NSCN-K and UNLFWESEA.

Most of the top NSCN-K leadership, including its new ‘chairman’ Khango Konyak, remains inside Myanmar and its operational capabilities in India’s Northeast depend heavily on their presence and safe havens in Myanmar. Out of the total estimated cadre strength of around 1,300, more than 1,000 NSCN-K cadres are sheltering in different militant camps inside Myanmar territory along the Indo-Myanmar border.

Recent attempts to fence the Indo-Myanmar border, which has no proper physical demarcation, have met with mass protests on both sides. The Free Movement Regime (FMR), which allows resident tribals along the border to move up to 16 kilometres across the boundary without restrictions, have been consistently misused by insurgents groups, and by smugglers for drugs, weapons and human trafficking.

At a time when the Northeast is witnessing dramatic improvements in insurgency related violence, the clustering of all surviving northeast militant formations in Myanmar and the support they receive from non-state groups there, remain a major challenge for the Indian security establishment. Active engagement and close coordination between India and Myanmar are necessary of the residual threat to security and stability in India’s Northeast, as well as in West and North West Myanmar, are to be effectively neutralized.

INDIA
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Jharkhand: PLFI: Criminal Operator
Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

On September 24, 2017, three cadres of the People's Liberation Front of India (PLFI) were killed in an encounter in the Tonia Kullatuttu Forest in the Simdega District of Jharkhand. Superintendent of Police (SP) Rajiv Ranjan Singh disclosed that, acting on a tip-off that PLFI’s ‘chief’ Dinesh Gope, along and his squad members had assembled in Tonia Kullatuttu to commit a crime, Security Force (SF) personnel drawn from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and District Police, launched a massive search operation. On seeing SF personnel, PLFI cadres opened fire, provoking retaliation. In the exchange, three PLFI cadres were killed. The bodies of the slain PLFI cadres were recovered, but they are yet to be identified. According to reports, Gope suffered injuries, but managed to escape. SFs also recovered an AK-47 rifle, Light Machine Gun (LMG), carbine and items of daily use. PLFI is a splinter group of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), and broke away from the parent formation in 2007.

On September 12, 2017, two cadres of PLFI, including a woman, were killed in a joint operation by SFs comprising CRPF and the District Reserve Guard (DRG) personnel, at Kantabandatoli Hill under the Gudri Police Station in West Singhbhum District. The bodies of the slain cadres were recovered, though their identities are yet to be ascertained. SFs recovered one 9mm carbine and one double-barrel gun along ammunition from the spot.

On September 3, 2017, an exchange of fire took place between Simdega District Police personnel and PLFI cadres led by its ‘chief’ Dinesh Gope at Bano Police Station in Simdega District. Though, no casualty was reported in the encounter, SFs recovered three motorcycles, 12 mobile phone chargers, one switchboard, bags, mats, and other items of daily use during the subsequent search operation.

According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), SFs in the State have eliminated at least 21 Left Wing Extremists (LWEs) in the current year (all data till October 2, 2017), of which five, i.e. 23.80 per cent, belonged to PLFI. During the corresponding period of 2016, SFs had eliminated at least 33 LWEs, of which 17, i.e. 51.51 per cent, were PLFI cadres. Through 2016, the number of LWEs killed was 40, out of which 18, i.e. 45 per cent, were PLFI cadres.

Similarly, out of least 170 LWEs arrested in the current year, 80, i.e. 47.05 per cent, belonged to PLFI. During the corresponding period of 2016, SFs arrested at least 174 LWEs, of which 52, i.e. 29.88, per cent, were PLFI cadres. Through 2016, the number of LWEs arrested was 233, out of which 74, i.e. 31.75 per cent, were PLFI cadres.

