Growing Islamic extremism: ‘denials’ and the ‘new utterances’
Posted on April 27th, 2019

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan Courtesy Ceylon Today

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan

Sri Lankans have been left in shock following the ruthless killing of 253 innocent people, including children, on Easter Sunday, by  a zero-tolerant homegrown Islamic militant group.

Since 2014, the local Media has been highlighting about possible Islamic militant infiltration in Sri Lanka. But,  the Media exposures  were ignored. 

Now it seems that there are many who have come forward to tell the world that they ‘knew’ about a home grown extremist group óperating’ in Sri Lanka, mainly in the Eastern Province. 

Some Islamic religious organisations have also distanced themselves from the extremists, while some politicians from the community deny knowing them, which is extremely shocking.

In Ceylon Today’s 26 July, 2015 edition, the writer in an article, ‘How Nilam Took Turkey Visa to Join ISIS’ broke the news story of the first Sri Lankan ISIS militant to be killed in Syria in a US coalition airstrike. 

Well, it has not taken too long for the ‘Salafi Jihadi’ extremist militant group, of the Islamic State (IS), to infiltrate our tiny isle. It has now become a mind jolting reality. 

Ceylon Today has repeatedly, in the not too distant past, been highlighting the fact of the ominous possibility of the ISIS reaching in beyond our doorstep and recruiting personnel for their sordid deeds.

 The Maldives, is one of the South Asian bases for recruiting IS men. Former Speaker and Foreign Minister of the Maldives Abdulla Shahid told Ceylon Today that his country was ‘fertile ground’ for recruitment.

Very little known Sharfaz Nilam Muhsin (37), aka Abu Shuraih Sailani (his Caliphate name), was the first Sri Lankan militant to migrate to Syria with his family through the Turkish Embassy in Colombo. 

As soon as he was killed, we checked his Facebook account and found out that many of his followers were praising his closeness to becoming a martyr in a foreign land. 

He had a handsome number of followers from Kandy and Colombo too. He was referred to as their ‘master ‘mainly because he was a Karate Master and as well as a principal of a leading international school in Colombo.

Islamic radicalisation

The writer then informed the Police Media spokesman about Nilam’s followers and urged him to track down and inform their respected mosques before they become radicalised.

In the last six years or so, Islamic radicalisation became apparent through social media and Sri Lankan Muslims were seemingly connected to the IS. There were about 32 Sri Lankan Caliphate fighters in Syria, noted the then Minister of Education Wijayadasa Rajapakshe.

There was media exposure about Maldivians using the Bandaranaike International Airport as their transit hub to reach Syria. Some were arrested and the Government said they were repatriated to the Maldives. 

There were no answers to whether these Maldivian youths remained in Sri Lanka and for how long before taking their flights to Syria.

There was also a news about a girl from Pune, India wanting to reach Syria through Sri Lanka and her travel documents and visa was arranged’ by a travel agency in Colombo.

 It was speculated that they were the ‘recruiting agency’ to send ISIS fighters to Syria. The Police said the some in the agency were arrested, but were they released later, we don’t know.

National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) is a small outfit that gained notoriety only last year for defacing Buddha statues in Mawanella and although it was a tiny group, the fact that there was media exposure of imminent IS links with Sri Lankans, was an easy guess based on the media reports of IS infiltration in the country.

Despite the NTJ not claiming the Easter Sunday attacks on Churches till today, top military officials say that could be due to fear of being tracked down because their activities were visible and highlighted on local media last year.

Last week the All Ceylon Jammiyathul Ulama (ACJU), holding a press briefing said that Sri Lanka Thowheeth Jama’ath, the Ceylon Thowheeth Jama’at and the National Thowheeth Jama’ath pose a threat to the peace and unity of Sri Lanka and should be banned.

 They condemned all forms of terrorism and the Easter Sunday attacks. The ACJU urged the Government to ban these organisations but in the past remained silent.

On 22 July 2015, the ACJU issued a statement against the ISIS. They also said that they had continuously informed the defence authorities about religious extremism in their community and had urged that action be taken against Zahran Hasheem of Katankuddy, who was involved. 

The ACJU said that in the name of Thowheeth, there are many organisations but they didn’t know the number of members in these oraganisations operating under different Thowheeth names. The ACJU added that registering Thowheeth organistion is not their job. 

The ACJU also declared that it was a member of the NTJ who was behind the attacks and not all. The ACJU said in 2016, the people of Katankudy lodged a complaint about the individual Zahran. 

They also said that many other Thowheeth groups, who did not follow Zahran’s, extreme religious views, complained to the Police. They noted that the Government had not officially revealed the name of the terrorist group that had committed this mass crime. They also admitted they don’t know the number of different Thowheeth organisations that exist in Sri Lanka.

There are many Thowheeth organisations working with the ACJU and the  NTJ has nothing to do with them,” the ACJU said.

 They added that the Sri Lanka Thowheeth Jamaat has no links with them and never comes for discussions with them and they will not accept the suicide bombers’ bodies for the last rituals.

