Sri Lankan bombings – on the alleged ringleader

The alleged ringleader of the Sri Lankan bombing of churches and hotels, Mohamed Hashim Mohamed Zahran, has a history of differences with his school and various mosques, including a mosque he set up himself.

Reuters – ‘Black sheep’: The mastermind of Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday bombs

Mohamed Hashim Mohamed Zahran was 12 years old when he began his studies at the Jamiathul Falah Arabic College. He was a nobody, with no claim to scholarship other than ambition.

The boy surprised the school with his sharp mind. For three years, Zahran practiced memorizing the Koran. Next came his studies in Islamic law. But the more he learned, the more Zahran argued that his teachers were too liberal in their reading of the holy book.

“He was against our teaching and the way we interpreted the Koran – he wanted his radical Islam,” said Aliyar. “So we kicked him out.”

Zahran’s path from provincial troublemaker to alleged jihadist mastermind was marked by years of missed or ignored signals that the man with a thick beard and paunch was dangerous.

His increasingly militant brand of Islam was allowed to grow inside a marginalized minority community – barely 10 percent of the country’s roughly 20 million people are Muslim – against a backdrop of a dysfunctional developing nation.

The precise relationship between Zahran and Islamic State is not yet known. An official with India’s security services, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that during a raid on a suspected Islamic State cell by the National Investigation Agency earlier this year officers found copies of Zahran’s videos.

Zahran joined a mosque in 2006, the Dharul Athar, and gained a place on its management committee. But within three years they’d had a falling out.

“He wanted to speak more independently, without taking advice from elders,” said the mosque’s imam, or spiritual leader, M.T.M. Fawaz. Also, the young man was more conservative, Fawaz said, objecting, for instance, to women wearing bangles or earrings.

Mohamed Yusuf Mohamed Thaufeek, a friend who met Zahran at school and later became an adherent of his, said the problems revolved around Zahran’s habit of misquoting Islamic scriptures.

The mosque’s committee banned him from preaching for three months in 2009. Zahran stormed off.

Despite being “a bit rough-edged”, Zahran was a skilled speaker and others his age were drawn to his speeches and Koranic lessons, said Thaufeek. He traveled the countryside at times, giving his version of religious instruction as he went.

Also, Zahran had found a popular target: the town’s Sufi population, who practice a form of Islam often described a mystical, but which to conservatives is heresy.

Tensions in the area went back some years. In 2004, there was a grenade attack on a Sufi mosque and in 2006 several homes of Sufis were set afire. Announcements boomed from surrounding mosques at the time calling for a Sufi spiritual leader to be killed, said Sahlan Khalil Rahman, secretary of a trust that oversees a group of Sufi mosques.

He blamed followers of the fundamentalist Wahhabi strain of Islam that some locals say became more popular after funding from Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Wahhabism, flowed to mosques in Kattankudy.

It was, Rahman said, an effort “to convert Sufis into Wahhabis through this terrorism”. Rahman handed over a photograph album showing charred homes, bullet holes sprayed across an office wall and a shrine’s casket upended.

It was an ideal backdrop for Zahran’s bellicose delivery and apparent sense of religious destiny.

In 2012, Zahran started a mosque of his own. The Sufis were alarmed and, Rahman said, passed on complaints to both local law enforcement and eventually national government offices. No action was taken.

The then-officer in charge of Kattankudy police, Ariyabandhu Wedagedara, said in a telephone interview that he couldn’t arrest people simply because of theological differences.

This is a problem we are trying to address in New Zealand now – where does ‘free specch’ cross the line into dangerous or inciteful speech.

Zahran found another megaphone: the internet. His Facebook page was taken down after the bombings, but Muslims in the area said his video clips had previously achieved notoriety.

His speeches went from denouncing Sufis to “kafirs”, or non-believers, in general.

In 2017, Zahran’s confrontations boiled over. At a rally near a Sufi community, his followers came wielding swords. At least one man was hacked and hospitalized. The police arrested several people connected to Zahran, including his father and one of his brothers. Zahran slipped away from public view.

That December, the mosque Zahran founded released a public notice disowning him. Thaufeek, his friend from school, is now the head. He counted the places that Zahran had been driven away from – his school, the Dharul Athar mosque and then, “we ourselves kicked him out, which would have been hard for him to take”.

Until now his reported conflict was within the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.

The next year, a group of Buddha statues was vandalized in the town of Mawanella, about five hours drive from Kattankudy. There, in the lush mountains of Sri Lanka’s interior, Zahran had taken up temporary residence.

“He was preaching to kill people,” said A.G.M. Anees, who has served as an imam at a small mosque in the area for a decade. “This is not Islam, this is violence.”

Zahran went into hiding once more.

What he did from there is still under investigation.

Reuters – Sri Lanka bans groups suspected to be behind attacks; ringleader’s relatives wounded

Sri Lanka’s president on Saturday outlawed two Islamist groups suspected to be behind the suicide bombings on churches and hotels while the wife and child of the suspected ringleader were wounded during a military raid in safe house, his family and police said.

