Except intelligence officials, national security experts and the wary among police officials, not many Indians would have heard of the name Tablighi Jamaat [TJ] before the explosive Nizamuddin coronavirus episode gave it the publicity it studiously avoided. On the face of it, TJ’s six principles suggest Islamic piety in its extreme. But that is merely its cosmetic exterior, inviting the innocent and idealistic young Muslims into an ideological line that ultimately turns them as terrorists. The less known and dangerous side of the century-old TJ began unfolding the world over since 2001, but not in India.
Nursery and gateway to terror
“TJ is another system driver and integral element of Islamist Violent Non-State Actors’ internal dynamics; in many cases it has acted as nursery for indoctrinating Islamist terrorists,” writes Dr Farhan Zahid, a Pakistani counter-terrorism and security expert, in his analysis titled “Tablighi Jamaat and its links with terrorism” [Foreign Analysis March 2015 Centre Francais de Reserche Sur le Renseignement]. Dr Farhan says, TJ “in a way plays the role of recruiter and sympathiser [for terrorism]. TJ’s congregation allows radical elements worldwide to meet and discuss violent activities and provide them with the best opportunity to coordinate”. Adding “many of its followers have dual and overlapping membership with jihadist groups”, Dr Farhan cites references and says “TJ has now been considered as a ‘gateway to terrorism’.
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Terror record in Europe, US
Dr Farhan says since 2001, traces of links have been found between TJ and Islamists involved in acts of terror. Shoe bomber Richard Reid who attempted a trans-Atlantic airline bombing , Jose Padilla who tried dirty bomb manufacturing  in New York city, Barcelona terror plot  and the arrest of American Taliban John Walker in Afghanistan  were all linked to TJ. Its French Muslim recruits were found involved in planning attacks by the Portland Seven and the Lackawanna Six in the US.In his analysis titled “Tablighi Jamaat: Jihad’s stealthy Legions” in Middle East Quarterly [Jan 8, 2016] Alex Alexiev writes that as 80 per cent of Islamist extremists have come from Tablighi ranks and the French intelligence calls TJ the ‘antechamber of fundamentalism’. In his investigative story titled “French Islamic group offers rich soil for militancy’ in The New York Times [April 29, 2005] Craig Smith lists Zacarias Moussaoui [charged in the US 9/11 terror]; Herve Djamel Loiseau, who died fleeing the 2001 American bombardment of Tora Bora in Afghanistan; Djamel Beghal, an admitted Al-Qaeda member, who was convicted in 2005 for plotting to blow up the US Embassy in Paris, as TJ terror activists of French origin. Freth Burton and Scott Stewart, writing in an analysis titled “Tablighi Jamaat: An Indirect Line to Terrorism” in the Stratfor Global Intelligence Security Weekly, say that 12 out of the 14 men arrested in a pre-emptive raid on a mosque in Barcelona for plotting to attack targets belonged to TJ, adding that TJ’s name figured in the 2005 London underground bombings in which 52 people died and also in the attempted bombings in London, Glasgow and Scotland. Assistant FBI Director [US] Michael Heimbach says that TJ has significant presence in the US, and Al-Qaeda was found to have recruited TJ adherents [New York Post Dec 27, 2015].
Turned Pak into terror hub
The book titled On The Abyss — Pakistan After the Coup [Harper Collins Publishers India 2000] authored mainly by Pakistani scholars, diplomats and writers, says that the largely Barelvi Islamic Pakistan, which accepted local variations, including Dargah worship and Sufi traditions, had been hijacked by Deobandi ideology through Tablighi Jamaat, the result of which was the growth of militancy. Khaled Ahmed, former diplomat and editor of Friday Times in Pakistan writes in On The Abyss: “Because of the rise of Deobandi militias…. the [Punjab] province is rapidly losing its Barelvi temperament.” What the authors had prophesied came true in the very next year when Pakistan was found involved in 9/11 attack on the US. Over the years, Pakistan has come to be known as the global terror hub. Says Dr Farhan, “Several mainstream Islamist violent non-state actors have taken their roots from TJ’s indoctrination and on the platform provided by TJ missionaries. It is the Deobandi ideology of TJ which provides potential jihadists a crucial link.”During the 1980s and 1990s, TJ became the recruiter of Islamist radicals for the Afghan war. Dr Farhan points out that Harkat-ul Jihad-al-Islami [HuJI] was formed by former TJ members Qari Saifullah Akhtar and Fazal ur Rahman Kalil along with others. From the HuJI platform emerged other jihadist outfits - Harkat-ul-Mujhahideen [HuM] Jaish-e-Mohammed [JeM], Sipah-e-Sahaba [SSP] and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi [LeJ]. All of them stand declared as terror outfits.
