NTJ Training Camp at Al Zuhaira Madrasa School
By Buddhika Samaraweera
It will not by any means be an exaggeration to state that children are one of the key factors in determining the future of a country. Certain attitudes that develop among children directly affect both the progress and destruction of any country irrespective of race, religion or any other differences.
If any child goes on the wrong path, their parents as well as everyone else around them have a primary responsibility to put them right because, it is not only their family that develops from one well-guided child, while it is not just their family that is ruined by one misguided child. The whole of society will have to experience the consequences of both.
Therefore, the adults should always guide children on the right path and should not cultivate destructive attitudes in their minds. It is our ultimate responsibility to cultivate progressive attitudes among children and if any individual or group tries to turn innocent children into extremists or terrorists by claiming it to be for the sake of religion they believe in, there is almost no such barbaric act. Our duty is to protect children who are preparing to take on the future not only in a country but in the whole world.
Affirming, there are already a large number of groups in Sri Lanka who try to pursue their goals, even by sacrificing the future of innocent children, it was recently revealed that National Thowheed Jama’at (NTJ) leader Zaharan Hashim and his associates had been conducting a training camp for more than four years at the Al Zuhaira Madrasa School in Pomparippu, Puttalam, which is registered under the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs (DMRCA).
They have also provided training to a selected group of students at the school on the use of T-56 firearms and hand grenade making.
This was revealed, when Sub Inspector of Police (SI) Srimal Sanjeewa of the CID, who was investigating the training camps run by Zaharan and his group, testified before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing into the bombings on Easter Sunday.
According to the witness, students of this school were aged between 12-16 years and were engaged in its education full time. Responding to a question as to whether the school had facilitated them to sit for the General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level and Advanced Level examinations, the witness said that students had privately applied for the examinations.
Also, 4 permanent teachers including its Principal and 7 temporary teachers have been teaching in the school. SI Sanjeewa further said, a sum of around Rs. 4,000 per month had been charged from each student and that school’s maintenance has been carried out with that money.
He said the team, including Zaharan, had run a training camp at this school from early 2015 to 2019. When asked by PCoI members whether all students had participated in the training camp, he said, about 26 students who had entered the school through an organisation named ‘Save the Pearl’, had participated in the training camp.
Members of the PCoI also questioned the witness, as to whether the suspects involved in the bombings on Easter Sunday had participated in the training camp. In response, SI Sanjeewa said Zaharan, Mohamed Ibrahim Ilham Ahmed who carried out the suicide bombing at the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo, his wife Fatima Jiffri who detonated a bomb at a house at Mahawila Gardens in Dematagoda, Zaharan’s brother Rilwan Hashim, Pulasthini Mahendran alias Sara Jasmine, the wife of Atchchi Muhammadu Muhammadu Hastun who carried out the suicide bombing at St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya and Mohamed Noufer alias Noufer Moulavi who is believed to be Zaharan’s mentor, have participated in the camp.
Accordingly, Zaharan and Ilham had given extremist lectures to students attending the camp and Fatima had trained them in Karate. SI Sanjeewa also added, investigations revealed that Ilham had trained the students on using Type-56 firearms and the making of hand grenades.
Meantime, SI Sanjeewa testified about a training camp conducted by Zaharan and his associates in Trincomalee. The training camp had been run by Mohamed Ibrahim Sadiq Abdul Haq, one of the main suspects in the incident of several Buddha statues being vandalised in the Mawanella area. The witness said, the land on which the training camp was run, belonged to a friend of Sadiq’s, Haja Mohideen, with an area of about 6 acres and that it had been revealed that training on handling Type- 56 firearms had been given at the camp.
It was also revealed before the PCoI that a person named M. Mastakeen who acted as the NTJ treasurer was arrested after the bombings on Easter Sunday and has now been released on bail. Ruwan Kumara Ranawaka Pathirana of the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) informed the PCoI in this regard.
According to him, on 27 March, 2017, former DIG of the TID, Nalaka de Silva has received a letter from Alhaj Abdul Jawaadh Alim Waliyyullah Trust regarding the extremist activities of the NTJ.
The TID had started to investigate the matter and the Police Special Branch was informed to provide the TID with any information they had about the NTJ and its leader Zaharan Hashim on 25 May, 2017, to which the Special Branch had replied on 31 May, 2017.
