Bengaluru: Mehdi Masroor Biswas, who went by the nomme de guerre Shamiwitness was undoubtedly the most popular English voices of the Islamic State on Twitter, but the police interrogation since his arrest Saturday Dec 13th, has revealed that he had no direct contact with ISIS or any Jihadi groups.
Biswas was detained by Bengaluru police early Saturday morning, after Britain’s Channel 4 News had aired the report regarding the country’s IT capital’s link with the Twitter account that is followed by foreign fighters.
Mehdi, an electrical engineer from Kolkata, had moved to Bengaluru in 2011. He has two sisters and his father is a retired employee of the West Bengal state Electricity Board. He had been employed with the multinational corporation as a marketing executive since 2012 at an annual salary of Rs. 5.3 lakh.
Police interrogation after Mehdi’s arrest
Mehdi got interested in the developments in middle-east countries like Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Gaza strip, Egypt and Libya since 2003. He used to work during the day and surfed internet on a 60 GB monthly plan late into nights.
During the initial questioning, he said that he mainly concentrated on Muslims living abroad “as the Indian muslims were incapable of Jihad.” It is also learnt that more than 17,000 followers in his twitter account were English-Speakers from Europe.
Most of his tweets have been deleted and the account was shut down after the report surfaced. Even the police have not found any activity against India or anti-India tweets so far. Also there is no evidence to prove that he had planned terror attack in India. He had no previous criminal record too.
Even though Mehdi had contact with English speaking ISIS men on twitter, he did not reveal his true identity to them. Mehdi was not involved in any of the activity in propagating the ISIS agenda. He was just translating the arabic tweets into English. He collected the data and videos of ISIS from cyberspace and then posted on the internet.
Police also said that Mehdi has not travelled outside the country neither he received any funds from ISIS.
Mehdi’s interview to UK Channel 4
Channel 4’s investigators, meanwhile, discovered that Mehdi aka @ShamiWitness had used a personal email address, ElSaltador@gmail.com, to set up a personal Twitter account, @ElSaltador. Based on this lead, the channel found out that the same email address had been used to open personal LinkedIn and Google Groups accounts. The data enabled them to contact Mehdi in Bangalore.
Reached by Channel 4, he denied that he intended to win over recruits to the Islamic State, saying his tweets only expressed his opinion. “Just because someone follows me, it doesn’t mean that I am the reason for their joining ISIS,” he said in the audio interview that was telecast along with the report.
But in the Channel 4 interview, he made clear his support for Islamic State, adding that he was prevented from joining the group by his commitments to his family.
According to Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, a graduate from Brasenose College, Oxford University, and an authority on the ongoing conflict in Syria, “It would not really be accurate to characterize Shami so much an ‘IS source’ as much as a ‘disseminator’, as Peter Neumann of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization puts it…If one looks back on Shami’s Twitter feed, as more and more official IS venues of information on Twitter emerged, much of the time he was simply retweeting. Shami’s role can therefore also be described as an ‘aggregator’ of IS content, something he also did in the days before official IS (IS) provincial news feeds and the like.”
Indian government sources said the UK’s intelligence services had been contacted for any information they might have on Mehdi, but were told he was not a person of interest for any ongoing terrorism investigation.