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:




Terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka – more than 200 killed

The death toll in the multiple bomb attacks against Christian targets in Sri Lanka is now over 200.

Already prominent on Twitter are complaints that because Christians were the target the media has been ‘silent’.

Obviously CNN haven’t been silent. It was the lead on 1 News last night (not long after the attacks occurred) –

– and leading ‘Today’s Top Stories’:

Lead news on other New Zealand media sites:



NZ Herald:

Only Newshub has a more prominent story – promoting their own programme about ‘stars’ that hardly anyone has heard of dancing, but they also cover the Sri Lankan attacks:

Some useful information here:

I’m so shook about what is happening in Sri Lanka, I’m not sure what to do. I’ve just been sitting here staring at Twitter like a helpless goof. I thought I would provide just a snapshot of the country for people unfamiliar:

Sri Lanka is massively ethno-religiously complex and a lot of reporting is likely to get it wrong.

Of the 20-22 million people in Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese comprise the majority ethnic group, with 74%. They are predominately Buddhist and speak Sinhala.

The Tamil community in Sri Lanka is made up of Sri Lankan Tamils (12.6 percent) and Indian Tamils (5.6 percent), most of whom are Hindu, but with a significant number of Christians (mostly Catholic). They speak Tamil.

The Muslims of Sri Lanka make up about 7 percent of the population. They speak Tamil, but don’t see themselves as ETHNICALLY Tamil. This has put the community in the crosshairs of many militant groups on all sides.

There have been rumours of Muslims in the country being radicalized and groups being funded by KSA/gulf states since at least the early 90s (including the group that is being linked to this attack). And it has been used as an excuse to preemptively attack Muslim communities

With this attack, the target selection doesn’t seem to point to Buddhist extremists (not sure what they would get out of killing tourists).

I would also be very careful using certain media sources out of India, random Facebook pages, and even some Sri Lankan media outlets and government officials as the sole source of info.


National emergency housing problems

There is an escalating emergency housing problem, and escalating risks for the Government as embarrassing details emerge.

Newshub: Government blows the budget on emergency housing

The Government has had a massive blowout in emergency housing grants, spending almost four times its annual budget in just three months.

As part of an overall $345m investment in emergency housing, the Government only budgeted $2m per year for an estimated 1400 emergency housing grants – which pay for urgent motel stays for families in need.

But in the December quarter alone, the Ministry of Social Development spent $7.7m on emergency housing grants.

There were 8860 grants in the final three months of 2016 – which is more than six times the Government’s expectations.

Social Housing Minister Amy Adams says funding will be topped up from Crown funds in the same way benefits are.

“We’re not going to run out of money, nor will people miss out,” she said. “While demand has been higher, which we’ve been very upfront about, the grant will be available to anyone who is eligible.”

The December quarter was the first to be properly recorded by the Ministry of Social Development.

“The $2 million was what officials predicted might be needed – remembering that this was the first time we’d established the grant, so it was always going to be a forecast,” Ms Adams said.

In a briefing to the Incoming Minister of Social Development, MSD warns the additional demand is “creating pressures”.

“The high level of demand for emergency housing has seen higher than expected numbers of households being supported to stay in motels and other forms of commercial accommodation,” it said.

This is embarrassing for the Government. They didn’t do enough soon enough.

The pressures on housing are also creating funding pressures plus pressures on National in an election year.

Newshub: Government counts homeless in tourism stats

The Government has been counting homeless people living in motels in its tourism statistics.

Statistics Minister Mark Mitchell has confirmed official tourism numbers include people who are being put into hostels or motels through emergency housing special needs grants.

The Statistics New Zealand Accommodation Survey is used as a measure of tourism levels, with the definition used to define the domestic tourists “one New Zealander spending one night at an establishment”.

However when Newshub asked tourism minister Paula Bennett if homeless were included, she said no.

“No, because they’re not tourists. Sorry, I’m not sure what you’re asking.

“No they’re not included in the tourism stats for accommodation.”

The Government are looking increasingly out of touch and too slow to respond to housing issues, especially emergency housing.

RNZ: PM responds to criticism over housing crisis

English can’t easily talk down the severity of the problems or the embarrassment.