The young engineer behind a popular pro-Islamic State (IS) Twitter account was arrested on Saturday at his one-room rented accommodation in an upscale Bengaluru neighbourhood, triggering pledges to free him by those subscribing to the terror group’s alarming agenda.
“On the basis of credible intelligence inputs … we have apprehended Mehdi Masroor Biswas from his apartment,” said director general of police LR Pachuau.
The mobile phone — the one that he apparently used to tweet thousands of jihadi posts to his 17,000 followers on Twitter — was confiscated along with a laptop and other documents for evidence.
Police said 24-year-old Mehdi from a Kolkata suburb working with ITC in Bengaluru didn’t probably have any direct links with the terror group which controls swathes of Syria and Iraq as part of its campaign to create an Islamic caliphate.
“He appears to have been only majorly active in the virtual world,” said Bengaluru police commissioner MN Reddi.
Police said he used to post Twitter messages after office hours, cheering the IS’s advances in Iraq and Syria, and mocking its enemies. “He was particularly close to the English-speaking terrorists of IS and became a source of incitement and information for the new recruits trying to join IS,” Reddi said.
A case registered against him for abetting war against the state.
But his parents in Kolkata said he was being framed. “He is religious but not a fanatic to join a terrorist group. He didn’t go to a madrasa and doesn’t even know Arabic,” said mother Mamtaz Begam.
Britain’s Channel4 on Wednesday night revealed Mehdi as the man behind the Twitter handle @ShamiWitness that was described as a “leading conduit of information between jihadis, supporters and recruits” with 2 million views each month.
But Reddi said Biswas never recruited anyone or facilitated any such activity in India, and had never traveled outside India.
Reports suggest Mehdi was seeking cheap thrill as he was drawn into the IS propaganda machine that promotes its conquests, inspires sympathisers and attracts new recruits through the social media. The IS uses Hollywood-style film clips and other elements to attract disaffected but plugged-in young Muslims like Mehdi, a regular man who shares “jokes, pictures of pizza dinners with friends and Hawaiian parties at work” on his Facebook account.
His arrest prompted IS to launch a « Free Shami Witness » campaign while Kurdish fighters in Syria celebrated the news.
“Bengaluru ruthless Police arrest brother Mehdi Masroor Biswas as owner of @ShamiWitness twitter acc,” wrote IS Tweeter handle, @IS_WorldPress, drawing immediate response from the group’s supporters across the world to free him at any cost.
“We all miss #ShamiWitness twitter isnt the same without his news,” tweeted JanissaryFighter (?@SaifAlRasheed97).
Kurdish fighters, the IS’s bitter enemies, uploaded morphed pictures of Biswas behind the bars, wearing Santa Claus hats.