Banned outfits in Pakistan operate openly on Facebook
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2017-05-30 05:06:47

Banned outfits in Pakistan operate openly on Facebook

They exist in plain sight, just one search and one click away from any of Pakistan’s 25 million Facebook users.

An investigation carried out by Dawn across the month of April 2017 has revealed that 41 of Pakistan’s 64 banned outfits are present on Facebook in the form of hundreds of pages, groups and individual user profiles.

Their network, both interconnected and public, is a mix of Sunni and Shia sectarian or terror outfits, global terror organisations operating in Pakistan, and separatists in Balochistan and Sindh.

For the purpose of this investigation, the names of all banned outfits – including acronyms and small variations in spelling – were searched on Facebook to find pages, groups, and user profiles that publicly ‘liked’ a banned outfit.

The biggest outfits on the social network, in order of size, are Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) with 200 pages and groups, Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM) with 160, Sipah-i-Sahaba (SSP) with 148, Balochistan Students Organisation Azad (BSO-A) with 54 and Sipah-e-Muhammad with 45.

Other banned outfits which exist on Facebook at a smaller scale include Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Tehreek-e-Taliban Swat, Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, Jamat-ul-Ahrar, 313 Brigade, multiple Shia outfits and a host of Baloch separatist organisations.

 

A closer look at activity

An examination of some user profiles linked to these banned outfits indicates open support of sectarian and extremist ideology. A few of these profiles have also publicly ‘liked’ pages and groups related to weapons use and training.

While some of the Facebook pages and groups claim to be ‘official’ representatives of the outfits, others appear to be managed by members and supporters in ideological agreement.

The content shared on their forums is varied. Although there are occasional posts in the form of text or status updates, the more common updates feature photos, videos and memes shared to explain and elaborate on the outfit’s ideology; provide updates on recent or ongoing events and on-ground activity; and encourage private contact and recruitment of motivated Facebook users.

In general, the Facebook updates are in Urdu or Roman Urdu rather than English, suggesting the content is primarily for local consumption. A very small number are in Sindhi or Balochi, also indicating a niche target audience.

Tip of the iceberg

At all times, members and supporters of these banned outfits operating on Facebook have the option to shift communication from public to private.

Any user linked to, or interested in a proscribed organisation can befriend and chat with like-minded users, message those operating the pages and groups or click the provided links to websites and blogs. To establish contact off Facebook, all they would need to do is use the publicly listed email addresses or local phone numbers provided by some outfits.

 

Profiles: The big 3 on Facebook

 

Formerly known as the SSP, the ASWJ was banned 10 years after its predecessor, on February 15, 2012. They are known to spread anti-Shia sentiment across Pakistan, and often attack minority groups.

Despite the ban, the organisation remains active in spreading hatred and violence. They engage in local politics by holding rallies and gatherings, amassing a following in an attempt to legitimise the group.

 

Founded in 2000 by Shafi Burfat, the JSMM is a separatist group fighting for the liberation of Sindh from Pakistan. Proscribed on March 15, 2013 for alleged ties to Indian intelligence’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the JSMM is thought to have been involved in sabotage through the offshoot militant faction Sindhudesh Liberation Army.

Due to lack of incidents and reported activity after being proscribed, the organisation is believed to have refocused their efforts on recruiting students for protests.

 

Founded in September of 1985, SSP is acknowledged as one of the largest and oldest anti-Shia militant factions. They have targeted Shia mosques and leaders in the past.

Having changed their name twice after they were banned for terrorist activities in January of 2002, the faction is presently known and operates as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat.

 Dawn

 

 

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