An encrypted messaging app favoured by jihadists was condemned by the head of Europol yesterday for failing to join the fight against terrorism.
Telegram, a smartphone service founded by a flamboyant young Russian entrepreneur, was singled out by Rob Wainwright, director of the EU’s policing body, for its reluctance to work with anti-terrorist authorities.
The app was exploited for propaganda, recruitment and control of young terrorist volunteers by members of Islamic State. It was popular among young men joining Isis in Syria and was used for communications by a pioneering cyberterrorist in Britain.
Mr Wainwright, addressing the World Counter Terror Congress in London, said that Isis had been forced to create its own platform for propaganda and financing because major internet providers were clamping down on terrorist content.
However, he later told: “There are some that simply won’t co-operate with us. One in particular causing major problems for us is Telegram.” It provides “some co-operation but nowhere near what we are getting from Facebook, Twitter and some of the others”, Mr Wainwright said.
He added that there was a view at Telegram that the app should be “free” and not have to co-operate with law enforcement. “That’s the view the CEO has. They are a bit evasive about requests. I can’t say they have blatantly refused. We haven’t yet had the opportunity to establish the same kind of constructive relationship we have with Facebook and Twitter.”
Telegram did not respond to requests for comment last night.
Mr Wainwright, who is British and has experience in fighting cybercrime, said that Pavel Durov, Telegram’s founder and chief executive, showed his company’s position quite starkly in his writings. “He grew up with a certain experience in Russia,” Mr Wainwright said.
Mr Durov, 32, the founder of the leading Russian social network VK, fled his homeland after falling out with the authorities. Some Russian state officials nonetheless use Telegram. The entrepreneur has stated: “We dislike bureaucracy, police states, big governments, wars, socialism and excessive regulation. We like freedoms, strong judicial systems, small governments, free markets, neutrality and civil rights.” He told a technology conference in San Francisco: “Privacy is ultimately more important than our fear of bad things happening, like terrorism.”
The Isis cyberterrorist Samata Ullah, 34, from Cardiff, who hid messages on memory cards in cufflinks and was jailed this week, swapped messages on a Telegram forum. Rachid Kassim, a Frenchman who joined Isis to become a beheader in Syria, had hundreds of followers on Telegram. He was suspected of remotely controlling volunteers in several terrorist attacks on his homeland.
Patrick Calvar, head of French intelligence, said that Telegram was the main network used by terrorists. After the Paris attacks in 2015, Telegram closed some Isis public channels and it has since publicly stated that its abuse team actively bans such content.