When terrorists use cat pictures to hide their tracks

When terrorists use cat pictures to hide their tracks
Madam Nur Azlin Mohamed Yasin is an associate research fellow at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).
PHOTO: Milipol Asia-Pacific 2017

You won't associate pictures of cats and food with terrorists.

But that is what some of them are doing to cover their tracks, said a terrorism specialist at a homeland security conference here.

Madam Nur Azlin Mohamed Yasin is an associate research fellow at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

She was giving a talk on "Social media - Boon or Bane for Counter-terrorism?" at the Milipol Asia-Pacific 2017, an international exhibition and conference featuring technology and equipment related to homeland security.

The three-day event, which ended yesterday, was held at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

Madam Azlin highlighted methods terrorists are using to evade capture.

She showed screen grabs of a man who claimed he was a bookseller who needed money for travel.

She and her team discovered he was actually trying to raise money to fund his trip to join ISIS in Syria.

Madam Azlin told TNP her team looks out for keywords like "travel" and "Syria" before they label a social media account as "terrorist-related".

But she said terrorists have deliberately misspelled them to escape detection.

She said: "We now have to widen our scope when we screen these accounts, such as trying to think of every possible way they can misspell words to detect any suspicious activity."

Some use Chinese names to throw the authorities off their scent, she added.

"Since 2014, more terrorists have started creating social media accounts to reach more people. They also message their target audience on social media to create a more interpersonal touch and get people to trust them," said Madam Azlin.

In 2015, a 17-year-old Singaporean was placed under a Restriction Order after being radicalised after viewing videos and materials on websites and social media materials propagated by "radical ideologues and terrorist elements".

Madam Azlin said the data her team collects is handed to the authorities.

Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam spoke about ISIS's use of social media at The Home Team Leaders' Forum last year.

He said then: "It (ISIS) is extremely skilful in the use of social media and has recruited more than 30,000 foreign fighters from all around the world, including this region and including Singapore."

Madam Azlin added youths are easy targets because they tend to be passionate and driven.

"(The terrorists) feed on this passion. They won't tell youths they are killing people, but instead tell them they are heroes and they are saving the world through their actions."

Madam Azlin suggested keeping a close watch on loved ones and looking out for signs of radicialisation, such as intolerant views.

She said: "It is important for family members to know they are not harming the individual by reporting them, but instead helping them from hurting themselves and others."

tanpya@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 7, 2017.
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