The pro Islamic State Twitter account @shamiwitness traced to Bengaluru based engineer Mehdi Biswas was back up on Monday as police combed through tens of thousands of followers to identify sympathisers of the militant group.
Biswas, who police said was behind the @ShamiWitness Twitter handle, has cooperated with investigators since he was picked up from his one-room apartment in Bengaluru city on Saturday, the government said.
His account was disabled at that time and it was not clear how it became active again. Police said the account was part of their investigation but not under their control.
Security officials said @ShamiWitness had been reactivated to determine if Mehdi was a cheerleader or an online recruiter for Islamic State.
"Police are investigating if there are more people like Mehdi," said Hemant Nimbalkar, a joint commissioner of police in India's high-tech capital previously known as Bangalore.
Biswas told police that more than 60 percent of his Twitter followers were non-Muslims and the majority of his Muslim followers were from Western countries, particularly Britain, Home Minister Rajnath Singh told parliament.
Each day, Mehdi, 24, sent out hundreds of posts, applauding Islamic State's advances in Iraq and Syria and mocking its enemies, while working by day as a food company executive.
His interrogation had indicated that his activities were limited to posting and reposting of pro-ISIS material on his Twitter account and other social media sites, Singh said, adding that Mehdi had denied recruiting volunteers.
India has the world's third-largest Muslim population, but they have largely shunned Islamist causes. Police say only four Indians are known to have joined Islamic State fighters, and one had since returned and is in custody.
The clean-shaven Mehdi's role as a propagandist for the Middle Eastern group, revealed by Britain's Channel 4, has exposed India's vulnerabilities and its inability to keep track of people turning to the group's violent ideology.
Mehdi told police he started following developments in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan while in college and had been active on social networking sites since 2009.
Originally using the name "El Saltador" he began sharing information about the war in Syria and gradually became an online voice with an apparently vast knowledge of the conflict, but always with a polite tone.
By the beginning of this year, he was cheering the successes of Islamic State and praising its fighters after their deaths. "You bros talked the talk, walked the walk," he wrote about Iftikhar Jaman, a British ISIS fighter killed in Syria a year ago.
Hard to build case against Mehdi, feel experts
Despite booking Biswas under the anti-terror law, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Information Technology Act and section 125 of the Indian Penal Code (for waging war against an Asiatic power in alliance with the government of India), Bengaluru police may find it difficult to make a case against that can withstand the test of trial, central counter terror officials said.
“As of now, the case is weak. He is not involved with the IS. But let the Bengaluru police complete probe against him first,” said a central counter terror official.
Counter terror sources said there was no doubt that Mehdi was a radicalised youth but investigators will have to see what exactly he did to implement any of his ‘radical’ ideas.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh in his suo moto statement in the Parliament on Monday said: “The interrogation of Biswas has indicated that his activities were limited to posting and reposting of pro-IS material on his Twitter account and social media sites. He has denied having recruited any person for IS.”
The minister added Biswas disclosed that more than 60% of his Twitter account followers were non-Muslims and a majority of his Muslim followers were from the western countries, particularly Britain.
“He seems to be a radicalised youth who allegedly didn’t find anything wrong in beheading the enemy. He also believed that one day the so-called caliphate or Islamic State will come into existence in the world,” said a Union home ministry official requesting anonymity.
Sources said once the probe against him gets completed, a final call will to taken by the Bengaluru police whether it can sustain all charges levelled against him in the FIR.
Cities on alert
The Centre has warned all major cities of a Sydney-like siege where one radicalised youth may try carrying out an attack, sources said. Indian security agencies are tracking a Twitter account @magnetgas which they suspect is run by one of the Indian youths who went to the IS-held territory with Areeb Majeed and is yet to return.