ShamiWitness: How Bellingcat and Neocons Collaborated with the Most Influential ISIS Propagandist on Twitter

How some of the best known Syria regime-change hustlers and “experts” helped transform the @ShamiWitness account from a cretinous troll into a credible “ISIS expert.”

By Mark Ames

Who remembers @ShamiWitness? At the peak of ISIS’s power, @ShamiWitness stood out as the genocidal militia group’s “most influential Twitter account” according to a Channel 4 exposé and a Kings College report. The @ShamiWitness account was followed by some two-thirds of foreign jihadis. But it went further than propogandizing Islamic State’s massacres and rapes: @Shamiwitness also actively recruited foreign jihadis and helped lead them through the ratlines in Turkey, into the ISIS killing fields in Syria and Iraq, as a George Washington University reportrevealed this year.

But I want to talk about the western “experts” in Washington and London who cozied up to @ShamiWitness — especially since all of them are still around, many of them bigger and more influential in our political discourse than ever. They’re the ones who built up @ShamiWitness’s social media capital, making his account so popular, and so effective, in recruiting ISIS murderers. Some of the best known Syria regime-change hustlers and “experts”—Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat and the Saudi-funded Atlantic Council; Charles Lister of the Saudi-funded Middle East Institute, former CNN “Syria expert” and Atlantic Council fellow Michael Weiss, all major figures promoting today’s RussiaGate hysteria—together helped transform the @ShamiWitness account from a cretinous troll into a credible “ISIS expert”. They validated and lent credibility to ShamiWitness as someone with deep, local insider knowledge, boosting ShamiWitness’s social capital their countless retweets, #FF’s, #Pt’s, and their numerous public interactions.

As it turned out, @ShamiWitness was a fake “Syria expert”. The millennial yuppie who ran the ShamiWitness account was as much an insider expert on ISIS as the western Syria hacks who boosted him. It wasn’t the “experts” like Bellingcat who unmasked ShamiWitness — quite the opposite, Bellingcat’s team played a major role in building him up as a credible expert. Rather, it was a Channel 4 report exposing ShamiWitness as a fake — but a very dark and dangerous fake, with very real world consequences. @ShamiWitness was run by a 24-year-old Indian marketing executive named Mehdi Masroor Biswas, who tweeted out ISIS and Syria “expertise” from his bachelor pad in Bangalore, India.

And just like that, the London and Washington Syria regime-change neocons who’d been boosting @ShamiWitness suddenly looked like fools — as well as ISIS accessories. Contrary to what they had all assumed, @ShamiWitness wasn’t the expert Syria insider he pretended to be. He spoke no Arabic; he was nowhere near Syria.

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Mark Ames is the co-host of the Radio War Nerd podcast. Subscribe to Radio War Nerd on Patreon.

No, the UN Did Not Report China Has ‘Massive Internment Camps’ for Uighur Muslims

Media outlets from Reuters to The Intercept falsely claimed the UN had condemned China for holding a million Uighurs in camps. The claim is based on unsourced allegations by two independent commission members, US-funded outfits and a shadowy opposition group.

By Ben Norton and Ajit Singh

Numerous major media outlets, from Reuters to The Intercept, have claimed that the United Nations has reports that the Chinese government is holding as many as 1 million Uighur Muslims in “internment camps.” But a close examination of these news stories, and of the evidence behind them — or the lack thereof — demonstrates that the extraordinary claim is simply not true.

A spokesperson from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) confirmed in a statement to the Grayzone that the allegation of Chinese “camps” was not made by the United Nations, but rather by a member of an independent committee that does not speak for the UN as a whole. That member happened to be the only American on the committee, and one with no background of scholarship or research on China.

Moreover, this accusation is based on the thinly sourced reports of a Chinese opposition group that receives funding from foreign governments and is closely tied to exiled pro-US activists. There have been numerous reports of discrimination against Uighur Muslims in China. However, information about camps containing one million prisoners has originated almost exclusively from media outlets and organizations funded and weaponized by the American government to turn up the heat on Beijing.

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ajit singh

Ajit Singh is a Canada-based writer, lawyer and activist. He tweets at @ajitxsingh.