Indian engineer quizzed over Twitter cyber-terror

Mehdi Biswas: cyber-terror probe. Picture: Contributed
Mehdi Biswas: cyber-terror probe. Picture: Contributed
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A COMPUTER engineer ­suspected of running a pro-­Islamic State (IS) Twitter ­account has been arrested in southern India, police said
yesterday.

Mehdi Masroor Biswas, a 24-year-old software expert, was being questioned and had admitted to running the account, Bangalore police chief MN Reddy said. However, he added that Biswas appears to have no direct links to the ­militant group.

The arrest came after Channel 4 News reported on Friday that it had identified the ­person who used the Twitter account @ShamiWitness.

It said Biswas was one of the militant group’s most influential Twitter supporters, with 17,000 followers and more than two million views each month.

It described the Twitter account as a “leading conduit of information between jihadis, supporters and recruits”.

Biswas had used the account to tweet films including the killing of US aid worker Peter Kassig and those of Syrian soldiers. The account has since been deleted.

Reddy said police have no evidence so far that shows that Biswas had any direct links to militants from IS or any other Muslim extremist group.

“He appears to have been only majorly active in the ­virtual world,” Reddy said.

He added the police investigation so far suggests Biswas “never recruited anyone or ­facilitated any such activity in India” and had never travelled outside of India.

IS, a Sunni terrorist group which has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate, or Islamic fiefdom, in areas under its control, embraces social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube.

It has used them to disseminate disturbing videos of the beheading of western journalists and aid workers.

Hollywood-style film clips and other elements of its media campaign have been said to have boosted IS’s credibility online among disaffected young Muslims, and help it inspire sympathisers and attract new recruits.

Bangalore police said they had now seized Biswas’s phone and computer for further ­investigation.

He was arrested in an early morning raid at his flat in Bangalore, where he works for a multinational food company.

Police said Biswas had been interested in developments in Turkey, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, Syria, Israel, Libya and Egypt since 2003.

He would read IS-related breaking news and “ferociously retweet” it.

Channel 4’s programme had included an interview saying that the man behind the ­account wanted to be identified only as Mehdi because he feared his life would be in ­danger if named in full.

He said he would have liked to join IS but his family were dependent on him.

“No I haven’t done anything wrong,” he said. “I haven’t harmed anybody, I haven’t broken any laws. I haven’t raised any war or violence against the public of India.”

His father claimed that Biswas had been framed and was innocent.

Police have registered a case against Biswas for abetting war against the state. An ­Indian news agency said he could be charged with cyber-terrorism.

Reporters at a police press conference were told that the Twitter account had been a source of information for new IS recruits. Most posts were translations from Arabic tweets, but police said they were investigating some original tweets.