Monday, 12th April 2021

Mystery shrouds Sri Lankan group behind carnage

Colombo, April 23 (IANS): While the Islamic State on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday carnage in Sri Lanka which killed at least 321 people, the needle of suspicion remained pointed towards the little-known local Islamist group, the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ).

Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne on Monday said NTJ was involved in terror attacks. “It is a local organisation. We don’t know whether they are linked to outsiders. All those arrested are locals,” he told the media.

The radical outfit is wrapped in utmost secrecy, with no social media footprint at all.

There is no Facebook Page or Twitter handle. The group’s website is also offline, although it’s not clear if the portal was taken down before or after the Sunday Easter suicide bombings.

There are, however, several Thowheed Jamath (the word Thowheed in Arabic means one god or monotheism) Facebook Pages but NTJ is missing.

For example, created on August 9, 2013, the United States Thowheed Jamath (USTJ) Page on Facebook is active with the latest post on March 3. The group organises preaching on Islam for the Tamil-speaking Muslims in the US.

Created on October 24, 2014, India Thowheed Jamaath (INTJ) Page on Facebook has old posts from 2015.

The Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath (TNTJ), which has denied links with the Sri Lankan outfit NTJ, said it is opposed to Wahhabism which is an hardline Islamic doctrine.

According to TNTJ, it has a sister Islamist organisation called the Sri Lanka Tauheed Jamaat (SLTJ) that “seeks and spreads Islamic knowledge in its purest form”.

The Facebook Page of SLTJ, created on December 20, 2012, has consistently been condemning terror attacks.

A users that goes by the name of Kish Mohamed wrote on SLTJ’s Facebook Page on Tuesday: “How many times you will post the same and if your not guilty then why your keep on posting the same matters again n again.. you divided the Muslims you brought the very simple religion into complicated status before this incident happened…”

Ironically, NTJ — the Tauheed group in focus — is believed to have separated from the SLTJ in 2016.

The NTJ’s leadership was condemned by several Sri Lankan Muslim organisations in 2016 for advocating extreme fundamentalist indoctrination of children, and for clashes with Buddhist monks.

Abdul Razik, one of their leaders, was arrested for inciting racism.

Media reports, citing Indian intelligence agencies, claim that the current NTJ leader is Mohamed Zaharan.

Since the social media presence of Thowheed Jamath groups is so sparse, it is not easy to comprehend what exactly is going on behind the scenes.

The suicide bombings of this mammoth scale is not possible without methodological preparation and use of encrypted digital communication tools as the NTJ is reported to have been in touch with international terror networks.

The highly-encrypted chat-based software and platforms like Tor or Signal have been very popular among terror groups worldwide to communicate and plan attacks while avoiding tracking and surveillance.

In another turn of events, Sri Lanka’s Minister of State for Defence Ruwan Wijewardene on Tuesday claimed that the Easter Sunday suicide bombings were a response to the mass shooting at mosques in Christchurch in New Zealand in March that killed 50 people.

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