NEW DELHI – Indian police said Sunday they have arrested 25 people after a man was killed by a mob in the country’s latest lynching over suspicion of child kidnapping sparked by rumors on WhatsApp.
The men were arrested over the murder of 27-year-old Mohammad Azam who was attacked along with two friends by a 2,000-strong mob in southern Karnataka state’s Bidar district late Friday.
Azam’s friends were critically injured in the assault, which 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, according to media reports.
Police said Azam and his companions were returning to neighboring Hyderabad city after visiting their friend in Bidar when they stopped midway and offered chocolates to local 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 among the group of children started crying, alerting the elders who accused the men of being child kidnappers amid rife social media rumors about child kidnapping rings in the area, the officer said.
Patil said the three managed to flee from the spot but were attacked by a much larger mob a few kilometers (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.
Three policemen were injured in rescue attempts as the mob rampaged for nearly an hour.
The attack comes after five people were lynched by a mob in neighboring Maharashtra state on July 1.
The mob had spotted the victims talking to a child at a market, triggering allegations of child abduction.
The spate of lynchings started last May in eastern Jharkhand state after rumors on WhatsApp about child kidnappers led to the lynching of seven men.
The rumors have since resurfaced, with 21 deaths reported in dozens of attacks across the country mostly targeting non-locals.
India accused Whatsapp of failing to curb false information on its platform.