New Delhi: Zahran Hashim, the alleged mastermind of the 21 April terror attacks in Sri Lanka, was an ardent follower of P. Jainulabdeen, also known as PJ, the founder of the Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamaath (TNTJ), ThePrint has learnt.
Hashim, the founder of the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) in Sri Lanka, was a “big follower of PJ”, claimed H.M. Ameer, the media spokesperson of the Abdul Jawad Alim Waliullah Trust, which governs several Sufi mosques in Kattankudy, Hashim’s hometown on the east coast of Sri Lanka.
Ameer claimed that whenever Hashim held a public gathering, he had a habit of showing videos of Jainulabdeen on a projector. “Then Hashim would follow it up with his own explanation of PJ’s speeches, supported by his teachings,” Ameer told ThePrint over phone.
Ameer added that Hashim’s way of pronouncing Tamil words in his speeches increasingly became like that of PJ’s.
Since the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, the TNTJ and Jainulabdeen have been on the radar of Indian intelligence agencies. The TNTJ has also been claiming that it had no links with the NTJ, the little-known group that carried out the bombings.
But Jainulabdeen himself had been tracked by Sri Lankan authorities for several years.
According to an Indian Express report, Jainulabdeen was first deported by Sri Lanka in 2006 following complaints from a Sri Lankan Muslim theologian body about his teachings causing a rift among the island’s Muslims. He was then denied a visa by Sri Lanka in 2008 and 2015, during which years he was still with the TNTJ.
In July 2017, Jainulabdeen made news in India for his comments on former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. According to a TheNewsMinute report Jainulabdeen had said, “His name maybe Abdul Kalam but that doesn’t make him Muslim. He who only worships Allah is a Muslim. But Abdul Kalam prayed to idols and he bowed before naked godmen.”
Prior to that, Jainulabdeen, noted for his oratory style and skills, had gathered much influence, apparent in how TNTJ has grown since its start in 2004 from a Tamil Nadu organisation to one with chapters across Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, the US, the middle east, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, France, Australia and England, according to the TNTJ website.
Turning to ISIS
Ameer, who runs an English tuition centre in Kattankudy, also claimed that Hashim openly pledged support to ISIS while speaking at a cultural hall in Kattankudy in 2015.
“There he openly pledged his support to ISIS mentioning it by name and saying Muslims should join them in the land they control (the so-called caliphate) during that time,” Ameer told ThePrint, adding that he has this recorded on a CD as proof.
“Why didn’t NTJ expel him at that time?” Ameer asked. “NTJ only expelled Hashim while he was evading arrest in 2017.”
Hashim went into hiding in 2017 after an altercation between Kattankudy’s Sufi and Wahhabi Muslims, often opposed to each other due to differing ideologies. The altercation began at a public gathering organised by Hashim and police were on the lookout for him.
Ameer further said Hashim was fluent in Arabic unlike many Muslims on the island. “So, he would have been watching propaganda videos and been further brainwashed into becoming an extremist,” he said.
However, Ameer also told ThePrint that he believes a “larger mastermind” controlled Hashim and his family — his father and two brothers were killed in a gun battle following the bombings.
“Zahran Hashim may now be well-known but he was a normal person before the incident,” Ameer said. “In fact, he comes from a very poor family. Some external power used his poverty.”
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