New Delhi: If you are selling drones — including toy ones — online, you are being watched very closely. Those delivering drones at homes or offices without permission from the ministry of civil aviation will be prosecuted.

With the possibility of Al Qaeda-backed terror attacks using drones looming, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) to ask law enforcement agencies to keep a check on their online sale. The step has been taken after an Intelligence Bureau (IB) report that handlers are training terrorists to operate drones with explosives attached. Security agencies have decided to deploy anti-drone teams during all VVIP functions including those on the Republic Day.

Threat and action

IB, citing a crackdown by the Bangladesh police, has said that two terrorists of Al Qaeda-backed Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) were arrested for preparing drones as weapons. The terrorists bought a camera-fitted drone through a Dhaka-based website. But they were arrested before they could act. Even the US’s domestic security agency Federal Bureau of Investigation has expressed worry about the ISIS using drones for an attack within the US.

“It has been noticed that there are many sellers who are selling drones/UAV/UAS without permission from competent authority which can be a threat to VVIP security,” an official communication by one of India’s topmost security forces said, advising agencies to act against such sellers. “There may be online sellers who deliver these drones/UAV/UAS etc at homes without being notices by regulatory agencies.”

One can currently be prosecuted for selling drones without permission under the India Penal Code Section 188 for breach of public order. It is, however, a very light deterrence. The law regulating drones needs to be made stronger.

As part of a new drone policy which is yet to be implemented, one may face heavy penalty and jail up to two years for flying drones without official permission.

Even FBI is worried

The threat is not just from Al Qaeda. ISIS has also been using drones to attack in different countries including the United States. It is considered one of the safest weapons which can be remotely controlled, minimising the risk of detection and casualty.

Recently, the FBI has also assessed that Unarmed Aerial Systems (UAS) could be used to facilitate an attack on US soil.

“The FBI assesses that, given their retail availability, lack of verified identification requirement to procure, general ease of use, and prior use overseas, UAS will be used to facilitate an attack in the United States against a vulnerable target, such as a mass gathering. Terrorist groups could easily export their battlefield experiences to use weaponised (unmanned aircraft systems) outside the conflict zone,” it reportedly said in a written testimony to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Terror’s Drone Age

“IS has used drones for propaganda filming and intelligence gathering for years and last October it used a homemade drone to attack and kill Pashmerga fighters. Then in November a secret bomb factory was discovered in Mosel, Northern Iraq. The fear is that IS are planning to marry together two technologies, drones as a dispersal device and chemical, biological or radiological material as the dispersant,” writes Professor David Hastings Dunn, Department of Political Science, University of Birmingham.

He adds, “Small drones are cheap, easy to buy and operate and can provide distance and anonymity to their operators. As the first iteration of the robotics revolution, they have proliferated on a massive scale with estimates of over five million drones having been sold worldwide.” 

In Venezuela last year in August, two drones, each packed with a kilo of lethal plastic explosives, were used in an attempt to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro.

Reports say that in September 2013, demonstrators flew a small drone close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In January 2015, a drunken US federal employee accidentally crashed a Phantom on the White House lawn.

All this makes the use of drones for terrorism a clear and present danger.