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Indian Police 'Not Taking Seriously' IS Threats After 'Shami Witness' Arrest

A senior police official in Bengaluru, India, has said he is "not taking too seriously" a "revenge" threat made following the arrest of a local man suspected of running a pro-Islamic State (IS) Twitter account.

Police in Bengaluru (formerly known as Bangalore) arrested 24-year-old Mehdi Masroor Biswas on December 13, after Britain's Channel 4 said it had unmasked the man behind the popular pro-IS "Shami Witness" Twitter handle.

According to Indian media reports, Biswas has been charged under the Indian Penal Code's Section 125 (waging war against any Asiatic power in alliance with India), Sections 18 and 39 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (inciting or abetting terrorist acts, and support given to terrorists) and Section 66 of the IT Act (computer-related offenses).

The "Shami Witness" account had sent over 130,000 tweets, including messages praising IS militants. The account had tweeted the beheading of American aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig

Twitter Threats, Twitter Criticism

The threat to Bengaluru officer DCP (Crime) Abhishek Goyal was delivered -- fittingly enough -- via Twitter, with a pro-IS user tweeting that "we will not leave our brothers in your hand Revenge is coming wait for our reaction."

The threat came as pro-IS users on Twitter began a campaign on the social network demanding that police free Biswas. Using the hashtag #FreeShamiWitness, supporters of Biswas tweeted messages complaining that the arrested man had been detained for "supporting Islam."

The "Shami Witness" Twitter account, which had more than 18,000 followers, was well-known among Syria watchers for tweets in support of IS. However, prior to supporting IS, Biswas had favored Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.

Biswas was followed and seen as an important source of information by leading terrorism analysts, researchers, and journalists, a fact that resulted in outpourings of criticism against those who had recommended or referred to "Shami Witness."

Responding to the criticism, "Daily Telegraph" reporter Richard Spencer, who has reported from Syria and Iraq, said that he had seen Biswas as a "useful source or at least aggregator of information," including before he became pro-IS.

Thomas Hegghammer, the director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, tweeted that he had been accused of being a "Wormtongue, an idiot, and a Nazi" for recommending that others follow the "Shami Witness" account on Twitter.

British analyst Aymenn J. al-Tamimi, who like the "Telegraph's" Spencer describes Biswas as an "aggregator of IS content" rather than an IS source, credited "Shami Witness" with one scoop -- that of breaking the story that IS had appointed Georgian Kist militant Umar al-Shishani as commander of its northern branch in Syria in late spring or early summer 2013.

'Propagandist Of IS Ideology'

As emotions ran high on Twitter, India's joint commissioner of police, Hemanth Nimbalkar, said on December 14 that the preliminary investigation against Biswas had shown he was an IS "propagandist" and had been "instrumental in influencing minds against our friendly nations against whom [IS] is at war," reported.

Nimbalkar said that the authorities were investigating Biswas's connection with the "virtual and actual" world of IS and whether there was any domestic connection or sleeper cell involved.

On December 14, police were given five more days to question Biswas. The police commissioner in Bengaluru, M.N. Reddi, said that Biswas worked during the day as a marketing executive in an Indian conglomerate and tweeted as "Shami Witness" in the evenings. However, police noted that Biswas appeared to be an active outside supporter of IS rather than an official recruiter and that he had not traveled outside India.

Biswas is expected to appear before a magistrate within the next day.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

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About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena