From the horse's mouth: How oblivious Bengaluru police were about Shami Witness Twitter account

Are the police up to tackling extremism on social media?
From the horse's mouth: How oblivious Bengaluru police were about Shami Witness Twitter account
From the horse's mouth: How oblivious Bengaluru police were about Shami Witness Twitter account
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A presentation made by former Bengaluru Police Commissioner MN Reddi and Karnataka IPS officer Abhishek Goyal showed just how oblivious Indian law enforcement can be when it comes to keeping up with policing on social media.

Speaking at a conference in Bengaluru, Reddi outlined the manner in which the Shami Witness twitter handle case unfolded on a completely “oblivious” police.

In December 2014, Channel 4 ran a story interviewing a man named Mehdi Masroor Biswas, who hailed from West Bengal but lived in Bengaluru and tweeted in support of ISIS for nearly three years before he was caught.

Reddi claimed that when the Bengaluru police tracked down Biswas, he told them that he had not broken Indian law.

Talking about the dilemma that the police too faced in booking a person for such extremist views, Reddi said “What offence (do we book him under?) He was tweeting about something in another part of the world, which was not affecting us. So we opened the Indian Penal Code, (and discussed) Section 125.”

Quoting from the IPC, Reddi that that section penalizes someone who attempts to wage war against an Asian power that is friendly with India.

“So we wondered if Syria was friendly with India. Then someone said ‘There is only one Asian country which is not our friend’. Section 125 was applied by default,” Reddi said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

He said that Biswas was “self-radicalised”, that the police could not find any “external” source of radicalization after they analyzed his tweets and other material. “He was someone who did not know Arabic, he had never travelled outside the country except to maybe Nepal, which is close to the border (of West Bengal), used Google Translate to tweet in Arabic, and became a leading ideological voice of ISIS. Like the Olas and Ubers, he became an aggregator of news, collating tweets.”

Reddi had begun his presentation by saying: “We were completely oblivious” of Biswas when was interviewed by Channel 4. Midway, he took a barb at foreign journalists who he said were following Biswas because “they did not want to do the dirty job”.

One of his conclusions was that “Radicalization of Islamic youth in India is real albeit small magnitude.”

At the end of the presentation, National Editor for Strategic and International Affairs at The Indian Express Praveen Swami asked Reddi how significant this radicalization was, when none of the suspected ISIS sympathisers who had been deported to India had been influenced by Biswas.

Reddi said that “Biswas was the perfect NRI. He was not targeting Indian youth. The target was out there, not in India.”

Later, after the panel discussion, co-panellist Sultan Al Qassemi met Reddi and told him “If you look at the Shami Witness tweets, you will find my name also among the tweets. I used to argue with him.” Reddi appeared unaware of it.

In an interview with The News Minute before the panel discussion began, Al Qassemi, who was at the centre of the Arab Spring, had said that in his assessment, the whole episode indicated that law enforcement were way out of the league of tech savvy youngsters who used social media to spread and receive extremist views.

Speaking to journalists, Al Qassemi said that initially, the Shami Witness account did not advocate violence, merely espoused extremist views. “Then in March 2011, it suddenly changed.”

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