https://plus.google.com/.../posts/LHAnWAtWSXu21 hours ago - ISIS: Shami Witness Thursday 11 December 2014 India , UK Unmasked: the man behind top Islamic State Twitter account The most influential pro-Islamic State
Unmasked: the man behind top Islamic State Twitter account
The most influential pro-Islamic State Twitter account to be followed by foreign jihadis - Shami Witness - is shut down after a Channel 4 News investigation uncovers the identity of the man behind it
He spent his mornings, afternoons and evenings sending thousands of tweets of propaganda about the Islamic State militant group, acting as the leading conduit of information between jihadis, supporters, and recruits.
His tweets, written under the name Shami Witness, were seen two million times each month, making him perhaps the most influential Islamic State Twitter account, with over 17,700 followers.
He spoke to British jihadis regularly, before they leave to join the Islamic State, after they arrived, and if they died he praised them as martyrs.
He has until now been able to remain anonymous, avoiding questions about his motives and his central role in the Islamic State's propaganda war, but a Channel 4 News investigation can today reveal that the man operating the account is called Mehdi and he is an executive in Bangalore working for an Indian conglomerate.
Channel 4 News has chosen not to reveal his full name as he says his life would be in danger if his true identity was made public.
Mehdi said he would have gone to join Islamic State himself, but his family were financially dependent on him: "If I had a chance to leave everything and join them I might have.. my family needs me here."
On his Facebook pages he regularly shares jokes, funny images and talks about superhero movies, posting pictures of pizza dinners with friends, and Hawaiian parties at work.
Elsewhere on Facebook there are indications of his Islamist ideology, in conversations about Libya and Egyptian uprisings.
After being contacted by Channel 4 News, Mehdi shut down the Shami Witness account.
Social media conflictA recent report by the Brookings Institute found social media to be one of the key organizational strengths of the Islamic State, finding that it uses such channels "to spread and legitimise IS's ideology, activities, and objectives, and to recruit and acquire international support."
The man behind Shami Witness posted thousands of updates to the @ShamiWitness Twitter account every month, usually from his mobile phone.
Using the @ShamiWitness account he five times tweeted the video of the execution of US aid worker Peter Kassig, and dozens of Syrian soldiers within minutes of it being uploaded to the internet.
"May allah guide, protect, strengthen and expand the Islamic State ... Islamic State brought peace, autonomy, zero corruption, low crime-rate", he wrote on Twitter in November.
Mehdi said of Iftikhar Jaman, one of the British jihadists from Portsmouth killed fighting for Islamic State, that: "you bros [brothers] talked the talk, walked the walk".
And he said to British fighter Mehdi Hassan "May Allah give you brothers decisive victory there". Hassan later died fighting in Kobane.
To another British fighter he said: "may Allah reward you" and quoted one British fighter's suggested that the rebel Islamic Front poses a greater risk to the Islamic State than the secularist rebels of the Free Syrian Army.
ShamiWitness seemed to express glee at the deaths and rapes of Kurdish fighters on Twitter, but later said that this comment was taken out of context.
He had written and later deleted the tweet where he said: "@ArjDnn I should thank PKK for recruiting female fighters, specially the ones caught alive by rebels. lol".
But in his real life, he had spoken out against rape on Facebook.
Tweets for IS, 'works in Bangalore' but for Shami Witness, family comes first
While the channel did not reveal his full name because he said his life would be in danger, unverified reports on the Net have identified him as Mehdi Masroor Biswas and said he was a marketing executive with a food company.
"We are investigating the matter," Bangalore police commissioner M.N. Reddi said after journalists thronged his office this morning following the Thursday evening expose. "We have asked the crime branch to check the veracity of the report. Whatever action is to be taken, will be taken," Reddi added.
Home ministry officials in Delhi said he was not "an IS member, recruiter or radicaliser" but added that the National Investigation Agency would probe the case.
Mehdi's tweets, written under the name Shami Witness, appeared to reveal a vast knowledge of the conflict and had over 17,700 followers who included analysts in West Asia. He posted thousands of updates every month, usually from his mobile phone, and the tweets were seen two million times each month, the channel said.
Using the @ShamiWitness account, he five times tweeted the video of the execution of US aid worker Peter Kassig within minutes of it being uploaded to the Internet.
Mehdi said of Iftikhar Jaman, one of the British militants killed fighting for Islamic State, that: "you bros (brothers) talked the talk, walked the walk".
Despite his support for the Islamic State, Mehdi had not gone to fight with them. "If I had a chance to leave everything and join (the Islamic State) I might have," Mehdi told Channel 4, but said his family were financially dependent on him. "My family needs me here."
Most of his extremist life appeared to be lived out online.
Mehdi spoke to fighters before they left to join the IS, after they arrived, and if they died, he praised them as martyrs, the channel said. If a fighter's Twitter account was suspended, he often promoted a new one and urged people to follow it.
Asked if he was responsible for radicalising his online followers, he told the interviewer: "Just because somebody follows me doesn't mean I'm the reason for their moving to ISIS. There are real reasons why people get 'radicalised'."
Social media is seen as one of the key organisational strengths of the Islamic State, which uses it to spread its ideology and activities and to recruit and acquire international support.
