“When justice is delayed for the Easter Sunday attack victims, you have not yet come forward to prioritize it, considering it a national issue and to raise a strong voice for us,” Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, said on April 21 at a special event held to commemorate the second anniversary of the terror attacks.
The ‘you’ referred in the Cardinal’s statement is the Muslim community. Although the cardinal tried to say that the Muslim community had not yet raised their voice against the Easter attack, the Muslim community began to raise their voice against a group of people, including Saharan, two to three years before the bombings that killed over 250 people.
Opposition from the Maulavi
Saharan Hashim, who studied up to grade five at Al-Amin College, Kattankudy, went to Tammi ul-Falar Madrasa School in Kattankudy to study Islam. He then went to Kurunegala, where his first teacher, Naufer Maulavi, was married, attended a school in the area, and later became a teacher at the Islamic Center in Kattankudy.
Due to Saharan’s extremist statements at the time, other Maulavis at the school protested and got him expelled from the institution.
People of Kattankudy
Saharan, Saharan’s teacher Naufar Maulavi and others later formed an organization called ‘Darul Adar’. Around 2012, Saharan is said to have left Darul Adar.
Subsequently, the National Tawheed Jamaat was formed under his leadership. Saharan’s brothers, Mohammad Qazi Mohammad Zaini, Mohammad Qazi Mohammad Rilwan and a group of young people between the ages of 15 and 25 were the first to join the organization. Kattankudy Muslims protested against Saharan after the group began spreading extremist ideologies. Its culmination arrived in 2017.
Law in favour of Saharan
Rauf Maulavi of Sunnatu Wal Jamaat and others had organized a lecture on March 10, 2017 at Aliyar Junction, Kattankudy. Saharan and a group of his close associates, dressed in yellow shirts with the name ‘National Tawheed Jamaat’, came to the spot and told them to stop the program. It is said that the number of members of the National Tawheed Jamaat at that time was close to 60. Saharan and his men then took swords and clubs and attacked the crowd.
(The following photo shows how the Saharan came to attack the meeting.)
Two were hospitalized with stab wounds. Police say that 10 persons from both sides were arrested in the first two days and produced before court in connection with the incident. But locals allege that the law was not enforced against Saharan. After that conflict, Muslims’ dissent against Saharan arose.
An organized program
Three days after the incident, Muslims in Kattankudy staged a protest against Saharan’s group.
Their protest posters mentioned Saharan’s extremism. Participants in the protest criticized Saharan’s extremist activities. They also demanded that Saharan’s organization be banned. At the same time, Muslims launched a massive campaign against Saharan through Facebook.
Not looking away from the guilt
Muslims raised their voices against Saharan in this manner two to three years before the Easter attack. It is not a trivial matter for a religious group to protest against another group of their own religion as extremists. It’s something that usually does not happen. However, Sri Lankan Muslims spoke out against Saharan.
Saharan stacks up with money
Muslims complained to the police about Saharan. In general, Muslims in Kattankudy and Kalmunai are of the opinion that complaints against Saharan have not been fairly investigated. Although some sources said that Saharan had avoided Kattankudy after the March 2017 incident, several Kattankudy residents said that he had visited Kattankudy from time to time. People of Kattankudy believe that the Saharan began to become rich during this period.
Silence from the Intelligence Service
Surprisingly, Sri Lankan intelligence did not pay due attention to Saharan even when Kanthankudy Muslims were protesting on the streets against Saharan, showing pictures of him, claiming that Saharan was an extremist, and raising awareness on social media.
Even more astonishing is the fact that the Cardinal, who says Muslims should grieve for the attack, did not report intelligence about Saharan when Muslims pointed it out before the attack, and did not say anything specific about the security forces for not taking appropriate action.
Who prevented the second attack?
Following the attack, the primary team was said to be preparing for a second attack. It failed with the explosion at the Saindamarudu house in Kalmunai. Muslims in the area have learned that an unidentified group of Muslims had gathered at a house in Saindamarudu, Kalmunai. When one of them went to inquire about this, someone in the house had threatened him.
Accordingly, a Muslim resident had given information to the police about the Saindamarudu house where the Saharan’s brothers were staying. The group, including Saharan’s brother, had detonated the bomb in that house following concerns raised by the Muslims in the area. It is said that the people in the house had even thrown away money asking them not to divulge information about themselves. These were also reported in the media. But the cardinal is not paying attention to these incidents and is pointing the finger at the ‘Muslims.
Muslim organizations in Sri Lanka have also spoken out against extremism before the attack. There have been such instances even after the attack. It is problematic that none of that has come to the attention of the cardinals
Cardinal down a wrong path
The Cardinal should not focus on if the Muslims are shedding tears or not over the attack. Cardinal’s attention should be paid to why the Sri Lankan Intelligence Service did not act on this until an attack took place even when Muslims have been flagging Saharan’s actions for two to three years, saying that Saharan’s group are preparing for an extremist cause, and asking to investigate on how Saharan got money.
There are several police intelligence units in Sri Lanka. In addition, there are intelligence units in the three-armed forces. Even so, why doesn’t the Cardinal question the inability of the Intelligence Services to get the right information about such an attack? Public officials maintained with public money as well as religious leaders with public trust who have some civilian power cannot wait still, pointing their fingers at another religious sect.
There can be extremists among any national or religious group. As the Cardinal has said, it could be very easy to manipulate those extremists into another political agenda. So, it would be more important for people of the same religion to be aware of the extremists in their religion.
Muslim community protests against Saharan
Muslim Community’s protest on social media against Saharan