Sunday, 4 October 2015

Shami Witness Mehdi Masroor Biswas

ISIS Hiring Bid in West Bengal Sends Alarm Bells Ringing

KOLKATA:Is the Islamic State (IS) flexing its muscles in West Bengal, too? If a report by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) is to be believed, the extremist outfit has already put up posters in the districts bordering Bangladesh, in a bid to attract people and give a headache to security agencies. According to a report by the central intelligence agency, a large number of posters have been put up in the villages of Murshidabad and Nadia provoking the locals to join the IS. The state police, however, are clueless about the development and haven’t initiated any action.

The cyber cell of the IB has conducted a national survey to mark the areas from where the IS is trying to recruit youths. Among the five top states are Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal, Assam, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. Apart from bordering districts, even Howrah in West Bengal figures on the list. The survey found that many, including women aged between 16 and 30, are showing interest in IS related activities on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Last month, at a conference of state DGPs in New Delhi—where officials of the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) were present—the police chiefs were directed to form special teams to keep a watch on websites that are allegedly trying to recruit for the IS. The NTRO, directly under the PMO and governed by the National Security Advisor, also helps central intelligence agencies.

The DGPs were also told to seek help of Muslim religious leaders to preach against the hatred and violence preached by the IS. An NTRO official said the scenario in West Bengal was particularly “disturbing as several youths were preaching and recruiting for the IS from the state by using the Internet”.
Last December, Mehdi Masroor Biswas, a young engineer from the north-eastern part of Kolkata, was arrested by the Bengaluru Police following a tip-off by British security agencies for allegedly campaigning and recruiting for the IS.

Around the same time, the NTRO received information about four Hyderabad youths from US intelligence agencies. The Telangana Police raided a hideout in the city and arrested them before they could cross over to Bangladesh. They had planned to fly from Dhaka to Turkey and then join the IS. Afsa Jabin, 38, married to a Dubai-based Hindu businessman, was also recruiting for the IS with a fake name of Niki Joseph, claiming to be a British citizen. The Hyderabad native was extradited to India. During the interrogation by the Andhra police and the National Investigation Agency, she disclosed about creating a database of around two lakh youths from India who were interested to join the IS. A large number of them were from West Bengal, and it was easy for them to reach Dhaka and then take flights to the Middle East. The sleuths are also worried that the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, which is much active in West Bengal, might also be aiding the IS.

The IS killing of 50-year-old Italian aid worker Cesare Travella in Dhaka on Monday has alerted Indian intelligence officials. They fear the militants may easily reach the villages of West Bengal by illegally crossing borders of Bangladesh.

@shammiwitness- This handle was a meeting place for ISIS leaders and recruits

Bengaluru, May 16: The high profile trial of Mehdi Masroor Biswas alias @shammiwitness accused of propagating on behalf of the ISIS will commence in Bengaluru next month.

The Bengaluru police which filed a 30,000 page chargesheet has its task cut out since this is the first trial in the country which concerns terrorism in the virtual world.

Mehdi originally from West Bengal was running a Twitter handle called @shammiwitness and through this he is alleged to have re-tweeted ISIS material. The police in their arguments have described the Twitter handle as a meeting place for ISIS recruits and leaders.

A challenging case:

For the police in Bengaluru this case was a major challenge. Every tweet of his had been downloaded and placed in the chargesheet which runs into 30,000 pages. Proving a crime on the virtual world is always a challenge as many cops are not inept with such cases. However the Bengaluru police are confident that they have a strong case on hand.
Mehdi had argued that proceedings be dropped for a variety of reasons. He had stated that mere re-tweeting does not amount to an offence. Further he had also said that at the time he was arrested, the ISIS was not a banned outfit in India. Both arguments were negated by the court which directed conducting the trial which is expected to commence early next month.

