The accused was apprehended by police and questioned. (Express Photo: Gajendra Yadav)
Around two hours before images of him brandishing a pistol at protesters outside Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi flashed across television screens, the 17-year-old from Jewar in Uttar Pradesh’s Gautam Buddh Nagar district posted on Facebook, “Shaheen Bagh... khel khatam (the game’s over)”. This was among at least nine posts and seven Facebook Live videos he shared on the social networking site in the hours leading up to the incident.
The Facebook account, created in July 2018, was deactivated following the incident. Another, older account of his, with a last post in May 2018, too was later deactivated. He has 3,626 ‘Friends’ in the new account and 504 in the older one.
It was the first known instance of Facebook Live being used by a gunman in India while carrying out an attack, and the company said it took down his accounts before any official police request.
The 17-year-old’s Facebook accounts offer a few clues about the man, including his claimed association with the Bajrang Dal and his fascination for guns. His profile picture has him with Deepak Sharma, against whom the Uttar Pradesh government invoked the National Security Act in 2018 for allegedly instigating Sharda University students against Afghan collegemates.
Among the several Facebook pages the 17-year-old has ‘liked’ are of Union Home Minister Amit Shah and ‘Manoj Tiwari for Delhi CM’.
Recently, he had been posting extensively on events surrounding the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. The Facebook Live videos, shot minutes before the incident, show him walking past protesters, occasionally looking down into his phone camera. The posts, in Hindi, talk of revenge and “turning Shaheen Bagh into Jallianwala Bagh”.
The gunman targets protesters near the Jamia campus in Delhi, Thursday. His face is pixelated because he is under 18, as per records. (Reuters Photo: Danish Siddiqui)
Minutes before he pulled out his pistol, he wrote, “Koi Hindu media nahi hain yaha (There is no Hindu media here)” and “M yha akela hindu hu (I am the only Hindu here)”, followed by muscle-flexing emojis.
Some of his other posts said, “Azadi de rha hu (I am giving you freedom)”; “mere antim yatra par... mujhe bhagwa mein le jaye... aur jai Shri Ram ke nare ho (In my final journey... take me in saffron... and let there be chants of Jai Shri Ram)”; and “mere ghar ka dhyan rakhna (Take care of my family)”.
On January 28, he posted, “Attention, kindly do not gloss over my posts till January 31” with folded hands emojis. On January 11, he wrote in a post, “I am also a BJP supporter but for me country comes first, party and its leaders are secondary”.
In a post uploaded on January 7, the day actor Deepika Padukone visited JNU in solidarity with the protesting students, he threatens her and warns that her film, Chhapaak, will flop. “Deepika Padukone pel diye jaoge, bhakto ko jante nahi ho, Salman Khan se pucch lo Dabaang-3 ki lagat bhi wasool nahi hui (You will be beaten up, you don’t know the bhakts. Ask Salman Khan, Dabaang-3 didn’t even recover its costs)”. In another post the same day, with a photo of Padukone with JNU Students’ Union president Aishe Ghosh, he asks if she visited the homes of soldiers killed in the Pulwama attack of 2019.
There are pictures and videos of him on his Facebook accounts holding guns and swords, including one shot in slow-motion in which he marches with a gun while a friend walks with a cartridge belt, a song on Maharana Pratap playing. The older Facebook account has pictures of him when much younger, many of these with guns.
While the ‘About Me’ section in the new account is sparse, reading ‘Bajrang Dal, Jewar Jai Shri Ram’, the old account says, “I am the member of (b.j.p, bajrang dall, or rss.)...” and adds that he is from Mathura, lives in Noida and studied in J.S.P.M. Pune.
The injured student, Shadab Farooq, climbs over a police barricade near Jamia in New Delhi. (Express Photo: Gajendra Yadav)
In one of the posts, addressing Updesh Rana, who was arrested in Jaipur in 2017 over a proposed rally in support of Shambulal Regar, accused of killing a Muslim labourer in Rajasthan and circulating the videos, Gopal writes, “#Updesh Rana agar tujhse adhe bhi followers mere hote toh Shaheen Bagh ka Jallianwala Bagh bana deta ab tak (If I had half the followers you have, I would have turned Shaheen Bagh into Jallianwala Bagh)”.
In another, he says he is “doing this” for Chandan Gupta, who was shot during communal violence in Kasganj district of Uttar Pradesh on Republic Day in 2018. “Chandan bhai yeh badla aap ke liye (this revenge is for you),” he writes.
Facebook India said the posts, which were in clear violation of its standards of hate speech, had come to its notice between 4 pm and 6 pm. By then, these had amassed a flurry of responses, including congratulatory messages.
The injured Jamia student Shadab was shot in the arm. (Express Photo: Gajendra Yadav)
“There is no place on Facebook for this kind of violence. We have removed the gunman’s Facebook account and are removing any content that praises, supports or represents the gunman or the shooting,” said a Facebook spokesperson.
Facebook has been struggling against gunmen using social media to promote their attacks, especially Facebook Live. Regulations in India give technology companies “safe harbour” protections, meaning the platforms are not liable for illegal content until they are notified about it.
(with inputs from Karishma Mehrotra)