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Indian Police Request Remand Extension For 'Shami Witness'

The police argue in their application that Biswas's Shami Witness account was used to inform IS supporters from around the world on the militant group's activities.

Police in Bengaluru, India, have filed an application requesting that a local man suspected of running a pro-Islamic State (IS) Twitter account be denied automatic bail for up to six months.

Benglaluru (formerly known as Bangalore) man Mehdi Masroor Biswas was arrested on December 13, after Britain's Channel 4 reported it had unmasked the man behind the popular pro-IS "Shami Witness" Twitter account. The account, which has now been closed, had 17,700 followers.

Biswas has been remanded in custody since the arrest, during which time police were given 90 days to file an indictment against him.

No indictment has yet been filed, however -- and the 90-day remand period expired on March 12.

Ahead of that expiry, police filed the application in a special terrorism court on March 9, the Indian Express website reported on March 12. The application requests a further 180 days to file an indictment against Biswas, and would prevent him from obtaining automatic bail.

A Bengaluru court is set to hear the police's application and a bail petition by 24-year-old Biswas next week. The police argue in their application that Biswas's Shami Witness account was used to inform IS supporters from around the world on the militant group's activities.

According to Indian media reports, Biswas has been remanded 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).

It is not clear why the police in Bengaluru have not yet filed an indictment against Biswas.

However, what is clear is that police faced difficulties in analyzing and assessing Biswas' activity on Twitter. In December, shortly after Biswas' arrest, reports emerged that the Bengaluru police had been forced to outsource the analyzing of the tweets the 24-year-old made using the Shami Witness account to an IT company, because they lacked the expertise to do the job themselves.

Subsequently, however, even though the police have told reporters on several occasions that they are considering certain charges against Biswas, or that they have sufficient evidence to show that Biswas undertook certain activities, no indictment has been forthcoming.

In the initial media storm that broke after Biswas's arrest, police even suggested that the Bengaluru resident be slapped with charges relating to "assaulting the modesty of a woman," and "promoting enmity between communities." Those suggestions were attributed by the Times of India to a "senior officer" and stemmed from allegations that Biswas had "supported the rape of female Kurdish fighters" in several tweets.

In January, it appeared that police might be close to producing an indictment against Biswas, when a police official announced that there was "sufficient evidence to prove that he supported [the IS group]."

"Direct messages on his Twitter handle also show he encouraged people to join the terrorist outfit. He had been proactively tweeting," Bengaluru Police Commissioner MN Reddi told reporters.

Reddi also said that, during his interrogation, Biswas had told police that he was in touch with an IS militant in Iraq.

Biswas has reportedly denied recruiting anyone to the IS group.

In addition to Biswas, India has had to deal with a number of Indian IS recruits who returned to the country after fighting in Syria.

One of the recruits, Aarif Majeed, returned to India in November 2014 after leaving with three others to join the IS group in May. As with Biswas, India's National Investigation Agency also filed a case against Majeed under Section 125 of the Penal Code.

Another man, software engineer Anees Ansari from Kurla in Mumbai, was arrested in October after he allegedly plotted to blow up the American School in the Mumbai suburbs.

The 728-page indictment filed against Ansari in January alleged that he had become "self-radicalized" after he had watched videos online showing atrocities against Muslims.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

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.


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