The police on their part said that his tweets had helped many recruits reach either Syria or Iraq. They have a couple of tweets which suggest that Mehdi had helped recruits find a way to reach the ISIS camps. This is information and not a mere re-tweet, the police have argued.
Moreover, they also demonstrated before the court how his handle had become a meeting place for ISIS leaders and recruits.

shammiwitness: Google yet to respond, Bengaluru cops to make second bid

Bengaluru, June 23: After filing a 37,000 page chargesheet, the case pertaining to Mehdi Masroor Biswas is stuck in a loop.
Biswas who was arrested by the Bengaluru police for posting pro ISIS content online is facing a host of charges under the Indian Penal Code and also the Unlawful Activities (Prevention). He used to tweet in the name of @shammiwitness.

The police have approached the court seeking permission to send a letter rogatory to the United States in a bid to seek assistance from Google and Facebook. The police feel that more information needs to be accessed and these companies can help.
No response from Google since 2015
It may be recalled that the police had written to Google in January 2015 seeking details of his accounts and also passwords. There had been no response which led to the delay in filing the chargesheet. The police have decided that they need to make one more attempt to access information.
Investigators feel that if this information is made available to them it would help strengthen the case. Mehdi has been arguing that he was merely re-tweeting material and this does not constitute an offence.
However the police say that there was one particular tweet in which he gives out information about an opening to reach Syria. This was intended at helping an operative reach the ISIS den and hence this constitutes an offence the police also say.

The police have with them his tweets. However, these tweets tell one part of the story and investigators believe that his email accounts could contain more information. However Biswas has been extremely fussy and non-cooperative with the investigators. When asked repeatedly for the account details he refused to part with information.

The police say that there are at least 15 email accounts that he had. With him refusing to share any information, we had requested Google in the month of January 2015 itself to share information with us.

ISIS propagandist ShamiWitness: Man charged in India

Channel 4

The man alleged to have operated the single most influential pro-ISIS Twitter account, identified following a Channel 4 News investigation last year, has today been charged by police in India.
Mehdi Biswas is alleged by India’s police to have operated the @ShamiWitness Twitter account, which was followed by two-thirds of all the foreign jihadis on Twitter according to research by ICSR at King’s College London. Following his arrest in December, police in India today filed a chargesheet against him, which lays out the charges which a court will consider.

On Twitter the City Crime Branch of Bengaluru City Police, India, said: “Charge Sheet against Mehdi Masroor Biswas is filed under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, it contains 35,000 pages & 122,000 tweets.”

Joint Commissioner of Police, M. Chandrashekhar said that he is charged with supporting a terrorist organisation, waging war against the State, unlawful activities, conspiracy, sedition and promoting enmity, according to the Hindu newspaper. Mr Chandrashekhar said the charges include aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation on Twitter. At the end of last year the Channel 4 News investigation revealed that the @ShamiWitness account was being run by Mehdi Biswas. The 24 year old office worker from Bangalore admitted that he ran the Twitter account and shut it down.

The Real ShamiWitness

Mr Biswas stands accused of glorifying ISIS war crimes and terrorism. But information gathered by Channel 4 News reveals another side to him, a man who attended Hawaiian themed parties, was obsessed with American superhero movies, adored Hollywood actresses and shared Western jokes and cartoons on Facebook almost every day.

Mr Biswas was a manufacturing executive at food production company ITC until his arrest, according to his Facebook page, where he boasted in 2012 about what an important job he had.
“I have been working for the past 9 months in one of the top 5 top Indian conglomerates, working directly with most influential bosses … just saying … please suck on that”.

While the @ShamiWitness account appeared to defend some of ISIS’s most violent acts as an anonymous propagandist, Mehdi spoke of adoring Hollywood and democracy. On Facebook he spoke of his disappointment at India’s election result: “You had a chance of turning this largest democracy on the planet into a really free country.” Soon after explicit images of Hollywood celebrities were leaked online, he wrote on Facebook: “Well I like Jennifer Lawrence even more now.”