An India Abroad News Service report on April 1, 2020 titled “Tablighi Jamaat shares links with terror outfits”, said: “As per WikiLeaks, some of the 9/11 al-Qaeda suspects detained by the US in Guantanamo Bay had stayed in the Tablighi Jamaat headquarters in Nizamuddin West, New Delhi, years ago. Tablighi Jamaat was also suspected to be involved in the burning of 59 Hindu kar sevaks in 2002 in Godhra, Gujarat, which led to mass communal rioting in the state. According to India’s intelligence and security expert, late B Raman, TJ in Pakistan and Bangladesh gained adverse attention for association with Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and members of the International Islamic Front formed by Osama bin Laden in 1998. Quoting Pakistani newspaper reports from the 1990s, Raman pointed out that the trained cadre of jihadi terrorist organisations like HuM obtained visas by posing as preachers of Tablighi Jamaat and went abroad to recruit young Muslims for terror training in Pakistan. Since millions of TJ proselytisers travel around the world, TJ also developed a large following in Chechnya and Dagestan areas of Russia, Somalia and other African countries. Raman wrote that intelligence agencies of these countries suspected that terror organisations based in Pakistan were using the cover of TJ preaching for creating sleeper cells in different countries. As a result, TJ was black-listed and its preachers denied visas.”
B Raman, one of the most brilliant R&AW officers, passed away in 2013.
In Sri Lanka, too
In a piece titled “The road to Sri Lanka Carnage” on Rediff.com, the well-known security analyst Praveen Swami linked Mohammad Muhsin Nilam, a Sri Lankan, to Zahran Hashim who was responsible for the Colombo bombings. Also known as Abu Shuraya, Nilam was killed in Raqqa, the ISIS capital. Nilam’s story is key to understanding the networks thought to be responsible for the carnage in Colombo. Swami says that Tablighi Jamaat had begun to grow roots among Sri Lankan Muslims from the early 21st century. Swami says, “Educated in Sharia law at Islamabad’s International Islamic University, an institution where Osama bin Laden’s mentor Abdullah Azzam once taught, Nilam had encountered with the Tablighi Jamaat. In 2011, when Nilam returned to his home in Kandy in Sri Lanka, he first worked as part-time Urdu instructor at Colombo University. When he was principal of a school in Galewala, he played a key role in Zahran’s group. Then, in 2014, feigning to go on a pilgrimage with his six children, pregnant wife, and ageing parents, he took them to Turkey and disappeared across the border into Syria. He posted in his Facebook post: “We will kill every man, woman, child, Shia, Sunni, Zoroastrians, Kurds, Christians.” Nilam had recruited for ISIS 36 Sri Lankans, maybe 100, including his friend, Thauqeer Ahmed Thajudeen. Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamaat and Tablighi Jamaat have identical goals and their interests converge. Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamaat is the mentor of Sri Lanka’s National Thowheed Jamaat, which delivered the bombs in Sri Lanka. There is no Thowheed Jamaat outside India and Sri Lanka.
Now, the climax
And now the climax, for the unwary. Where was this noble-looking evil born? India. Who founded it? Indian. Name? Maulana Mohammed Illyasi. When? In 1920s. Where is its global headquarters? Nizamuddin West Delhi! The place of its annual meet in which hundreds of Tablighis from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, China and other coronavirus hotspots participated. The outbreak was astonishingly in control in India till Nizamuddin exploded as a grave and dangerous national threat. TJ with its headquarters in India now functions in some 80 countries with some 80 million adherents.
In a 173-page paper titled “Tablighi Jamaat: Wolf in sheep’s skin [Sept 9, 2018; released to media again after the Nizamuddin episode] Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, a Zionist and multi-award-winning anti-jihadist journalist and a counterterrorism specialist, unravels the massive following of JT and its terror connections the world over. Thousands of TJ teachers from within and outside assemble in India and that is what they did in Nizamuddin. Is it just to memorise the six noble principles or as Dr Farhan says “to discuss and coordinate terror activities”, will never be known in India, as no government has the guts to enter any mosque, thanks to the way secularism is understood in our politics.Unless this limit is breached and the menace is outlawed, innocent Muslims attracted by its cosmetic exterior of Koran cannot be saved from becoming carriers of Kalashnikovs and makers and throwers of lethal bombs. Let the courts decide whether TJ’s right to mentor terror in India also constitutes minority right, as is so far being understood.
The author is a commentator on political and economic affairs