Shami Witness: Police Identify Potentially Criminal Tweet

The Indian press reports today on the evidence that will be used against Shami Witness. A key piece will be a tweet by Shami in response to repeated requests by a would-be militant recruit using the handle @TalabAlHaqq for information on how to make the crossing from Turkey to Syria. He had been waiting for months in Turkey. [More....]

Starting around June 19, @TalabAlHaqq started tweeting various English speaking fighters and supporters asking for help. One of them was Abu Umar 8246, a prolific tweeter and ISIS supporter who is not a fighter. (His account was suspended and he now tweets under another name which I'm not linking to since he's not central to the story.) Another was a fighter, #onthatpath3. It appears @TalabalHaqq contacted AbuUmar 8246, who suggested others to contact. One was @Onthatpath3. @talabAlHaqq tweeted to @Onthatpath3 saying AbuUmar 8246 had suggested he contact him for the information.

@Onthatpath#3 has been fighting with al Nusra for two years. He is reportedly Ibn Zubayr, an American of Somali descent. You can watch an interview he gave to CBS journalist Clarissa Ward here. Here's her tweet saying he is from the Midwest. When the U.S. launched the raids in Syria to take down the leaders of the "Khorasan Group", he tweeted he was in that group of houses and his close JaN brothers were killed. Much of the tweeting between him and Shami Witness during that time is banter and disagreement about scholars and theory.

Investigations since his arrest on December 13 have revealed that he was consulted about possible routes to entry Syria from Turkey by an IS fighter based in Syria. The query was posed by the IS fighter on behalf of a French and English speaking fighter with the Twitter handle @TalabAlHaqq, who according to his tweet trail had been waiting on the border since June 19, 2014 for information on how to enter Syria.
On June 23, @shamiwitness tweeted to @TalabAlHaqq stating “Tal Abyad crossing open now” while also marking the tweet to a Twitter handle @onthatpath3 and @AbuUmar8246. This tweet from @shamiwitness at the instance of an IS fighter @onthatpath3 — suspected to be an American of Somali origin with the nom de guerre Ibn Zubayr — is set to be placed in court as key evidence against Biswas.

@TalabAlHaqq reached out to everyone he could think of on June 20. On June 23, he tried again. Shami Witness answered.

The charges that authorities are considering:

Biswas has been booked under section 125 of the Indian Penal Code for “waging war against any Asiatic power in alliance with the Government of India’’ — an offence with a maximum punishment of seven years imprisonment. Biswas has also been booked under section 39 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2004, for supporting a terrorist organisation and section 66 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 for the misuse of computers.

Shami Witness has 17,000 followers and tweeted hundreds of thousands of tweets. If this is even close to "key evidence", I hope under Indian law it's not enough.

Here's a screengrab of the June 20 tweets showing how many people @TalabAlHaqq reached out to:

Here are the June 23 tweets when he tried again, and Shami Witness responded.

The news article's chronology, which it says it got from police, is inaccurate as to the timing of @TalabAlHaqq's tweet and Shami's and his responses. It writes:

According to the Bangalore police, the IS fighter with the twitter handle @onthatpath3 sought the assistance of @ShamiWitness who within two hours tweeted about the Tal Abyad crossing being open on the Turkey-Syria border. @TalabAlHaqq, waiting to cross into Syria, then tweets to @ShamiWitness @AbuUmar8246 and @onthatpath3 — “Assalam aleykom, ShamiWitness could you please clarify how long will it be open?’’ to which @ShamiWitness responded by indicating that other crossing like “Jarabulus etc” could also be open.

@TalabAlHaqq tweeted his June 23 request for information to @onthepath3 and AbuUmar8246 at 1:01 pm. Shami wrote both of his responses at 1:18 pm (MT), which was 17 minutes after @TalabAlHaqq wrote to @onthepath3 and AbuUmar8246, not two hours. See here and here. @TalabAlHaqq didn't respond asking Shami to clarify how long the crossings would remain open until ten hours later, at 11:45 pm.

If the police are implying that Shami spent 2 hours researching which border crossings were open before responding to aid the would be fighter, that's contrary to Twitter's timeline. It seems like his responses were fast and not much thought went into them. Had he been thinking about it, he would have put both border crossings in a single reply. Instead, the second was added immediately after the first, which seems to me to be an afterthought. The reason the would be fighter's request was passed around to this particular group seems to be language -- like the requester, they all speak English. The contentious bantering between @onthepath3 and Shami Witness shows they aren't friends. While Shami Witness was supportive of ISIS, @onthepath3 was with its enemy, Jabhat al Nusra.

A reflexive response to an inquiry for information about borders should not be enough to convict someone of waging war, giving material support to a terror group or mis-using computers.

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