In a landmark verdict on January 16, the special court designated for cases investigated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) found Mehdi Masroor Biswas guilty of supporting terrorist activities. Biswas, known by the username @shamiwitness on the platform formerly known as Twitter (X), has been convicted for his role in promoting ISIS propaganda between 2012 and 2014 and recruiting individuals for the extremist group. The court is set to announce the quantum of punishment on January 19.
Biswas faced charges under Sections 13, 18, and 39 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, with a maximum imprisonment term of seven years. Additionally, he was convicted under Section 125 of the Indian Penal Code for attempting to wage war against a foreign power in alliance or at peace with the Government of India, carrying a seven-year prison sentence. Further charges under IPC Sections 153 A and 505 were brought against him for promoting enmity between groups and making statements conducive to public mischief.
The conviction stems from Biswas’ activities as @shamiwitness, where he used his social media presence to sympathise with ISIS during its early days in Syria in 2014. The arrest of Mehdi Biswas took place in Bengaluru on December 13, 2014, at the age of 24, following an investigation triggered by the revelation by the UK’s Channel 4 that he operated the @shamiwitness handle.
The prosecution, led by MK Thammaiah, the then-assistant commissioner of police (CCB) and investigating officer, highlighted the significance of Biswas’ extensive social media engagement. Biswas had made a total of 1,22,208 tweets, predominantly related to ISIS activities, and had posted 15,500 images, many of which were retrieved during the investigation. Thammaiah disclosed that Biswas initially supported Jama’at Nusrat Al-Islam Wal Muslimin (JNIM) but shifted allegiance to ISIS, maintaining contact with 88 individuals identified as terror suspects.
Despite never physically associating with the Islamic State, Biswas compiled extensive data on radical Islamic activity in the Middle East, disseminating it via the @shamiwitness handle. Notably, the Central Crime Branch police filed a 36,986-page charge sheet against him in June 2015.
Mehdi Biswas faced accusations of predicting the beheadings of US journalist James Foley and UK aid worker Peter Kassig on Twitter, weeks before the executions by ISIS. He was also charged with advocating for ISIS support in Kashmir, labelling the terrorists in the region as martyrs.
In a bizarre turn of events, it was revealed that Biswas had received support from some Indian liberals in 2014, drawing a false equivalence between him and random internet Hindu accounts in an attempt to downplay his role as an ISIS propagandist.