( Written at the request of the Editor of the “Economic Times”, New Delhi )
Some WikiLeaks documents giving details of the interrogation of some Al Qaeda suspects detained by the US at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba reportedly allege that these detenus had stayed in the premises of the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) in Delhi while waiting to get Pakistani visas from the Pakistani mission in New Delhi for going to Pakistan for training.
These documents describe their association with the TJ in the Delhi area as an “ Al Qaeda cover story”---meaning that while they were from Al Qaeda, they described themselves as members of the TJ in order to conceal their association with Al Qaeda. There has also been an allegation linking the TJ with the explosions in some suburban trains of Mumbai in July,2006, in which nearly about 200 innocent civilians were killed. These allegations have been denied by a spokesman of the TJ in Delhi, who has reportedly questioned the authenticity of the documents.
The TJ is a very popular organization of voluntary Islamic preachers with a large following among the Muslims of the sub-continent. Its preachers travel to different countries having a Muslim population to hold classes in the Holy Koran. It says its aim is to make Muslims better Muslims. Its office-bearers and preachers lead a simple life and avoid any ostentation.
The branches of the TJ in Pakistan and Bangladesh have come to adverse notice from time to time for association with jihadi terrorist organizations such as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), which are members of the International Islamic Front For Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People formed by the late Osama bin Laden in 1998.
As an organization of preachers of Islam who lead an austere life, it enjoys some respect in many countries of the world having a Muslim population and this enables its preachers to easily obtain visas for travel to different countries.
The TJ of Pakistan came to adverse notice for the first time during Mr.Nawaz Sharif’s first tenure as the Prime Minister (1990-93). Lt. Gen.Javed Nasir, the then Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was allegedly associated with the TJ. He had to be sacked under US pressure in 1993 because of the suspicion that he had links with the Afghan Mujahideen.
After his sacking, he became an active member of the TJ and used to go on preaching missions to different countries with the TJ preachers. In the 1990s, sections of the Pakistani media such as the “News”, the “”Frontier Post” and the “Newsline” came out with a number of stories alleging that trained cadres of jihadi terrorist organizations such as the HUM were obtaining visas by posing as preachers of the TJ and traveling to other countries for recruiting young Muslims for being trained in Pakistan before being used in acts of terrorism.
The TJ developed a large following in Chechnya and Dagestan in Russia, in Somalia and some African countries. The intelligence agencies of these countries strongly suspected that terrorist organizations based in Pakistan were using the cover provided by the preaching activities of the TJ for creating sleeper cells in the Muslim communities of different countries.
They allegedly black-listed the TJ and banned the issue of visas to its preachers. The active association of Lt.Gen.Javed Nasir with the TJ added to their suspicions.
The TJ office-bearers in Pakistan and Bangladesh have strongly denied these allegations and suspicions as an attempt to discredit an organization of genuine preachers of Islam as an associate of jihadi terrorist organizations.
While the TJ of Pakistan as an organization has not come to notice for its association with any act of terrorism, many suspects belonging to jihadi terrorist organizations, who were arrested and interrogated in different countries, were alleged to have participated in the preaching missions of the TJ of Pakistan.
In view of this, there is a big question mark over the activities of the TJ of Pakistan and Bangladesh and they are reportedly under close watch in many countries. Following the suburban train explosions in Mumbai in July 2006, there were allegations that organizations such as the LET and the HUJI had started using the cover of the TJ for diverting the suspicion of the security agencies away from them. This has been strongly denied by those associated with the TJ of India which is not looked upon in other countries with the same suspicion as the TJ of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
It is possible that some of Al Qaeda suspects who came to New Delhi to obtain Pakistani visas might have used the premises of the TJ for their stay and projected themselves as preachers of the TJ in order to avoid any scrutiny of their links with Al Qaeda and its affiliates. (11-5-11)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India,New Delhi )