Much has been written about ISIS using encrypted devices to plan and coordinate highly sophisticated terror attacks in the western world as well as in other countries, many close to what ISIS calls home. The organization may indeed use encrypted programs for communications, though reports detailing the recent incidents in Paris proved that’s not the main way attackers communicated. As it turns out though, they do use these apps for at least one horrific purpose: To communicate about selling sex slaves.
Yes, that sounds awful, but that’s exactly what’s happening on Telegram, an encrypted chat service ISIS members use to sell young girls into sex slavery for thousands of dollars each. Other services including Facebook and WhatsApp are also used for the same purpose, but Telegram appears to be the chat service of choice for sex slave trafficking.
“Virgin. Beautiful. 12 years old…. Her price has reached $12,500, and she will be sold soon,” such an ad reads. The message was posted on an encrypted conversation alongside ads for kittens, weapons and tactical gear. The conversation was disclosed to The Associated Press by an activist with the Yazidi community, whose women and children are being held as sex slaves.
An estimated 3,000 women and underage girls are held as prisoners and sold with the help of smartphone apps. ISIS apparently shares databases with slaves and their owners, which contain pictures so that captives cannot escape past checkpoints. Smugglers are still trying to rescue captives, but ISIS has tightened security in recent weeks to reduce the number of escapees.
Because chats conducted on WhatsApp and Telegram are encrypted, they can’t be shut down by the companies or anyone else.
“Telegram is extremely popular in the Middle East, among other regions,” Telegram spokesman Markus Ra told AP. “This, unfortunately, includes the more marginal elements and the broadest law-abiding masses alike.”
“We have zero tolerance for this type of behavior and disable accounts when provided with evidence of activity that violates our terms. We encourage people to use our reporting tools if they encounter this type of behavior,” WhatsApp spokesman Matt Steinfeld said.