The ACJU overwhelmingly stated that it’s only one individual that should be blamed for the blasts and it was about him and his activities that they have informed to the Police. However, this statement by the ACJU, though strong, comes too late.

The ACJU claimed that they have informed the Police about a growing threat. However, this is the first time that they sought for the banning of these groups and organisations. They did nothing about it in the past.

One of the main tasks of the ACJU is to provide religious guidance to the Muslims of Sri Lanka. They cannot distance themselves from that. 

 One of the most important aspects for the Muslim community at this time is the Islamic education to quote from their website. The ACJU has established 25 district and 102 divisional branches, and enrolled over 5,000 theologians, most of whom are holders of doctorates, special degrees, master’s degrees or 1st degrees and are  involved in community service.

 Their utmost contribution is to be in unity and peace and distancing themselves from other Muslim organisations, because the ACJU wants to be the sole representative of the Muslims.  This is intolerable notes a Muslim civil society on condition of anonymity. The Muslim Civil Society said that at their convenience they urged the Muslims to remove their burka and wear it is simply not a right gesture.

Hapless Muslims

 Looking at the Eastern provinces, the hapless Muslims seems to have been caught between the devil and deep sea. Although the Muslims of Katankudy took to streets against the satanic Zahran, who has been preaching his extreme religious views, their constant attention to get him arrested had been weak. There were no Muslim Ministers joining such protests to call on the Government to arrest him, that could have attracted attention, many say.

Strongmen Cabinet Minister Rishad Bathiudeen from Mannar and Minister Rauff Hakeem could have called for his arrest, joining the people of their constituencies. 

Keeping the matter under wraps and sharing their information secretly with the government, has not done any good to the people of Sri Lanka. 

Some argued the very same interest in talking about Islamic extremism was not propagated by the Muslims politicians as they do now, after the terrorist committed a brutal attack on three churches and three hotels involving eight suicide bombers.

At last week’s press conference, held by the Muslim politicians, Minister Rauf Hakeem said he ‘knew ‘about these radicals six months ago. He and Minister Bathiudeen and many of their political party associates, who were gathered there, narrated that the Government did not take action despite highlighting the issue.

Have they shared with the mainstream media their report? One of the Governors has been harboring the Katankuddy extremists, says a Civil Society, that works for the North and East Muslims and they added that this has been reported to the government. 

It is also said that top Muslim politicians have been visiting Ibrahim, the father of the two blood brothers of Dematagoda, who blew themselves up at Shangri La and Cinnamon Grand. According to information, Ibrahim has funded the Muslim politician for his political career.

The Civil Society says that these politicians have groomed everyone and they know a lot more than others about the current situation of the country. They should be arrested and questioned, the Muslim Civil Society said.

The Muslim Civil Society that did not want to be named also noted that the Muslims operate in isolation. Fanaticism does not arise overnight and this is known to the families if they are together. 

Unless the sons and daughters are in isolation in different countries or places, a family cannot miss seeing their children being radicalised while living amongst them.” they noted.

The Muslim Civil Society, further added that other civil society organisations also alerted the Government and Muslim religious leaders about the growing religious extremism in the East. They added that even in the Vanatavillu case there was political influence for the release the suspect.

Government’s inaction

Adding that the current Government’s inaction in the past four years added to the religious extremism, they said It’s an easy guess that Muslim votes will swing if stern action is taken against them. They will crossover if they are put to test.”

According to them, Islamic extremism grew with the end of the war and not six months ago. They also submitted Zharan’s extreme religious views that he had uploaded to the YouTube in February last year. We informed the Government about him and his followers.”

Many of the politicians are talking about the Katankudy people who protested against Zharan and are allegedly trying to shield behind that protest saying the Muslims have informed the Government.

Today, there are other places like Sammanthurai, Ampara, Ninthavur, Sainthamaruthu, etc, where Islamic militants’ hideouts were raided and a couple of them were killed.

 In Sainthamaruthu, a family had been blown up. That is the worst form of death in the name of a religion, it is reported.

 There were several other places like Colombo Negombo, Maskeliya, Puttalam and Nuwara Eliya where devices used for destructions were detected. 

Despite the Government being criticised for being ignorant, they are back on track. Military spokesperson Sumith Atapattu said civil security is on alert and all possible measures have been taken but that does not mean everything is safe.

True enough, because religious extremism is about warring against a mindset that is invisible. It’s only the people around those who have extreme religious ideologies can notice it.

 Had Ibrahim informed the authorities about his two sons, who were probably in isolation and involved in secret activities, the Easter carnage could have been avoided. Arresting of religious extremists will only create more hatred in the families and that is not the only solution.

A best way to solve is to keep track on the activities of our bloved ones at home and in the community. The ACJU should join hands without discarding any other Islamic organisation and together introduce a system where young ones are not radicalised but follow Islam in its true form. 

Media and Government can do little about religious extremists. It’s a collective mission if we want a safe Sri Lanka. Defending secularism, citizenship and universal rights is the only way forward.

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