14 Dec 2014

IS supporters demand police #FreeShamiWitness after arrest

Supporters of pro-Islamic State tweeter take to Twitter in their hundreds to demand the release of a man arrested after a Channel 4 News investigation.

Indian police in Bangalore have arrested a man they named as Mehdi Masroor Biswas on suspicion of offences of cyber terrorism and crimes against the state, and said that he had confirmed being behind the @ShamiWitness Twitter account.

He denied any wrongdoing when he spoke to Channel 4 News.

Shami Witness was widely seen as a cheerleader for the Islamic State group (IS, also known as Isis), who are accused of widespread human rights violations including torture, rape, extra judicial killings and sectarian murders.

Since the arrest on Saturday, supporters of the pro-IS account have launched a campaign labelled #FreeShamiWitness.

Some of the Twitter users cited free speech grounds to free the man, while others saw his arrest as an attack on the freedom of Muslims.

The @ShamiWitness account was shut down shortly after Channel 4 News uncovered key details of the person running the account, including that it was being operated from Bangalore.

The account has since been reactivated, but it is unclear by whom or why at this stage.


More than 1,500 accounts had retweeted the hashtag #FreeShamiWitness on the social network on the day of the arrest.

Many users on Twitter posted an image which said: “Supporting Islam in the media is not a crime.”

One account, with more than 3,000 followers, changed its profile image to match that of Shami Witness and said: “Holding an opinion your govt doesn’t hold is now a crime.”

Read: Unmasked - the man behind top Islamic State Twitter account

Others tweeted #FreeShamiWitness along with IS propaganda.

Influential Twitter account

Two thirds of all foreign fighters on Twitter followed Shami Witness, according to research from King’s College.

He was allegedly in contact with many British jihadis in Syria and Iraq, and when a fighter’s Twitter account was suspended, he often promoted the new one and urged people to follow it.

Anti-IS accounts flagged up a number of tweets in the wake of the arrest that they say had previously been written by @ShamiWitness.

One Twitter user pointed out that Shami Witness had had a Twitter exchange in which he seems to have told jihadis in Turkey, who were seeking to reach the IS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria, which border crossings were open to enable fighters passage.

Others said that he simply repeated what he heard and that he had not committed any crime.