Some of the prominent  PLFI cadres arrested in 2017 include: 'area commander' Amrit Aind arrested in Simdega District on September 1, 2017; 'area commander' Mathias Tuti aka Mangra Tuti (28) arrested in Dakshina Kannada District of Karnataka on August 13, 2017, and brought to Chaibasa in West Singhbhum District; regional 'commander' Raju Singh arrested in Khunti District on May 26, 2017;  'area commander' Kuldip Gope arrested in Gumla District on May 16, 2017; and 'area commander' Prabhu Sahay Bodra arrested in Khunti District on April 7, 2107.

Further, one PLFI cadre surrendered in 2017 (all data till October 2, 2017), as against two in the corresponding period of 2016. The Total number of surrender PLFI was 17 through 2016. The surrender this year was of PLFI 'area commander' Ruben Kerketta, who was carrying a reward of INR 200,000. He surrendered in Khunti District on January 19, 2017.

20 incidents of arms and ammunitions recovery were reported in 2017 in addition to 25 such incidents reported in the corresponding period of 2016. Through 2016, there were 33 such incidents. 

PLFI has been put under enormous pressure by SFs and, unsurprisingly, the group’s disruptive activities have declined in the current year 2017, in comparison to the previous year, after registering a spike in 2016 as against 2015.

Fatalities of PLFI vs. CPI-Maoist and its other splinter groups since 2007*

Year

Total Fatalities of Jharkhand
Fatalities linked to CPI-Maoist and its other splinter groups [excluding PLFI]
Fatalities linked to PLFI
PLFI's % of fatalities

2007

120
120
0
0

2008

163
162
1
0.61

2009

217
190
27
12.44

2010

147
136
11
7.48

2011

157
128
29
18.47

2012

98
71
27
27.55

2013

131
93
38
29.00

2014

97
73
24
24.74

2015

58
51
7
12.06

2016

81
55
26
32.09

2017

51
37
14
27.45

Total

1320
1116
204
15.45
* PLFI formed in 2007; Data Source: SATP, **Data till October 2, 2017

At least 14 persons, including seven civilians, two SF personnel, and five PLFI cadres, have been killed in PLFI-linked incidents in Jharkhand in 2017, thus far (data till October 2, 2017). During the corresponding period of 2016, there were 29 such fatalities (12 civilians and 17 PLFI cadres). Another three such fatalities (two civilians and one PLFI cadre) were registered in the remaining period of 2016.

The total number of Left Wing Extremism-linked fatalities in Jharkhand in the current year stands at 51 – 28 civilians, two SF personnel, 21 LWE cadres. The number of such fatalities during the corresponding period of the previous year was 68 – 25 civilians, 10 SF personnel and 33 LWE cadres. The State had a recorded a total of 81 LWE-linked fatalities (31 civilians, 10 SF personnel, 40 LWE cadres) through 2016. PLFI has a share of 27.45 per cent of LWE-linked fatalities in the current year, as against 33.82 per cent in the corresponding period of 2016, and 32.09 per cent through 2016.

There are some 19 LWE groups operating in the State, prominently including CPI-Maoist, PLFI, Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), Jharkhand Jan Mukti Parishad (JJMP), Jharkhand Sangharsh Jan Mukti Morcha (JSJMM), Jharkhand Prastuti Committee (JPC), and Tritiya Prastuti Committee-1 (TPC-1), a breakaway group of TPC. PLFI is among the largest CPI-Maoist splinter groups in Jharkhand.

PLFI was formed in 2007. Reports indicate that Dinesh Gope was a petty criminal working under his elder brother Suresh Gope, who operated in areas around Ranchi. Suresh Gope had rivalry with another gangster, Jayanath Sahu aka Samrat, principally over collecting ‘levies’ and expanding turf. Suresh was killed in an encounter with Jharkhand Police on December 22, 2003, when he had gone to collect on an extortion demand. Dinesh took charge of the gang and worked meticulously to extend its area of operation. The gang was initially named the Jharkhand Liberation Tigers (JLT) in September 2004. The rivalry with Jayanath Sahu continued. In the meantime, in July 2007, Masi Charan Purty, a senior ‘commander’ of the CPI-Maoist, defected from the outfit with several of his ‘followers’. While Masi was being hunted by the Maoists, Dinesh was looking for ways to out-gun Jayanath. It was a win-win proposition and Masi Charan and Dinesh joined hands to create the PLFI. Masi Charan created a rudimentary structure within the outfit, and provided a cloak of LWE ideology, even as PLFI declared itself a sworn enemy of CPI-Maoist. Though Masi Charan was arrested a year later, PLFI continued to grow under Dinesh’s leadership.

