Why Arrest of Junaid Mohammed from Pune Is Crucial

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In what can be termed as one of the biggest crackdowns by an Indian agency in busting the recruitment model of banned terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) through the use of social media, Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad (ATS) on Tuesday arrested 28-year-old Junaid Mohammed Ata Mohammed from Pune.

The radicalised youth was a recruiter for LeT, say officials. Through the usage of social media, the class 10th-failed native of Akola had allegedly recruited young men from Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Maharashtra.

Revelation

While some of those youths have been arrested, at least one has been eliminated during an encounter. This case throws light on the new modus operandi of LeT for recruiting youths from outside Jammu and Kashmir, which involves the extensive use of social media, officials say.

The Maharashtra ATS is now on the lookout for three Lashkar operatives from J&K who were allegedly Junaid’s handlers.

“His handlers gave him instructions about creating fake Facebook profiles, about talking with radicalised youth, about recruiting them. Junaid was in touch with them almost exclusively through social media,” sources told CNN-News18. “Some of the youths recruited by Junaid had already gone for terror training. While some of them have been arrested by other states, at least one has died in an encounter.”

Junaid has been remanded in ATS custody till June 3. The investigating agency now has a herculean task of joining the dots in a probe that is likely to span across several states.

The journey

According to officials, Junaid hails from Akola where he worked as a scrap dealer. He came in touch with the LeT after he was radicalised. Thereafter, he rose in the organisation’s ranks, and was tasked with the recruitment of radicalised youth. A few months ago, sensing something wrong, he moved from Akola to Pune, where he lived with his brother-in-law.

The Maharashtra ATS started an open inquiry in the matter on December 30, 2021.

The probe was conducted by methods that were a combination of social media screening and on-field intelligence. As per the agency, Junaid had generated at least five fake Facebook profiles. What is interesting is that he had used his own photo for all the five profiles, say officials The names of all the five profiles are different, though.

Officials say he used to first screen the FB profiles of radicalised youth, looking for certain keywords. He would find out if the youth sympathised with certain ideologies. Thereafter, he would tap them and coax them for personal conversations on messenger chats.

The ATS believes that he used different SIM cards to get in touch with different recruited youths. The agency has recovered at least 10 SIM cards, though sources close to the probe say it was likely that more were used. “He used to operate this entire recruitment process on the instructions of the handlers only,” an official said.

The police have also found a deposit of Rs 10,000 in Junaid’s bank account. The money was allegedly sent for terror-related recruitment operations.

Investigators are now in the process of probing him to find further information in the case.

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