MEHDI MASROOR BISWAS
Arrested in Bangalore
At 12:31 am on June 24 last year, Twitter handle @TalabAlHaqq tweeted — “@onthatpath3 @AbuUmar8246 Salam akhi, how can a mihajir stuck in southeastern turkey get help crossing through to raqqa in sha allah??”.
At 12:48 am, he received an answer from the handle @ShamiWitness: “@TalabAlHaqq walaykum salam, Tal Abyad crossing open now @AbuUmar8246 @onthatpath3”, and “@TalabAlHaqq also there is Jerabulus etc”.
On November 24, @ShamiWitness tweeted, “May Allah guide, protect, strengthen the Islamic State. May Allaah destroy those who allied with taghout (rebel) agents to fight Dawlah (6) (Islamic State)”.
These are some of the 1,22,203 pro-Islamic State messages that Mehdi Masroor Biswas, a 24-year-old electrical engineer allegedly operating the ‘highly influential’ ShamiWitness account from Bangalore, is believed to have tweeted between January 25, 2013, and December 11, 2014. The handle has over 15,900 followers.
Biswas was arrested from his one-room rented apartment in Jalahalli, Bangalore, on December 13 last year.
His interrogation report, accessed by The Indian Express, says, “He said he wanted to join ISIL, but had responsibilities here and hence couldn’t go.”
With the entire case against him resting on tweets, Biswas’s report also quotes him as saying, “Now they (Islamic State) buy tweets in Gulf countries for propaganda.”
The background: an engineer
Hailing from West Bengal, Biswas graduated in electrical engineering from Guru Nanak Institute of Technology at Sodpur, on the northern outskirts of Kolkata, in 2012.
His father, who retired as assistant engineer from the West Bengal State Electricity Board, now practises homeopathy, while his mother is a homemaker. The two are settled in Kaikhali in Kolkata. Biswas’s two sisters are married.
Selected during campus recruitment, he worked in a junior trainee capacity for two years before being confirmed as an executive in ITC Life Sciences and Technology Centre, Bangalore, in March 2014. At the time of his arrest, Biswas was working as a food assistant.
It’s not clear why or how Biswas allegedly got influenced by the IS.
But on October 22, 2013, almost four months before al-Qaeda issued an official statement saying ISIS was “not a branch of al-Qaeda”, @ShamiWitness tweeted: “People need to stop calling ISIS as al Qaeda. It’s not. There’s no bayah (allegiance) to Dr Zawahiri. Maybe ‘post-Qaeda’.”
The propagandist: Twitter tool
Biswas allegedly spent hours each day tweeting IS propaganda messages, posting near real-time updates on the progress made by IS fighters in Iraq and Syria by tracking news sites, cheering IS victories and hailing slain IS fighters as martyrs.
“I used to gather information from news articles/tweets of journalists etc,” he said, as per the interrogation report. Biswas also named a mainstream journalist’s Twitter handle and three other handles that regularly prepared maps about area control based on tweets, all of which were anti-IS.
“Mehdi Biswas has mentioned about him aiding and abetting a self-confessed muhajir (immigrant) who was asking way from Turkey border to Raqqa,” his interrogation report said.
“When questioned about ISIL methodology of beheading and if he supported it — he has mentioned that beheading is written in Quran and Hadith,” the report said.
On December 9 2014, @ShamiWitness tweeted: “Getting beheaded is 100 times more humane, more dignified than what these filthy scumbags do to Muslims (5)”.
The same day, there was another tweet from the Twitter handle — “Remember: 100% of all the torture victims of CIA has been Muslim since the program started. This is a War on Islam. War on Muslims.”
It was a comment on the ‘Committee Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program’, released the same day, commonly known as the CIA Torture Report. The 6,000-page report details the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program on detainees between 2001 and 2006 following the September 11 attacks.
Adds Biswas’s interrogation report, “”He… propagated the group’s image by tweeting things like — ‘ISIL has brought peace, prosperity and zero corruption’.”
The IS supporters: Kashmiri, British
Biswas’s followers were mostly foreign fighters in the IS, especially those from Britain. “He says he is in regular contact with handful of British jihadists,” the report says. “There are 40-50 English speakers who are actual fighters,” he allegedly told his interrogators.
Biswas also claimed “two-three” people from Kashmir were IS supporters, “namely Mauja — Kashmir Rebel, Abu Bakr Al Kashmiri and on Twitter KashmirISIS”.
Explaining the “IS terminology” to the interrogators, he said, “Fanboy means someone who supports from their home” and “Hizbi means someone who is partisan”.
Asked about the identities of persons behind over 150 Twitter handles, Biswas said he didn’t know some of them. Similarly, he said there was no communication between him and two of the Kalyan, Mumbai, youths alleged to have joined the IS.
“Areeb Majeed has never followed his (Biswas’s) account. He is also not in his friends’ list (including Facebook),” the report says. Majeed, one of the four in custody in India over association with the IS, returned to India in November 2014 and is under arrest.
Biswas said he “never followed” Fahad Shaikh either, the suspected Kalyan youth behind the Twitter profile ‘Magnet Gas’. “He is an Indian fighting in Raqqah”, was all he said about the youth who left allegedly for Syria and remains missing.
The arrest: Channel 4
On December 11, 2014, the UK’s Channel 4 News reported that an investigation by it had revealed that the man operating @ShamiWitness Twitter handle, who claimed to be a Libyan, was actually “an executive in Bangalore working for an Indian conglomerate”. While the British public-service television broadcaster concealed his identity on his request, Biswas’s name and photograph were outed by the Twitter handle @mario_greenly.
Biswas was arrested from Jalahalli, Bangalore, two days later. He was chargesheeted under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for allegedly advocating terrorism, facilitating recruitment for terrorist activities and for supporting a terrorist organisation. He has also been booked under the IPC for “attempting to wage war against India”, “sedition”, “waging war against an Asiatic ally of India”, “provocation to rioting” and for “making statements amounting to public mischief”. He faces another charge, under the Information Technology Act, 2000, of “misusing computers”.
One of his last tweets before his arrest, on December 10, 2014, was about an IS jihadist from France, Abu Anas al Fransi, dying in a suicide operation in Salahuddin province of Iraq using a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device — “shia forces in Makashifa, Abu Anas al Fransi detonated a VBIED on shia forces near Samarra (4)”.