Just days after MEMRI's release of its landmark report From Al-Qaeda To The Islamic State (ISIS), Jihadi Groups Engage in Cyber Jihad, the identity of the leading English-language Islamic State (ISIS) promoter and news aggregator on Twitter, ShamiWitness, who was highlighted extensively in the report, was revealed by Channel 4 News in the U.K. Calling his Twitter feed "the most influential pro-Islamic State [ISIS] Twitter account to be followed by foreign jihadis," the channel said that his tweets were viewed two million times every month, and that two-thirds of all foreign jihadis on Twitter were following his account.
According to the news channel, ShamiWitness is an executive in Bangalore named Mehdi who works for an Indian conglomerate - and is not an ISIS fighter in Syria or Iraq. He also previously used the Twitter handle @elsaltador.
Channel 4 News, December 11, 2014
An Indian Home Ministry official said: "In the wake of the Channel 4 report, our agencies have run the check and found that the Twitter handle 'ShamiWitness' was operated under the name Mehdi Mehboob Biswas, with Bangalore showing up as his location. But it is possible that the person is not only using a pseudonym but also masking location of the server so as to show the hate messages being posted from Bangalore."
ShamiWitness Highlighted In MEMRI's Landmark Cyber Jihad Report
The MEMRI report From Al-Qaeda To The Islamic State (ISIS), Jihadi Groups Engage in Cyber Jihad, with an introduction by former CIA director James Woolsey, published December 5, 2014, highlighted ShamiWitness in its section on Social Media in the Syria and Iraq Conflict. The report includes a photo of him circulated on Twitter by the German Islamist group Millat Ibrahim, and a screenshot of his Twitter account:
"Islamic State supporter ShamiWitness tweets prolifically, as a jihadi news aggregator who is given exclusive stories for distribution by various jihadi groups in Syria and Iraq. He bills his Twitter account as "Musings on bilad ash Sham, Sunni Revolutions, Economic Collapse, Post-industrial society, Technology, History etc."
Channel 4's Interview With ShamiWitness
In an interview with Channel 4, "Mehdi" said that had he been able to join ISIS he "probably" would have but that family obligations had held him back. He said, "If I had a chance to leave everything and join them I might have. [But] my family needs me here, my parents are basically dependent on me." He added that he "mostly" agreed with ISIS's methods, including beheadings, saying that they are "discussed in the Koran and Hadith itself. I don't think any honest Muslim will ever tell you he's against beheadings per se."
Channel 4 News, December 11, 2014
The news report noted that among his thousands of tweets, which he sent primarily from his mobile phone, he had tweeted the November 16, 2014 ISIS video of the beheading of U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig and dozens of Syrian soldiers five times, mere minutes after it was uploaded.
The next day, December 12, with a manhunt underway for him, Mehdi told Channel 4 that he feared that "when the police, when they come to arrest me, they might try to kill me then they would say that I tried to attack them." He said, "I want to state clearly that I won't resist arrest... I don't have any sort of weapons with me. I have no intention of resisting." He added that he had done nothing wrong.
Asked why he thought his story was trending all over the world, he said, "I think for the first time there's a Muslim who can actually enunciate in English and get the message across and which has really pissed off our enemies, enemies of Muslims."
Twitter's Reaction: "We Do Not Comment On Individual Accounts"
Following the exposure of ShamiWitness, Twitter India said: "We do not comment on individual accounts, for privacy and security reasons. We do not proactively monitor content on the platform."