The National Thawheedh Jamaath (NTJ) and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim were banned under his emergency powers, President Maithripala Sirisena said in a statement, nearly a week after the Easter Sunday attacks that killed more than 250 people.

Police believe the suspected mastermind of the bombings, Mohamed Hashim Mohamed Zahran, led either the NTJ or a splinter group. Less is known about Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim, whose members are also believed to have played a role in the bombings.

A gunbattle erupted on Friday evening during a raid on a safe house in Sainthamaruthu in Ampara district on the island’s east coast, killing at least 15 people including three people with suicide vests and six children, a military spokesman said.

The wounded included the wife and a daughter of Zahran, his family said.

The bombings that Zahran is alleged to have been involved with targeted both churches (attended by Christians on Easter Sunday) and hotels. The victims and intended victims in the hotel bombings could have been associated with a variety of religions, and some may not have been religious.

The motives for the attacks have not been made known publicly. Obviously Christians were a target, but more general targets may have been aimed at a wider agenda – 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhist.

Muslim attacks on other religions would also cause problems within the Islamic population, some at least of which had conflicted with Zahran over his radical ideas and ‘misinterpretation’ of religions scriptures.

No group benefits from terrorist attacks. Apart from the death and destruction they inflict they cause problems for just about any group associated with the attacks in any way, or perceived to be associated.


More updates from Gezza: https://yournz.org/2019/04/28/world-view-sunday-48/#comment-364874

 

 

 

Sri Lanka bombings: Christchurch retaliation suggested, ISIS claim responsibility

A politician has told the Sri Lankan Parliament that the bombings there in the weekend were a retaliation for the Christchurch mosque attacks on 15 April, but has given no details.

The Prime Ministers of both Sri Lanka and New Zealand say that this claim is ‘premature’.

ISIS have claimed responsibility for the bombings, but it is not clear to what extent, if any.

RNZ: Easter Sunday bombings were retaliation against New Zealand mosque attack – Minister

A Sri Lanka official says initial investigation shows Easter Sunday bombings were a retaliation against New Zealand mosque attack.

A series of coordinated blasts in churches and hotels hit Sri Lanka on Sunday leaving 321 people dead and 500 injured.

“The initial investigation has revealed that this was in retaliation for the New Zealand mosque attack,” junior minister for defence Ruwan Wijewardene told parliament.

“It was done by National Thawheed Jama’ut along with JMI,” he said, referring to another local group, Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim.

However, the Associated Press said Mr Wijewardene made the statement about retaliation “without providing evidence or explaining where the information came from”.

So it isn’t clear if this is based on information or facts, or if it is just speculation.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: “We have seen reports of the statement from the Sri Lankan Minister of state for defence, alleging a link between the the Easter Sunday terrorist attack and the March 15 attack in Christchurch.

“We understand the Sri Lankan investigation into the attack is in its early stages. New Zealand has not yet seen any intelligence upon which such an assessment might be based.

While it was always possible the Sri Lankan bombings could be in some way linked to the Christchurch shootings I doubt that is the whole explanation.

Finding seven people wiling to be suicide bombers, training and equipping them and planning and carrying out a co-ordinated attack would take time, weeks perhaps, but likely months. Christchurch could just be being used as a convenient excuse, with the connection being used to stir up division and fear.

ABC News:  ISIS claims responsibility for Sri Lanka Easter bombings that killed over 300

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a wave of coordinated bombings at churches and high-end hotels across Sri Lanka.

The terrorist organization offered no evidence to support that assertion, which was initially announced in a statement in Arabic published by its Amaq news agency on Tuesday, saying the attackers were “among the fighters of the Islamic State,” according to a translation by SITE Intelligence Group, a company that tracks extremist groups.

ISIS later issued a longer, formal statement identifying the seven suicide bombers who detonated explosive-laden vests at the churches and hotels and a housing complex on Sunday.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe acknowledged the claim during a press conference in the capital, Colombo.

“All that we knew earlier is that there were foreign links and that this could not have been done just locally,” Wickremesinghe said. “There has been training done and a coordination which we [have] not seen earlier.”

According to multiple U.S. sources briefed on the investigation, ISIS is believed to have been involved in the Sri Lanka attacks in a supportive capacity, but it’s not clear to what degree.

There is always a risk of escalation of terrorism. Violent extremists aim to generate as much publicity and provoke as much fear as possible. Terrorism was established as a global threat with the 9-11 attacks in New York in 2001, and the subsequent retaliation by the US in Iraq that began in 2003 but spread to other countries in the Middle East.

Violence begets violence. There will always be a risk of mass shootings, of bombings, and of other atrocities, but the best way to minimise the risks is to fight violence and provocation with peace and dignified defiance, along with vigilant security systems.

We know that ISIS and other violent extremists are intent on provoking bigger, wider conflict. That risks of that must be minimised, which means minimising irrational and over the top reactions.