@shamiwitness: The man the western media calls an IS 'expert'

  • Saikat Datta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 12, 2014 22:59 IST

The person identified as @shamiwitness on Twitter and considered one of the “most influential” accounts supporting the Iraqi terrorist group IS (Islamic State) was often quoted by prominent newspapers and researchers. Channel 4 from UK put out a story on Wednesday claiming that @shamiwitness was an Indian based out of Bengaluru working for an “Indian conglomerate” in the city.

Most of them began to find his views through Twitter and his blog, which would be passionate pieces in defence of the IS and its leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. The last post written on June 15, 2013 makes a case for Baghdadi who was in the middle of a dispute with al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al Zawahiri. In an earlier post on May 14, he attempts to explain the civil war in Syria and was clearly on side of the Islamist rebels who were advancing against government forces at that time.

Even prominent newspapers like The Telegraph and Daily Mail in the UK would quote @shamiwitness as an authentic voice of the IS. When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which worked with the Syrian government to remove chemical weapons, @shamiwitness was furious. He called the award a “humiliation” to those killed by chemical weapons used by troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria.

Influential scholars who track Islamic fundamentalism and conflict often cited him. Oxford scholar Aymenn al-Tamimi, often cited @shamiwitness and also called him a “friend”. Many of them claimed that they had no clue where he was situated, but found his views interesting. None of them suspected that he could be an Indian working out of Bengaluru as an executive with a private firm. “I had noticed his blog had a .in address but I did not make much of it at that time. I believed what he had told a colleague of mine that he was a Libyan guy in the UK. So all along, I had no idea who he was after all,” al-Tamimi told HT.

Aaron Y Zelin, a respected researcher, who tracked Islamic fundamentalism on his site ‘Jihadology’ also referred @shamiwitness in his work. “I didn’t know who he was until Channel 4’s report,” Zelin told Hindustan Times. “I thought he was British and I re-posted something he wrote on TwitLonger in March 2013.” But Zelin took off @shamiwitness’ views from his site after the Egyptian coup.

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