And at the end of 2013 he wrote: “A man’s shirt is like a flag on a conquered fortress.”
On Twitter @ShamiWitness was recorded praising martyred British fighters for their dedication and sacrifice. But Mehdi Biswas seemed like a normal twenty-something on Facebook. He posted pictures from visits to the mall, sharing funny pictures online, and eating takeaway pizza for brunch with his friends. He did occasionally post on Facebook about the Syrian civil war last year, including regular criticism of the Assad regime.

He shares similar interests to that of @_UmmWaqqas, an influential Twitter account that was also identified by Channel 4 News as being operated by Seattle-twentysomething Rawdah Abdi. She was a key online contact for recruits who want to join ISIS, and was also a fan of American football, Starbucks and pizza. Before his arrest in December 2014, Mehdi Biswas told Channel 4 News that he was behind the account and said: “No I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“I haven’t harmed anybody, I haven’t broken any laws of the country. I haven’t raised any war or any violence against the public of India.”


At the time of the arrest of Mehdi Biswas, Dr Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in Delhi, told Channel 4 News that India’s legal system is “extremely formalistic”. He added that the entire process is “punishment by trial” and that the prospects of conviction were slim. Supporters of @ShamiWitness continue to campaign for his release, and express almost everyday on Twitter how much they miss @ShamiWitness, asking their followers to pray for his release. Pro-ISIS supporters on Twitter quoted a phrase incorrectly attributed to Voltaire, saying: “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it. #shamiwitness”. He wrote on Twitter shortly before his arrest: “May allah guide, protect, strengthen and expand the Islamic State … Islamic State brought peace, autonomy, zero corruption, low crime-rate.”

Although police are yet to find a direct link between Biswas and ISIS or any other terrorist group, the officer said, "He told us he wanted to be in the creamy layer of the operations and not fight on the ground. His intentions were to support the cause and play the role of a strategist."

An electrical engineer working as a manufacturing executive for a multinational with a diverse product portfolio, Biswas thought he would never be caught. "He introduced himself as a Libyan man living in the UK to his followers and ISIS members following him on Twitter, and never revealed his real identity or location," the officer said.

Biswas masked his static IP address, preventing police from tracking his location immediately. The cops eventually reached his doorstep by tracking his mobile phone and on the basis of information from intelligence agencies. Bengaluru police commissioner MN Reddi denied his department ignored an intelligence input provided earlier. They acted swiftly and made the arrest, he maintained.

Biswas began posting pro-jihadi information on Twitter in early 2011. Police said he was well read and had in-depth knowledge of the Levant, the French word for the west Asia region that includes Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Turkey. He propagated the ISIS cause, retweeting the extremist group's videos showing beheading of western hostages, and even justifying and defending these acts.

'Biswas abetted English-speaking terrorists'

Karnataka DGP Lalrokhuma Pachau told reporters, "His Twitter handle had become a source of information for new recruits of ISIS. He was in touch with the English-speaking terrorists, thereby abetting them." Reddi, however, said Biswas was not recruited directly by ISIS; neither did he have any role in recruiting cadres for the group. "He never travelled outside India," Reddi added. Biswas retweeted many Arabic posts translated into English. The Twitter handle @ShamiWitness, now closed, had 17,700 followers.

Accused of abetting ISIS crimes in Syria, he has been booked under Section 125 (waging war against the Republic). The FIR states he has also been booked under Sections 18 and 39 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, and Section 39 of the IT Act, 2000. An ardent follower of an extremist ideology, Biswas lived two lives. One was his day job that got him Rs 5.38 lakh per annum; the other was of a jihadist sympathizer propagating the cause in the night. He had a 60GB monthly internet plan.

Hailing from Gopalpur in West Bengal, Biswas led a quiet life in a single-bedroom apartment in Aiyappa Layout, Jalahalli. His father, a retired employee of the West Bengal Electricity Board, and two older sisters live in Kolkata. 
At 12:31 am on June 24, 2014, 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)”.

“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.

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.

 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)”.

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