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10:36 AM, May 30, 2017
Banned Pak Terror Groups Thriving on Facebook: Dawn Investigation
Facebook group of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat has 11338 member listed (Screengrab from Facebook)

Pakistan-based terror groups such as Jaish-E-Mohammed, Lashkar-E-Toiba which are among 64 such outfits banned  by Islamabad operate openly through Facebook pages, an investigation by the Dawn newspaper has found.

Many of these outfits, designated as terror groups by the US state department and banned in many other countries preach religious hate through hundreds of pages to have thousands of followers, the newspaper says.

A week after Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said the government would not give free rein to social media as Pakistan's values, constitution and decency were under threat on the platform, the news daily published the report Tuesday.

The minister wants to clamp down on online anonymity saying that authorities had proposed that each person's social media accounts be connected with their cell phone numbers by law.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was quoted by local media as saying that uploading of blasphemous content on social media from overseas will be blocked with the cooperation of service providers.

Action taken by the ministry against those using social media to malign the military is not illegal, Nisar had said.

According to the Dawn report, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) is the biggest outfit on social network with 200 pages and groups followed by 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 outfits and a host of Baloch separatist organisations.

Some user profiles tracked indicate open support of sectarian and extremist ideology. The profiles have also publicly ‘liked’ pages and groups relating to weapons use and training.

The content shared varied from text or status updates, feature photos, videos and memes 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, Dawn reported.

Urdu or Roman Urdu are used rather than English suggesting the content is for local consumption. A very few number of posts are in Sindhi or Balochi indicating a niche target audience.

Most posts on these pages/groups glorify leaders who are killed in the past or exist with some banned outfits and also campaign for release of their activists/leaders.

The updates by all banned outfits place blame on the state (Pakistan) or in the case of outfits focussed on Kashmir, on India. Photos depicting acts of violence-including photos and videos of bodies are also shared on the pages/groups linked to these banned outfits.

ASWJ, Hizbut Tahrir Pakistan and BSO-A pages are the largest with about 15000 to 20000 users.

These outfits also appear to have ‘official’ media cells sharing press releases and religious sermons or political speeches both in audio and video format.

Such pages and groups also share links from websites, blogs or Twitter accounts that appear to be run by members of these outfits. The content in general includes anti-state propaganda or hate speech directed at religious minorities and other members of society.

Of the pages, groups and users investigated for the purpose of this story, a majority appeared to be based in larger urban centers such as Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta. Those users that had publicly listed the educational institutions they had attended are mostly based in large, government-run universities, particularly in Sindh and Balochistan.

Many banned outfits have pages and groups with their names followed by district names, inviting users to join based on locality e.g. in the case of Baloch separatists, divisions include Gwadar, Kharan, Mastung, Panjgur etc.

Others, such as sectarian outfits, are organised down to localities e.g. North Nazimabad in Karachi, or even by-election constituency e.g. NA-68. Furthermore, others are organised using terms such as ‘student wing’ or ‘youth wing’.

The government of Pakistan’s national counter terrorism authority has published 64 Organizations Proscribed by Ministry of Interior under the schedule 11-B-(1) r/w Schedule-I, ATA 1997 on its website.

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