By Chandani Kirinde
Intelligence officers were tipped about the possible whereabouts of Zahran Hashim about a month before the 21 April attacks and were also given a telephone number of the terror attack mastermind’s brother in a bid to help track him down, a witness before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) inquiring into the incidents said yesterday.
Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath President A. K. Hisham said that his group tipped off government intelligence operatives regularly since 2014/2015 about Zahran.
“I provided information about Zahran and his groups to intelligence contacts. When we got information that he was in the Kuliyapitiya area, we gave the tip-off. We also managed to get a telephone number of Zahran’s brother and gave it to Army intelligence so that they could track him by tapping the phone,” Hisham said.
He said SLTJ members in the Nintavur, Akkaraipattu had heard that Zahran was holding clandestine meetings in the area about a month before the 21 April attacks. “There were reports that he was travelling in a Prado. This information, too, was given to a military intelligence contact,” he said.
Hisham said that the CID and other intelligence agencies have been in touch with them over the years and sought information about Zahran, who was on their radar after he started preaching violence against other Muslim sects around 2014/2015.
“Zahran did not say in public that he was with the ISIS, but he preached violence and spoke of setting up the Islamic State here. His dress and style promoted the IS brand. Even before 2016, we had provided information to the police. We had given them videos, CDs, and other documents. In 2017, we warned the intelligence members of Zahran after he began to advocate the killing of non-Muslims.”
Hisham said it was frustrating that their warnings were not heeded. “The police could have at least sent a picture of Zahran to every police station and been vigilant. Nothing of that sort happened. Even when a small shop is robbed, the CCTV videos are released to media and people are asked to be vigilant. But there was no warning of Zahran and possible danger from him.”
He said that there was absolutely no connection between the SLTJ and Zahran even though the terrorist leader had formed an organisation called the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), due to which people had begun to suspect all groups that have the word ‘Thowheed’ are terrorist groups.
Hisham said that the SLTJ and affiliated groups abhor violence ad extremism.
“We teach the public what we are convinced of. That is our right. We do not preach violence. The so-called traditional Muslims attack us as they are against what we preach.”
“We are the ones who fought against extremism. We are the ones who supported the Government and its intelligence. Now we are branded as extremists,” Hashim said.
Hisham also distanced himself from allegations that he was working with former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. “We have no links with Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In 2013, we even published articles accusing him of setting Bodu Bala Sena against Muslims.”