The armed strength of the group, according to estimates, fluctuates between 150 to 300 cadres depending on SF pressure. Though no latest official figure is available, according to an August 19, 2013, report, Jharkhand State Police under its ‘PLFI Action Plan’, had conducted a survey on the cadre strength of the outfit, which found that there were 264 PLFI cadres across Jharkhand – 82 in Ranchi, 55 in Khunti, 44 in Simdega, 44 in Chatra, 17 in Gumla, 14 in Palamu, five in Lohardaga and three in Latehar Districts. Compounding the problem is the fact that virtually all petty criminals operating in the area project themselves as PLFI cadres. The outfit functions through several ‘area commanders’. The PLFI’s area of operation of is mainly Ranchi, Khunti, Simdega, Gumla, Latehar, Chatra and Palamu.

Ironically, the State Government has also been instrumental in sustaining PLFI during its initial days, using it to counter the CPI-Maoist. However, the strategy backfired and PLFI became one of the major LWE groups in the State. Unlike the Maoists, PLFI has no ideology and is only concerned with extortion and criminal activities. Hence, joining the PLFI is, and always has been, comparatively easy. As the main source of PLFI’s income comes from extortion and ‘levies’, it attracts a large number of unemployed youth, who are lured by the temptation of easy money.

On September 4, 2017, Ranchi Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Kuldeep Dwivedi, while briefing the media after the arrest of five armed PLFI cadres who were planning to target road construction sites for levy at the behest of the outfit in Ranchi District on September 3, 2017, stated that he did not see the arrests as a security threat to the capital, as the PLFI had a "very minimal presence" in Chanho, Mandar, Bijupara, Burmu and Khelari. The SSP further disclosed, "In the past eight months, six cases of robbery and arson for levy have been reported in these places. All the crimes were carried out by Krishna and his associates. They have confessed that they extorted money from construction companies. Criminals like him are soft targets for the PLFI, which recruits them to expand its base.” Earlier, on January 8, 2017, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh stated, “I tell them (PLFI) that exploitation of the poor and extortion won’t do.”

PLFI still remains a concern. PLFI demanded ‘levy’ in 2017 on at least seven occasions on record, as against three such occasions in the corresponding period of 2016. There were seven such incidents through 2016. It also carried out at least six incidents of arson as against one such incidents reported in the corresponding period of 2016. There were four such incidents through 2016.

Civilians continue to bear the brunt of PLFI violence. Out of 28 civilians killed in Left Wing Extremism-linked violence in the State in 2017, seven were killed by the PLFI, i.e. 25 per cent. In the latest incident of civilian killing by the outfit, on September 18, 2017, a couple, Amush Kerketta (47) and wife Catherine (42), were shot dead by suspected PLFI cadres at Konsa village under Kamdara Police Station limits in Gumla District. The rebels left behind a pamphlet alleging Amush was a ‘Police informer’. In the corresponding period of 2016, PLFI was responsible for 12 out of 25 civilians killed by LWEs, i.e. 48 per cent.

PLFI has been responsible for a large number of civilian deaths recorded in LWE-linked violence in Jharkhand (where the identity of the group involved has been established) since January 31, 2009. Significantly, on this date, PLFI carried out an attack at Chalgi village of Khunti District in which it killed four civilians, the first ever PLFI-linked civilian fatalities recorded in the State. Out of 436 civilians killed in Jharkhand by LWEs since January 31, 2009, PLFI has been responsible for 111 deaths, a significant 25.45 per cent.       

