By Chandani Kirinde
Mohamed Zahran, the man who masterminded the Easter Day terror attacks, had prohibited students from standing up for the National Anthem, threatened teachers who organised school concerts, and created a fear psychosis among the people in general, a representative of the Kattankudy Federation of Mosques and Muslims Institutions told a Parliament Committee on Tuesday.
Aboo Saliah Uwais, the Federation’s representative who testified before the Parliament Select Committee (PSC) appointed to look into the terror attacks also said Zahran had a troubled childhood, being expelled, first from school while he was in grade five, and later from two institutions he had enrolled to get a certificate as a qualified Moulavi.
“First he was expelled from the Jamiathul Falah Arabic College in Kattankudy when he was in Grade Five, as he was causing problems in the classroom. Later, in 2005, he was expelled from the institute he enrolled to get the Moulavi certificate, due to his bad character and his tendency towards violence. He left Kattankudy at that time, and had gone to Kottaramulla in Kuliyapitiya area, where he had enrolled in another such institute, but he had been expelled from there as well,” Uwais told the Committee.
Zahran had returned to Kattankudy in 2006, and started an organisation named Dharul Athar, and for a while coexisted with the people, acting like a moderate person and taking part in charity work such as blood donations etc.
However, Zahran had again began to gather small groups and to incite students and youth, following which the Federation summoned him for a meeting, which he did not attend.
“Zahran was an orator, and he was able to speak in Tamil and entice the youth. The Federation knew he was on the wrong track, and we took several measures, including stopping him from registering his organisation, stopping him from using loudspeakers to some meeting etc.,” the witness disclosed.
The run-ins with Zahran, who the witness said commanded only a “negligible” amount of support from within Kattankudy, had intensified around 2010-2011, when he had managed to entice students to not stand up for the National Anthem, or when teachers entered the classrooms.
He had continued to operate in the area, even though there were regular disputes with other Muslims who did not subscribe to his form of Islam. “In 2015, he went missing for three months, and later we got the information he had disguised as an Islamic preacher and gone to Japan. He returned and began his preaching, and had a dispute with members of Dharul Athar, the organisation that he himself had started, and was expelled from that as well. It was after this that he started the National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ), the group that carried out the terror attacks.
With the creation of NTJ, Zahran had started to openly threaten and criticise people. Among them were the Principal and teachers of the Meera Balika Vidyalaya in Kattankudy, who had organised a school pageant in which students had taken part in a singing event.
“This event was held on 14 November 2015.We tried to come to a settlement before going to the Police, but he did not want to cooperate. Due to the intensity of the threats, the Principal of the School lodged a complaint with the Kattankudy Police in December. No arrests were made, but I understand that the two parties were advised and the matter was settled.”
By 2016, Zahran had started pledging his allegiance to ISIS openly. One such was at a meeting held in the Urban Council Hall in Kattankudy, where he had told people to denounce democracy, saying it was against Islam. “I am aware that State intelligence officials were also keeping watch on him that day,” Uwais said.
In February 2017, during a meeting that the members of the Federation were holding in Kattankudy, two of Zahran’s followers had come into the hall and challenged them, posing questions on their religious practices, thus disrupting the meeting. “We learnt after the terror attacks that those men were two of the suicide bombers, one who blew himself at Sainthamaruthu, and the other at the Zion Church in Batticaloa.”
The incident that resulted in Zahran going underground was in March 2017, when he held a meeting close to the Sufi sect’s place of worship, causing provocation and leading to a clash. “Zahran’s supporters attacked people with knives, clubs, sticks, and swords, and many were injured. The Police arrived at the scene, and initially apprehend two persons, but Zahran was not among them.
Later, several others were arrested and charged under the Dangerous Weapons Act. An open warrant was issued for Zahran, as he had disappeared from the area. Zahran was not seen in public by the people of Kattankudy since the incident that day. We heard of him again when the terror attacks happened,” Uwais said.