Ehtisham Bilal, a Sharda University student allegedly joined a terror outfit

What inspired Ehtisham Bilal to join the Islamic State of Jammu and Kashmir? Last month, a fight broke out between some local and Afghan students at Sharda University

Ehtisham Bilal, a Sharda University student allegedly joined an outfit. 20-year-old Ehtisham Bilal is a native of Khanyar. As Noida police was probing his missing case, photographs of him with weapons surfaced. Social media is playing an important role in radicalising youngsters in the Kashmir Valley

Terror outfits active in Kashmir Valley are now scouting India's top educations institutions - colleges and universities - to radicalise and recruit bright young men studying there - often enrolled in advanced or technical courses.

On Saturday, Delhi Police's elite Special Cell, along with Jammu and Kashmir Police, arrested three youngsters who owe allegiance to the Islamic State of Jammu and Kashmir (ISJK). 20-year-old Ehtisham Bilal, a native of Khanyar, joined Sharda University (Noida) in 2017. His interrogators say: "Bilal was very studious. He was pursuing a graduate programme in radiology. We met his teachers. They are all shocked that Bilal joined a terror outfit."

What inspired Bilal to join the ISJK? Last month, a fight broke out between some local and Afghan students at Sharda University. Somebody mistook Bilal for an Afghan and he was roughed up. Kashmiri students studying in Sharda University protested and the management assured them that such incidents won't be repeated. However, Bilal left the university. His family filed a missing report. Even as Noida police was probing the case his photographs with weapons surfaced. Bilal had shunned the pen for an AK-47 assault rifle.

Unlike Bilal, who was arrested, Mannan Bashir Wani was not that lucky. A PhD scholar at Aligarh Muslim University, Bashir quit studies and joined the Valley-based militant body Hizbul Mujahideen. Two months later, in October, he was killed in an encounter with the Army in Handwara.

Among the three arrested by Delhi Police, Harris Mushtaq Khan is probably the brightest in academic. Last year, he completed his graduation degree from Jamia Milia Islamia, but dropped out of the Master's programme. "Harris joined ISJK and owed allegiance to the Islamic State," DCP (Special Cell) Pramod Kushwaha told India Today TV.

Investigations by the police and intelligence agencies revealed that social media is playing an important role in radicalising youngsters in the Kashmir Valley. Terror outfits have used social media to first wean youngsters. Speeches of Anwar Al Awlaki are most popular.

"Once they show some interest, they use encrypted chatting apps like Telegram and Signal, to interact with them. Oath of allegiances to the Islamic State or Ba'yah is done via Telegram or Signal Signal and then it is deleted," said a senior officer in the Special Cell.

While still studying at Jamia, Harris was in touch with his handlers in ISJK via Telegram. They motivated him so much that he dropped out of the Masters programme and joined the group.

"Harris completed his graduation in 2016. His questioning revealed that Bilal too has joined ISJK," said DCP Kushwaha. Like the young men who joined ISJK, Munan Wani too got radicalised and was in constant touch with Hizbul Mujahideen leaders.

What is worrying is that unlike WhatsApp which can be intercepted, Telegram and Signal are next to impossible to be tracked. Senior officers in Special Cell also claimed that in October, they arrested two youths in south Kashmir. One of them, Parvez Rashid, was studying BTech in Amroha in western Uttar Pradesh.

Initially, the duo were charged under the Arms Act but later were booked under the stringent anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).