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Police: 18 arrested in mob lynchings fueled by WhatsApp rumors

June 11 (UPI) — Police in India have arrested at least 18 people for the mob-style lynchings of two sightseers, attacks that were believed to have been fueled by social media posts.

A mob of around 200 people beat Abhijit Nath and Nilotpal Das to death over the weekend after rumors circulated on social media they were child traffickers.

The rumors were circulated mostly on WhatsApp, officials said.

“We have taken strict measures against the culprits and arrested 18 individuals,” Director General of Assam Police Kuladhar Saikia told Al Jazeera. “We have also arrested some persons who were involved in spreading rumors on social media.”

The arrests came after public outrage of the killings.

“Mob lynching is a primal instinct,” Guwahati activist Tinat Atifa Masood said. “No one knows why they are lynching, but all seem to be cast under a spell to kill.”

The victims arrived in the Panijuri village the night before the attacks to see a nearby waterfall, the Telegraph India reported.

Officers said they blamed the killings on “fake news” that spread on social media about foreign child kidnappers abducting children in the country.

Among those arrested was Bhupendra Terang, who was booked for posting the rumors online.

The weekend killings are the latest tied to WhatsApp. Six people have died in recent weeks in cases that include the app in some fashion, officials said.

“I urge everyone to maintain peace and social harmony and not to fall prey to rumors,” Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal posted on Twitter. “We won’t spare anyone and strictest of punishment will be given to the culprits.”

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