Hunt on for Bengaluru man who ran IS Twitter handle

  • Saikat Datta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 13, 2014 08:02 IST

Intelligence agencies have launched a massive manhunt after online footprints of the anonymous man behind terror group Islamic State’s (IS) most influential Twitter handle, @ShamiWitness , led to a Bengaluru-based food products company executive.

Sources said the sinister IS tweeter Shami Witness is the alter ego of a family man — Mehdi Masroor Biswas, originally from West Bengal — who shares “jokes, funny images, talks about super hero movies, posting pictures of pizza dinners with friends and Hawaiian parties at work” on his Facebook account.

“If I had a chance to leave everything and join them (IS) I might have ... my family needs me here,” he told Channel4, the British news channel that unmasked the man.

The channel reported on Wednesday night that a man identified as Mehdi, an executive working with an “Indian conglomerate” based in the Karnataka capital, ran the Twitter account which has over 17,000 followers — two-thirds of whom are foreign fighters fighting for the IS in Iraq and Syria.

He had posted thousands of tweets using his mobile, praising IS and motivating people to join the jihadi group. These tweets were reposted thousands of times and seen by millions until the account was closed following the Channel4 report.

He posted the video of the beheading of US aid worker Peter Kassig within minutes of it being uploaded to the Internet and followed it up with several reposts.

Already saddled with the crisis over IS taking 39 Indian workers hostage in Iraq and the return of a Kalyan youth after he joined the terror group, the Indian establishment swung into action following the Channel4 story.

Sources said the intelligence bureau (IB) and Bangalore police were working in tandem to capture Mehdi, who is apparently on the run after he told Channel4 police were looking for him but he “won’t resist arrest”.

Counter-terrorism officials quashed reports of his arrest in the evening, saying someone with Infosys was questioned but he was not the man they were looking for. “If he (Mehdi) is found, he will be handed over to the NIA, which is investigating all IS-related cases,” one of the officials said.

Local intelligence sources said tracking him would be easier if Twitter, whose servers are located in the US, provides the IP (Internet protocol) address and access to the (now inactive) handle.

But Bengaluru police commissioner MN Reddi refused to accept this line. “Just because Twitter’s server is located abroad and there are barriers don’t mean there are no other ways of tracking the suspect down,” he said.

Indian officials have contacted their British counterparts for more details about Mehdi’s account and the posts he had sent to preach the IS ideology of terror. They also sought assistance from Twitter headquarters, though the social media platform preferred to take a cautious approach by “carefully examining the ramifications”.

The terror group has been known to push its jihadist agenda through the social media, especially for recruitment, and Mehdi was a prominent disseminator of pro-IS material who was “talking the talk and walking the walk” unseen and unheard from a cellphone in Bengaluru.

With inputs from Sudipto Mondal in Bengaluru

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