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Warnings about growing extremism went unheeded, Salley and ACJU rep. tell PSC

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  • Clerics and WP Governor Azath Salley met then-Def. Min. Secy in to hand over CDs containing Zahran’s speeches in January
  • Both parties claim they had warned Defence authorities of extremists with ISIS leanings over the years
  • They also publicly aired views against Zahran and his group

By Chandani Kirinde

A group of Muslim clerics, along with then-Western Province Governor Azath Salley, had met with then-Defence Ministry Secretary Hemasiri Fernando in January this year, and handed over two CDs containingthe speeches of NTJ leader Mohamed Zahran, who masterminded the Easter Sunday bomb attacks, a Parliamentary Committee was told yesterday.

Former Western Province Governor Azath Salley – Pic by Chamila Karunarathne

All Ceylon Jamiathul Ulama President Moulavi Mohammed Rizwi, and former Western Province Governor Azath Salley, who appeared as witnesses before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the attacks, said the meeting was one of many held with Defence authoritiessince 2014, to apprise them of the growing influence of extremist groups among Muslim youth in Sri Lanka in particular.

“The CDs contained footage of Zahran’s sermons, in which he was speaking in Tamil and espousing the cause of ISIS and inciting Muslim people,” Moulavi Rizwi said. Zahran was one of the two suicide bombers who blew themselves up at the Shangri-La Hotel on 21April.

Former Governor Salley, who appeared as the first witness at yesterday’s sittings, said that for years he has been warning of the threats posed by fundamentalist elements operating among the Muslim community.“In 2017, I called publicly for the arrest of Zahran while I was on a TV show. I called for his arrest after he led marches in the Eastern Province using the ISIS banner, but adequate measures were not taken against his group,” he said.

Salley said that about ten days before the attacks, he had participated in a meeting with President Maithripala Sirisena in Batticaloa, where he had met IGP Pujith Jayasundera. “I informed the IGP of a splinter group of the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jama’ath (SLTJ), operating in the Malwana area under the name Ceylon Thowheed Jama’ath. The IGP called an ASP, and instructed the latter to take preventive measures. The ASP had said in response that he cannot stop people from practicing their religion.Then I pointed out to him that to conduct prayers, there should be at least 40 persons, but these were groups of four or five who rent houses and conduct prayers. They too are a threat to national security,” Salley said.

 He also lamented about the plight that the Muslim community has fallen into since the attacks, and asked the Committee to intervene to stop the spread of hate speech against Muslims.

ACJU President Moulavi Mohammed Rizwi said his organisation had been warning relevant authorities of the dangers posed by Muslim extremistssince 2014.

He said that on 3 January, he was in the delegation that met with then-DefenceMinistry Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, to warn of the dangers that Zahran was posing to the country with his extremist views. Moulavi Rizvi showed a photo to the Committee, taken at the meeting with Fernando, as part of the evidence.

The Moulavi said he was among one of the first to speak publicly of the links between Zahran and ISIS, which he did on a radio program aired over SLBC, following which he was declared an infidel by a person named Adhil, who is now in custody in connection with the Easter Sunday attacks.

“We did not have protection from the security establishments against the threats from extremists in our community. We voluntarily came forward against them, but our warnings were not heeded. We waged an ideological jihad against the extremists, because they were against the motherland. We voluntarily published books and other publications against extremists,” the ACJU official said, while showing the copies of publications to the Committee.

He said the terrorist attack was carried out by a small group, as a result of which all the people were suffering, particularly the Muslims. “We have fully cooperated with the authorities and rendered all assistance we can to track down those linked to this group, and we will continue to do so,” he said.

Committee members who were present at yesterday’s sittings were Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Minister Ravi Karunanayake, Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa, Prof. Ashu Marasinghe, Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka, Dr. Jayampathy Wickremeratne and M.A. Sumanthiran.


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