Shami Witness Update: India Wants to Add More Charges

Mehdi Masroor Biswas, aka @Shami Witness, has been in custody since December 13, 2014. He was not charged until June, 2015. He has still not been tried.

What's the holdup? Indian authorities are waiting on Google to respond to a subpoena. They believe Google's response will identify more accounts Biswas used to tweet out his ISIS news updates and opinions. They intend to file a second charge sheet against him with more charges.

The police suspect Biswas ran multiple e-mail accounts which they could not access. “We are yet to get a response from Google. The access and information provided will help to file an additional charge sheet,” said M. Chandrashekhar, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime).


How long will India wait for response? According to police sources who spoke with the The Hindu:

They cited the case of Riyazuddin Nasir who was arrested in 2008 on suspicion of being a member of the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Though Criminal Investigation Department had requested Google for access to his email account, the company is yet to respond to the request. Nasir, who was arrested by the Gujarat police, continues to remain in jail in that State.

As I've written many times, Mehdi Masroor Biswas was an ISIS fanboy and a news diseminator and aggregator. He did not recruit for ISIS. He was not a member of ISIS. There's no indication he got his information from any official ISIS source.

He was followed by many Western militants, researchers, analysts, journalists and bloggers because of his reputation as being knowledgeable and because (1) his English was very good and (2) he knew who to follow on Twitter to get and tweet out the news faster than most. There's no indication he was paid or compensated by ISIS.

But for these reputable writers quoting Shami Witness, hosting his articles and representing he was knowledgeable (even while stating they didn't agree with him), I probably wouldn't have followed him. Newspapers quoted him as well - in October, 2013, the Daily Mail labeled him a "Twitter activist", not a terrorist.)

But I'm interested in learning what ISIS believes and what it wants. I didn't think our government was a particularly reliable source for that, nor did I think the U.S. media, which got most of its information second hand, really knew much. U.S. journalists didn't fraternize with ISIS, ISIS leaders don't speak to the media and the ISIS fighters and fanboys it could get to talk didn't speak for ISIS.

The ICSR (International Centre for the Study of Radicalization at the Department of War Studies, King's College London) did a study of foreign fighters and news disseminators. The published report is called Greenbirds: Measuring Importance and Influence in Syrian Foreign Fighter Networks. A summary is here. From the full report:

[Twitter] has given rise to so-called disseminator accounts which spread information from the battlefield in real-time, publishing links to new videos and official statements, spreading photographs of battles, equipment, meetings, and `martyrs.'

These diseminators are not foreign fighters nor do they have any official links to jihadist organisations. Instead, they broadly support the Islamist project in Syria and, in that respect, provide both moral and political support to the cause by establishing themselves as reliable sources of information.

The most important disseminator, who is followed by nearly two thirds of the Twitter accounts in our dataset, is Shami Witness. (my emphasis)

The report says the effect of diseminators is to lessen control of ISIS and other groups over their message.

The prominence of Shami Witness highlights the inability of jihadist groups to exert direct influence and control over their message. When jihadist conversations were previously restricted to internet forums, discussions could be policed and regulated. Dissent was monitored and, where necessary, curtailed by suspending troublesome forum members. This is no longer possible on Twitter where both fighters and their supporters are able to engage in wholly unregulated conversations about whatever they please.

As to Biswas' tweet about the Turkish border, here's what happened. 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 misusing computers.

Yes, Shami Witness took ISIS' side in his tweets. But he also disagreed with them at times. Yes, he communicated with some British ISIS fighters and retweeted the accounts of ISIS fighters. Yes he was a propagandist of ISIS views.

I find ISIS' actions, views and intentions as abhorrent as everyone else. But from a legal perspective, I still say #Free Shami Witness. Expressing one's support for an unpopular group that one isn't a member of and hasn't provided tangible assistance to should not be a crime. Is it a crime to report favorably about a group everyone hates? If so, then millions more Twitter users, including some journalists and expert analysts and researchers would be subject to arrest.

Indian police have left his twitter feed intact, you can read it at @ShamiWitness.

All of my posts about his arrest and charges are accessible here.

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  • Display: Sort:
    how interesting (none / 0) (#3)
    by zaitztheunconvicted on Sun Nov 29, 2015 at 08:31:02 PM EST
    I followed the link to the twitter account and read some of it and then followed a twitter link to a washington post story about US officers, torturing, abusing, sodomizing and raping Iraqis at Abu Graib prison.

    It makes me wonder what kind of idiots we had in our Army . . . what supposed officers and what intelligence officers . . .

    Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the commanding officer of all detention facilities in Iraq, was reprimanded and demoted to the rank of colonel. Several more military personnel who were accused of perpetrating or authorizing the measures, including many of higher rank, were not prosecuted.

    Yeah, we have been really serious about prosecuting our own war crimes . . .  I wonder why we are not recruiting for ISIS . . . Oh, maybe we have been  . . .

    My idea would be
    1) Janis K would be out of the military and dishonorably discharged at a minimum, depending on her knowledge or lack of it.  Every person between her and any detainee abuse would be prosecuted at most or out and dishonorably discharged.

    this post is about Shami Witness (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Nov 30, 2015 at 01:49:39 AM EST
    please stay on topic.