Uzbekistan strengthens efforts to fight online extremist recruiting

By Daus Latip

A speaker discusses terrorist misuse of the internet at the October 25-26 Tashkent seminar 'Countering Internet Use for Terrorist Purposes'. [Daus Latip]

A speaker discusses terrorist misuse of the internet at the October 25-26 Tashkent seminar 'Countering Internet Use for Terrorist Purposes'. [Daus Latip]

TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan is co-operating with its neighbours and studying international experience to fight online terrorist activity, specialists and security officials tell Caravanserai.

The task requires law enforcement agencies to master skills such as computer forensics. Crucial evidence is generally stored on terrorists' computers and mobile devices.

The battle against terrorist misuse of the internet was the topic at an Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)-sponsored seminar last week in Tashkent.

Using real-world examples, international specialists showed law enforcement agents how various countries confront terrorists online.

"Terrorists use the internet to instigate, recruit and teach, and also to plan, discuss and carry out terror attacks," Rafal Rohozinski, a senior consulting fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said at the seminar.

"The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) conducts 80% of its recruiting through messaging apps and social networks, according to official data presented at the seminar.

In September, a court in Shymkent, Kazakhstan, convicted five ISIL members, including three Uzbekistani and two Kazakhstani nationals.

The terror cell was formed through social networking, investigators in Kazakhstan found. The ISIL members had orders to kill five Shymkent residents whom they considered "infidels".

Using new technologies, recruiting through the internet

The internet's ubiquity makes it invaluable for terrorists seeking recruits.

"As of September 13m Uzbekistanis .... about 41% of the country ... are using the internet," Development of Information Technologies and Communications Deputy Minister Alisher Fayzullayev said in September at a Tashkent IT trade fair, according to

About 7 billion cell phones, one per person globally, are in use, analysts say. More than 100m individuals use the Telegram messaging app.

Messaging apps, which encrypt all communications, make the work of law enforcement more difficult. Criminals know the tools they have and ways to dodge the law, specialists say.

Authorities regard extremist videos on YouTube with great concern because administrators yank them only after someone reports them, Viktor Mikhailov, director of the Uzbekistan-based news site Anti-Terror Today, said at the forum.

"Terrorists are constantly changing their accounts and using special programmes to anonymously upload terrorist videos," he said.

Uzbekistani officials are taking all measures to fight cyber-crime, National Security Service (SNB) official Muzzaffar Abduvakhidov told Caravanserai.

Uniting against online propaganda, blocking terrorist channels

Central Asian security agencies are working together to stop online recruitment and to track down extremist fugitives who have fled the countries where they are wanted, officials said at the seminar.

The counter-terrorism departments of Central Asian law enforcement agencies have co-operated productively with intelligence agencies in stopping online terrorist recruitment, an Uzbekistani SNB official who requested anonymity told Caravanserai. The agencies' accumulated experience enables them to use the most efficient strategies and to co-operate in the most beneficial ways.

Authorities recognise that the technological game is constantly shifting and evolving.

"Blocking uploaded videos doesn't do any good anymore since they'll just upload another one," Dolgor Solongo, a senior official at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Crime Prevention Branch, said at the forum. "We need to find modern methods to stop terrorism."

Law enforcement in Uzbekistan uses uploaded videos as evidence, Tashkent City Criminal Court consultant Fotima Ismoilova said at the forum.

"Today's state of IT development requires laws that are equally developed, so we are constantly proposing amendments to laws," she said.

Uploading extremist audio and video files is not the only online offence, Daniel Cohen, a special prosecutor with the UK Crown Prosecution Service, said at the forum, adding that even citation of certain hyper-links is grounds for prosecution.

Once, Scotland Yard arrested a British citizen who placed a hyper-link to ISIL's e-magazine on a YouTube page, Cohen said.

Public co-operation with law enforcement

Young Uzbekistanis can be vulnerable to extremist recruitment while abroad, where they are deprived of the supports and surroundings of home, Mikhailov said, adding that Uzbekistani migrant workers abroad or Uzbekistani convicts in foreign prisons run that risk.

Some alarmed Uzbekistanis respond by blowing the whistle on their own relatives, officials say.

That sad category of Uzbekistanis includes Munira J. of Namangan, who learned from a YouTube video that her 25-year-old son had joined ISIL in the Middle East.

In October 2015, a family friend showed Munira a YouTube video in which her son urged other young people to join him in fighting for ISIL.

"My husband and I turned to law enforcement," Munira told Caravanserai. "He made a mistake and still has the chance to right his path."

Police have placed her son on the wanted list.

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