Testifying further, Ranawaka went on to say “even at that time, the Special Branch had substantial information about the NTJ. Special Branch, in their report which said that the NTJ was a welfare organisation which was registered with the Kattankudy Divisional Secretariat on 15 December, 2015,”
He also said by that time the NTJ had not been registered with the Ministry of Muslim Affairs and that there was no supervision on their activities. When it was registered, NTJ Chairman was M.Y.M. Thawfeeq Moulavi while its Secretary was Zaharan. Zaharan’s brother, Mohomad Zeini alias Sinna Moulavi had been its Assistant Secretary while its Treasurer was M. Mastakeen.
Out of them, Zaharan and Zeini were killed on 21 April 2019 and Thawfeeq Moulavi is now in Batticaloa prison. Mastakeen is currently out on bail, Pathirana said. NTJ has also had six Committee members including M.M.M. Fairooz, G.L.M. Martaz, M. Niyaz, M.C.M. Rilwan, M. Ajwan and Mohomad Badurdeen Mohideen alias Army Mohideen, the witness said.
“Rilwan who is another brother of Zaharan was also killed in the explosion that took place at a house in Sainthamaruthu area on 26 April 2019. Fairooz and Niyaz are in Batticaloa prison and no one is aware of what happened to Martaz and Ajwan, he said.
The Special Branch, in their letter has also said that by mid 2017, NTJ had about 250 members from approximately 75 families. In addition, there were a large number of Muslims who donated money to NTJ after listening to the preachings of Zaharan, he added.
He also said following the foreign information received that Zaharan and his followers were planning to carry out a terror attack, Kalmunai sub-division of the TID was instructed to investigate and report on it.
The witness said, the then Director of the TID, DIG Waruna Jayasundara had instructed his unit to arrest Zaharan, his brother Rilwan Hashim, Milhan, Shahid Mawlavi and Shahid whose names were mentioned in the foreign information, before 1 May, 2019.
As the suspects were living in the Eastern Province, we were instructed to seek the assistance of the Kalmunai sub-division of the TID, he added.
Accordingly, the OIC of the Kalmunai sub-division had sent a report on 17 April, 2019, but it did not provide any helpful information in arresting the suspects, he said and added, it contained information about two places where Rilwan had previously settled. It was also reported that they had received information that Rilwan, at the time, was hiding somewhere following a clash that took place in the Kattankudy area in March 2017.
Responding to a question from the members of the PCoI as to whether the report contained any references to the incident where Zaharan and his team had detonated a bomb placed on a motorcycle on 16 April, 2019, in Palamunai area in Kattankudy, the witness said nothing was mentioned about it in the report. I came to know about it after the bombings, he added.
Meantime, a Sufi Moulavi who testified before the PCoI on 2 September said more than seven Islamist extremist organisations, even after the bombings on Easter Sunday, are operational even more than they did in the past due to an unwise decision made by former President Maithripala Sirisena.
He said extremists were still delivering extremist speeches even after the bombings. Recalling that there were about nine powerful Islamist extremist groups operating in Sri Lanka at the time of bombings, the witness said Sirisena took measures to ban only two of them. The remaining seven extremist organisations are operating better than before using fake names, he noted.
He also said if the country needs to be liberated from Islamist extremism, the present All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) organisation, Shura council and other leading Islamist extremist organisations and sects should be completely banned.
Recalling that, the early members of the ACJU organisation, which was formed in 1922, were traditional Muslims, he noted that around 1971, the Thowheed Jamaat, the Tabligh Jamaat, and various Wahhabi groups were able to seize power. He also stressed, at present, it is an institution based entirely on Wahhabism and none of its members are traditional Muslims.
Meanwhile, in response to a question raised by the PCoI on the position of the ACJU on traditional Muslims’ rituals such as the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday and worshipping tombstones, he said, members of the ACJU never approved of worshipping tombstones and that they would not do anything in celebration of the Prophet’s birthday.
The people should be asked whether it is the extremists or the traditional Muslims who should bear the membership of the ACJU and all the present members of the ACJU should be removed. Then authentic Muslims will give a proper answer to that, he noted.
The DMRCA is the leading institution which is tasked with making many important decisions pertaining to the Muslim community. However, Adam Bawa Mohamed Ashroff, the DMRCA Director said it was a highly politicised institution due to certain officials’ attitude that Muslims are a minority and all their demands must be met.
He also said as a result of that, most of the work that needed to be done through the DMRCA had been carried out without following due procedures. Ashroff has been serving as the DMRCA Director since January this year and was testifying before the PCoI on 3 September.
He further said, as the DMRCA is currently under the Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs, it has a tendency to operate according to the prescribed procedures.
Responding to a query by a member of the PCoI as to whether the DMRCA was in any way involved in the administration of the ACJU, the witness said although the ACJU had been registered under the DMRCA, it did not get involve in its administration.