India: Counter-terror investigators probe IS kill-list with names of many IT professionals
This is not the first time that an IS-made 'kill list' has reached the public domain. (Representative image) Photograph: (Getty)
The National Investigation Agency (NIA), India's central counter-terrorism bureau, is in possession of a list of 4,000 names compiled by a pro-Islamic State hacking group, the "United Cyber Caliphate".
The list carries names, cities, addresses, email ids, phone numbers and occupations of people who are considered enemy of the Sunni terrorist organisation and therefore deserve to be killed.
The NIA found the list in a laptop belonging to Nasir Bin Yafi Chaus from Parbhani, a district located in the West-Indian coastal state of Maharashtra.
The state's Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) arrested Bin Yafi Chaus in July 2016, along with three other Indian nationals. They were accused of forming an Islamic State cell willing to carry out several attacks. Members of the NIA found an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in one of their houses.
According to an article in The Indian Express, the list was given to Bin Yafi Chaus allegedly by his Syria-based Islamic State contact Shafi Armar, known also as Yusuf or Farooque.
Most of the individuals who figure on this list are US nationals of foreign origin along with 305 people hailing from South Asian countries, mainly from India and Pakistan.
The individuals mentioned in the list seem to be working in the information technology sector right from small firms to big multinational corporations like Amazon, Intel, Exxon, BMW among others.
The file is so randomly composed that it is hard to find any pattern making it difficult to understand as to why these individuals were considered as plausible targets.
The lack of any pattern in the list could also suggest that it has not been compiled following any specific reason and maybe the Islamic State just 'acquired' the list from someone.
The data contained in the list can be easily accessed even by a low-level hacker from a public database. In May 2016, for instance, a pro-Islamic State hacking group declared to have obtained hundreds of names by hacking the Arkansas Library database.
Speaking to The Indian Express, an NIA official said, however, that many of the persons on the list are 'ethical hackers', but none of them seems to have participated in any anti-Islamic State operation.
An 'ethical hacker' is a person who uses his or her skills within the frame of law, often working for information security companies or government agencies.
This is not the first time that an IS-made 'kill list' reached the public domain. In June 2016, the United Cyber Caliphate released a list of 8,318 people. In April 2016, the same group released a list of 3,600 New York citizens claiming that they "wanted them dead".
According to the SITE intelligence group, an organisation specialising in dark web and cyber security, Islamic State hacker groups have released at least 19 lists so far.
The NIA does not consider any option off the table observing that it could also be a made-on-purpose document aiming at distracting the agency's attention from more important terror-related issues.
Irrespective of what the investigation by authorities reveals, what is worrying is the fact that the file maybe in the hands of other Islamic State-affiliates who could carry out an attack at any moment.
This becomes even more problematic in light of the fact that Indian authorities have arrested 50 Islamic State supporters in the country. Although, India is traditionally not a fertile ground for Sunni extremism, but increasing incidents of lone-wolf attacks around the world have shown that it just takes one single man to carry out a deadly attack. Such a list could give them inspiration and get innocent people killed.