A Google engineer has been beaten to death in the latest attack sparked by false WhatsApp messages accusing people of kidnapping children in India.
Mohammad Azam was attacked along with two friends by a 2,000-strong mob in southern Karnataka state’s Bidar district.
Police have arrested 32 people over the death – the latest in a string of lynchings caused by unfounded rumours of child abductions.
Azam’s friends, including a Qatar national, were critically injured in the assault that came days after the Facebook-owned messaging service published advertisements in Indian newspapers offering tips to curb the spread of fake information on its platform.
More than 20 people have been lynched in India after being accused of child abduction in the last two months.
Police said 27-year-old Azam and his companions were returning to their home in neighbouring Hyderabad city after visiting a friend in Bidar when they stopped midway and offered chocolates to local school children.
‘One of them had bought chocolates from Qatar and tried to offer it to the children as a token of affection,’ Bidar deputy police chief V. N. Patil told AFP.
But one of the children started crying, alerting the elders who accused the men of being child kidnappers amid rife social media rumours about child kidnapping rings in the area, the officer said.
Patil said the three managed to flee but were attacked by a much larger mob a few miles ahead after locals alerted nearby villages via Whatsapp.
Their car flipped after hitting a roadblock placed by the angry mob before they were dragged out of the vehicle and beaten with sticks and stones.
A video broadcast on Indian news channels showed a policeman pleading with the attackers as they kicked and hit the victims with sticks.
Three policemen were injured in rescue attempts as the mob rampaged for nearly an hour.
Police said they have arrested 32 attackers and a manhunt is on for others. Some of the accused were identified from the attack video circulating on WhatsApp.