Mehdi, who also had a blog by the name Shami Witness where he wrote about political issues in West Asia, told the channel he didn't agree with some of the methods used by IS. But when the interviewer persisted for his views about beheadings, he said "beheadings are discussed" in the religious scriptures.
Shami Witness appeared to express glee at the deaths and rapes of Kurdish fighters, but later said the comment was taken out of context. He had tweeted: "@ArjDnn I should thank PKK for recruiting female fighters, specially the ones caught alive by rebels. lol". The channel said he later deleted the comment that obviously joked about female fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK in short) who were caught and raped by IS men.
On his Facebook account, Mehdi spoke out against rape.
"Shami Witness was an example of a certain kind of person on social media, someone who repeats what they see from other sources as his own comments on the situation at hand, often information shared by pro-IS accounts in Arabic, which gives a false sense of his knowledge about the situation," Eliot Higgins, a British blogger who has tracked the war under the name Moses Brown, was quoted as saying by The Washington Post.
"These kinds of individuals are harder to identify for the casual user on social media, so they tend to gain followers which lends them more credibility," Higgins added. "He demonstrates that judging the credibility of a source isn't always straightforward, and why with social media it's important to use multiple sources before relying too much on one claim being credible or not."
Comments from other Twitterers appeared to echo Higgins.James Miller, who goes by the handle @MillerMENA, said: "So many counter-terrorism experts considered Shami Witness to be an authority on Syria. Too bad he was just some loser in India..."
Another Twitterer, Shiraz Maher whose handle is @ShirazMaher, wrote: "Shami Witness cheered when people were beheaded - but when outed by the news, he begged for privacy claiming his life would be endangered."
If Mehdi's full name circulating on the Net is correct, he would be the second known person of Bengali origin linked to the Islamic State. A 31-year-old Briton whose family has its roots in Bengal, Siddhartha Dhar, is a fighter for the IS and recently posted a picture on Twitter posing with an AK-47 rifle and his newborn baby.
Home ministry officials in Delhi claimed the NIA was already on Mehdi's trail after being told about him by the IS recruit from Kalyan who has returned home, Arif Majeed, who was following Shami Witness. He might not be in Bangalore now, they said. An official said they cannot track down a Twitter user unless the US-based company provides the details.
After Mehdi's unmasking, several extremist Twitter accounts were deleted.
A man named Ghazi who went with the handle @aldawlawi wrote on December 11: "It's been a long run guys. But it's time for Ghazi to retire. Much love...."
Source: Telegraph Kolkata
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Dec. 12 2014 1:47 PM
ISIS’s Leading Twitter Propagandist Was an Executive in Bangalore
Britain’s Channel 4 News reported Thursday that the author of @ShamiWitness, one of the most influential and widely followed pro-ISIS Twitter accounts, is actually not a fighter on the front lines but an executive at an Indian conglomerate in India’s technology capital. The account has since been shut down.
He turns out to have been fairly easy to doxx. Shami Witness used to tweet under a different handle, which he had also used to register a Google Plus account. From there, it was a quick step to the Facebook page of a man named Mehdi on which, according to Channel 4, “he regularly shares jokes, funny images and talks about superhero movies, posting pictures of pizza dinners with friends, and Hawaiian parties at work.” The report didn’t use Mehdi’s full name as he believes his life may be in danger, but it’s been reported on Twitter and in the Indian media.
Shami Witness had more than 17,700 followers, including an estimated two-thirds of the foreign fighters on Twitter. As Adam Taylor of the Washington Post notes, he had been sharing information about the war in Syria for years but only began actively defending ISIS at the beginning of this year.
But he did interact frequently with British ISIS fighters and praised them after their deaths. "you bros talked the talk, walked the walk," he wrote about Iftikhar Jaman, a British ISIS fighter killed in Syria last December. When asked why he didn’t travel to Syria himself, Mehdi told Channel 4 “If I had a chance to leave everything and join them I might have.. my family needs me here.” In his own case, he was evidently satisfied with just talking the talk.
He also shared the video showing the beheading U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig multiple times.
ISIS has been renowned for its social media prowess, but Mehdi’s case suggests that much of the group’s propaganda and recruitment campaign may rely not on fighters themselves, but on self-starting keyboard jihadis, far from the battlefield. After Shami Witness’s identity was revealed, a number of other pro-ISIS Twitter accounts went dark.
This should also be a cautionary tale for outsiders following the war. The near impossibility of reporting within Syria has forced many journalists and analysts to rely on accounts like Shami Witness for information. These accounts, often anonymous, may not always have the firsthand perspective they claim.
It’s also simply a fascinating digital-age story of a man with dual identities. While the mild-mannered executive Mehdi condemned rape on his Facebook page, for instance, his alter-ego on Twitter joked about ISIS captors raping female Kurdish fighters.
The reaction among Shami Witness’ longtime Twitter antagonists has been positively gleeful. “So basically the Islamic State was outsourcing to Bangalore. Wait till the Daily Mail hears about this,” tweets the Lebanese architect and satirist Karl Sharro.
As for Mehdi himself, he says he will not resist arrest but fears that police will kill him. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I haven’t harmed anybody,” he told Channel 4 in a follow-up Friday.
While doxxing and social media manhunts generally make me uncomfortable, it’s pretty hard to feel sympathy for someone who cheered the killing of innocent people and urged others to their deaths while hiding behind anonymity for his own safety.
...and I am Sid Harth