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Bengaluru police arrest man behind pro-IS Twitter handle

Bengaluru city police on Saturday said they have arrested the source behind the pro-Islamic State (IS) Twitter handle, which had been operating from the city. 

City Police Commissioner M N Reddi said the man, identified as Mehdi Masroor Biswas, has been arrested from an apartment in Bengaluru and had been charged under provisions of IPC, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and IT Act.

Mehdi, who tweeted using the Twitter handle @ShamiWitness, has confessed he was operating the pro-IS account, said Karnataka DGP L Pachau.

He added Mehdi was an incitement for English-speaking IS terrorists and the source of information for new recruits.

Mehdi, who is from West Bengal and works as a ‘manufacturing executive’ with a Bengaluru-based multinational company, had been handling the Twitter account for a number of years, Pachau said.

The crime branch of the city police had started investigating Friday after a report by British-based channel4.com claimed that they had tracked down a pro-IS Twitter handle that had been operating out of Bengaluru. 

With the arrest of Mehdi, intelligence report that suggested a hoax angle to the whole story has also come to an end. 

Late on Friday night, channel4.com had released an interview with Mehdi in which he said he was ready to surrender but added he feared for his life. 

“I want to state clearly that I won’t resist arrest when the time comes. I don’t have any sort of weapons with me. I have no intention of resisting,” Mehdi told channel4.com. 

However, he went on assert that he had done no wrong. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I haven’t harmed anybody, I haven’t broken any laws of the country. I haven’t raised any war or any violence against the public of India… I haven’t waged war against any allies of India. They might try to bring that charge. I haven’t waged war against anybody. I just said stuff, people followed me, then I followed them back and then we talked. I only knew what the IS fighters or sympathisers said in public tweets.”

When asked why his story was trending all over the world, Mehdi said: “I think for the first time there’s a Muslim who can actually enunciate in English and get the message across and which has really pissed off our enemies, enemies of Muslims.”

The Twitter handle, taken down after the channel4.com report, had almost 130,000 tweets which were seen more than two million times each month. This, perhaps, is the highest by any pro-ISIS Twitter account. It had around 17,800 followers.

According to channel4.com, Mehdi works for an Indian conglomerate in Bengaluru.  

Mehdi had said he would have gone to join Islamic State himself had his family not been financially dependent on him: “If I had a chance to leave everything and join them I might have.. my family needs me here,” he told channel4.com.

However, his Facebook accounts are a contrast to his Twitter handle. He regularly shares jokes, funny images and talks about superhero movies, posting pictures of pizza dinners with friends, and Hawaiian parties at work on his Facebook page.

Elsewhere on Facebook there are indications of his Islamist ideology, in conversations about Libya and Egyptian uprisings.

The incident reveals that the ISIS threat to India is much closer than widely assumed.

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