Malaysian police have discovered that the Islamic State (IS) militant group had been using communications app Telegram as its latest technology medium to disseminate its ideology and recruit Malaysians.
According to Bukit Aman special branch counter-terrorism division senior assistant director Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, Telegram was among 14 social applications used by IS to connect with the public before recruiting them and arranging their trips to Syria.
Prior to this, he said the IS terrorists used Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat and others to influence people to join them.
“Social media has been IS main medium for this activity,” Ayob Khan told reporters in Kemaman, Terengganu.
“In the middle of last year, however, we tracked them shifting to Telegram to avoid detection.”
Investigation revealed that IS had been using Telegram messaging due to the app’s higher messaging privacy and security.
IS, however, still uses WhatsApp as another main app to communicate with different groups.
Malaysia police have also determined that the IS was still actively recruiting Malaysians to join them, based on the movement records to Syria, which were detected in August and last month.
“Indeed, it is difficult for them to sneak into the country, but they are still seeking ways and means to recruit Malaysians to infiltrate Syria,” said Ayob Khan.
He said the IS had been using premises like hotels to meet members in Malaysia and plan terrorist activities.
One such hotel has been identified to be in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur where a meeting took place in April.
The police special branch’s counter-terrorism division has to date detected 15 Malaysian soldiers, three policemen and an auxiliary policeman joining the IS.
Ayob Khan said security personnel were targeted by the IS because they had the skills required and access to firearms and explosives.
“We must take early action despite minimal information and less-than-firm evidence if it involves security personnel, whether they are policemen, Rela members or military officers,” he said.
Members of security forces are among 26 civil servants, out of a total of 255 people detained for terrorism-related militant activities, by the police since 2013.
Other than civil servants, university lecturers, private sector employees and students were also detained.
Ayob Khan urged religious department and muftis in the country to help check the rise of militant activity, as the problem involved not only security issues, but also the faith of Muslims.
Telegram messenger app was in the spotlight after the deadly terrorist attacks in Jakarta in January this year.
Then experts in Indonesia and Malaysia said that IS radicals in Syria had used the social networking platform to recruit members from Southeast Asia.
The revelations underscore both the apparent popularity of the Berlin-based app among members of the terror organisations and the challenges it posed to authorities in tracking its private, encrypted chats.
In November last year, Telegram said it had blocked 78 of its public channels across 12 languages related to IS,
Telegram is among first app to explicitly cater to privacy enthusiasts after reports in 2013 alleging widespread surveillance by US intelligence.
IS terrorists have used Telegram, a free platform that can be accessed via mobile devices and desktop computers, to disseminate public statements, such as its claim of responsibility for last November attacks in Paris.
Law-enforcement agencies have warned that encrypted platforms that may have originally been built for legitimate commercial and gaming purposes are being used by violent groups to stay hidden.
IS reportedly has tutorials about the most secure and least expensive ways of communicating while avoiding surveillance.