SFs have intensified their operations against the outfit, mainly targeting the top leaders of the group. In this attempt, on January 27, 2017, Simdega Police airdropped pamphlets and posters with names and related bounties on top functionaries of the PLFI hiding in remote areas of Simdega District. The pamphlets carried names of PLFI's top ‘commanders’, including its ‘chief’, Dinesh Gope, who carries a bounty of INR 2.5 millions on his head. Dinesh Gope, however, remains elusive and continues to operate, posing a genuine challenge to security in the region of his influence.   


NEWS BRIEFS

Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
September 25-October 1, 2017

 

Civilians

Security Force Personnel

Terrorists/Insurgents

Total

INDIA

 

Jammu and Kashmir

0
1
2
3

Left-Wing Extremism

 

Odisha

0
0
2
2

INDIA (Total)

0
1
4
5

PAKISTAN

 

Balochistan

0
0
4
4

KP

1
0
0
1

Sindh

0
0
5
5

PAKISTAN (Total)

1
0
9
10
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.


BANGLADESH

Militants using secured messaging apps to dodge cops, say Anti-Terrorism Unit officials: Police’s Anti-Terrorism Unit officials said that militant outfits have apparently smartened up and become tech-savvy as they are now using encrypted communications applications or apps more and more to maintain communications online, making it harder for the law enforcement agencies to trace them. They said the militants initially used popular apps like Facebook and its Messenger, and Google Hangouts to communicate. Dhaka Tribune, October 2, 2017.

440 people accused in 331 militancy related cases have fled country after getting bail, say security agencies: At the National Committee on Militancy Resistance and Prevention meeting on September 4, members from the security agencies said 440 people accused in 331 militancy related cases have fled the country after getting bail. According to different law enforcement agencies, more than 200 suspected militants are out on bail since January. Most of these militants are members of Neo-Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (Neo-JMB), old JMB, Ansar al-Islam, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) and Hizb-ut Tahrir, said jail sources. It is usually the delay in investigation and legal proceedings that allow militants take advantage of the system. Dhaka Tribune, September 26, 2017.


INDIA

CPI-Maoist admits to tough phase for revolutionary movement: The Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) has admitted that the revolutionary movement is currently undergoing a “difficult” phase all over the country. The senior Maoist leadership, constituting the all powerful Central Committee (CC), met in February (2017) last to review the progress of the revolutionary movement in the country. One of the resolutions passed in this crucial CC meeting was on the current situation of the revolution, which candidly admitted that the revolutionary movement was going through a ‘difficult’ stage all over the country. The same resolution also pointed out that the Left Wing Extremist (LWE) movement in urban areas was weak and that in several regions it was still passing through a ‘setback’ phase. Telangana Today, September 28, 2017.

75 locations identified as vulnerable to Rohingya infiltration, says report: A day after India decided to review the free movement regime with Myanmar, Security Forces (SFs) have managed to push back several Rohingya Muslims trying to cross over and identified 75 locations as vulnerable to infiltration.  Following the decision by the Government to deport Rohingya Muslims, the Border Security Force (BSF) has reviewed several vulnerable locations along the border. During this operation, the BSF managed to push back over 15 Rohingya Muslims. BSF officials also identified 75 locations and termed them as vulnerable to infiltration. One India, September 27, 2017.

Maharashtra ATS deradicalised 70 persons in two years, blocked over 450 propaganda websites, says report: Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad (ATS), in the past two years, deradicalised at least 70 people who were trapped in extremist literature online and were on the verge on being recruited. Cyber laboratory of ATS, which keeps a tab on all websites and URLs spreading radical propaganda, has blocked 450 such sites in the past one-and-a-half years. A senior official from Maharashtra ATS said that Islamic State (ISIS)'s indoctrination is done by different people and there are multiple levels for it. "ISIS websites keep releasing extremist content and get in touch with youths who share its ideology. They use chat rooms and apps which are difficult to trace," said an official. India Today, September 27, 2017.