Pakistani Tablighi Jamaat trained Turkish jihadists join Al Qaeda


Under the supervision and funding of Pakistani spy agency Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), Pakistani Tablighi Jamaat which has been giving training to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s jihadist brigade of so-called Ottoman Caliphate Army, while after completion of training, these jihadists are directly joining Al Qaeda as well under the disguise of Tablighi Jamaat members are spreading into a number of targeted nations, including India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Maldives, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and the United States and Britain.

According to a recent media exposure, a Turkish jihadist who was trained by Tablighi Jamaat in Pakistan joined Al Qaeda in Syria and tried to raise sentiment favorable to Ottoman caliphate within jihadists. Most importantly, despite series of allegations against Halil Kurtuluş aka Abu Muhammed Ali, a 45-year-old resident of Turkey’s northwestern city of Bursa, he managed getting out of prison repeatedly under direct influence of the Erdoğan regime. Kurtuluş has been shuttling between Turkey and Syria since 2012 and coordinating with Al Qaeda men as well as jihadists from other groups.

Meanwhile, an intelligence source reveals, Pakistan’s Tablighi Jamaat has been specially assigned to give training to jihadists and send them to several countries, including India, for spreading venom of religious hatred as well cooperating with jihadists outfits in the country in executing terrorist attacks. It is also learned that under the direct coordination of ISI, trained Tablighi Jamaat men are infiltrating into a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia.

Stockholm based Nordic Monitor in a report has published several documents proving Pakistani Tablighi Jamaat’s relations with Al Qaeda. The documents revealed by the news site shows Kurtuluş telling his friends about his talks with Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan and how he aspired to create a new jihadist Ottoman Caliphate Army in Syria while fighting with known jihadist groups. His record shows that Kurtuluş was arrested several times, caught at the border, wounded in clashes and jailed three times only to be released every time so that he could resume his jihadist activities.

According to Nordic Monitor documents, Kurtuluş is one of many Turkish jihadists who were allowed to operate in Syrian territory close to the Turkish border while authorities pretended to be cracking down on such networks that send fighters, funds and supplies to armed groups. His case is a classic example of how the criminal justice system in Turkey functions as a revolving door for violent jihadists who were briefly rounded up when the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan feels the heat from the international community or when Turkey gets hit by a major terrorist attack.

His statement taken on March 12, 2018 at a border gendarmerie garrison also reveals how jihadist groups actually work with the Erdoğan government and its proxies in Syria as part of an implicit agreement. He assured border guards that al-Nusra and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham harbored no ill will against Turkey when asked if these jihadist groups deploy fighters, ammunition and explosives on the Turkish border.

The gendarmerie ran a background check on him when he was captured during an attempt to go to Syria illegally and found red flags in the database kept by the gendarmerie intelligence unit. However, in the records obtained from the database of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), Turkey’s main intelligence service, Kurtuluş came out clean, which was strange given how he had been in and out of jail multiple times on al-Qaeda charges.

Kurtuluş had worked as a recruiter for jihadist group Ketibet ul-Taliban, led by Turkish national İsmet Altın (aka Abu Yasir), who had been operating in the Syrian border regions of Latakia, Idlib (especially the town of Atme) and Harem, close to Turkey, since 2012. He set up a special unit called Fedai, a Turkish word of Arabic origin to refer to fighters willing to sacrifice themselves.

Ketibet ul-Taliban worked closely with the al-Nusra Front, and many Turkish fighters who were trained in Ketibet ul-Taliban later moved to al-Nusra. The intelligence documents show that Kurtuluş later tried to form a new jihadist group under the name of Cund Hilafiye Osmaniye (Ottoman Caliphate Army) and enlisted the help of two Turkish nationals identified as Selim Akkuş and Erdoğan Tozduman, both residents of Bursa.

The background profile of Kurtuluş provides some clues as to how he became radicalized. Growing up in a poor family with two sisters, he immediately began to work in the fields after he completed elementary school and spent his teenage years in an auto mechanic’s shop. He was not a particularly religious figure. In fact, he even attempted to take his own life, which is prohibited in Islam, while doing his compulsory military service in Ezincan province.

Upon discharge from the military, he started working in a paint shop and was introduced to the teachings of Tablighi Jamaat in Bursa and started attending their preaching circles in 1999. He got married in 2003 and had a child from the marriage, which fell apart in later years. He was sent to Pakistan to get four months of training in proselytizing delivered by clerics of Tablighi Jamaat. He said he left the group in 2007 when he was prosecuted on al-Qaeda charges and spent eight-and-a-half months in pre-trial detention.

When the conflict started in Syria in 2011, he decided to go there to fight. The intelligence document noted that Kurtuluş took a bus on July 4, 2012 from Bursa to the Turkish border town of Reyhanlı in Hatay province in order to cross into Syria illegally. He eventually settled in Aleppo, fought alongside Ahrar al-Sham, the Sultan Murad Brigade, Liva al-Tawheed (the al-Tawhid Brigade) and the Suqour al-Sham Brigades. He joined in the battles against Syrian regime forces and the Democratic Union Party (PYD)/ Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), according to the documents.

In the fall 2012 he sustained an injury to his left shoulder during clashes with Syrian government forces in Aleppo and returned to Turkey. In 2013 he went back to Syria through the Turkish border province of Kilis and joined the Free Syrian Army (FSA). He got into a traffic accident, broke his leg and had to come back to Turkey for treatment. He was rounded up in an al-Qaeda sweep by the police in Bursa and spent four months in jail but in the end was acquitted of charges.

On November 27, 2014 Kurtuluş attempted to cross into Syria but failed and had to return to Bursa, where he was arrested again, this time on charges of membership in the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He was released again after four months of pretrial detention. Upon his release he tried several ways to get into Syria, but his efforts were unsuccessful.

In June 2017, he was arrested by the police on alleged links to the al-Nusra Front and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. Again, he spent four months in jail and was released. On March 10, 2018 he took a plane to Hatay from Istanbul to make the trip to Syria but was apprehended by border guards as he and others were trying to cross into Syria from the town of Altınözü in Hatay province.

Some of his family members and friends were the subject of charges stemming from their affiliation with al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups. His son-in-law Muart Ergüder was jailed on al-Qaeda terrorism charges and spent seven-and-a-half months in jail. Ergüder went to Syria to join Ahrar al-Sham and later returned to Turkey. His stepson Hasan Huseyin Ekti also went to Syria to fight on November 10, 2015. Ekti was detained twice in 2016 as he tried to cross the Turkish Syrian border illegally but was let go.

Background of Tablighi Jamaat and its affiliates

Leaders of Tablighi Jamaat claim that the movement is strictly non-political in nature, with the main aim of the participants being to work at the grass roots level and reaching out to all Muslims of the world for spiritual development.

Tabligh maintains an international headquarters, the Markaz, in Nizamuddin, Delhi and has several national headquarters to coordinate its activities in over 80 countries. Throughout its history it has sent its members to travel the world, preaching a message of peace and tolerance. It organizes preachers in groups [called Jamaats, meaning Assembly]. Each group, on average, consists of 10 to 12 Muslims who fund themselves in this preaching mission.

The second largest gathering of Muslims after the Hajj [the pilgrimage to Mecca] is known as Bishwa Ijtema, a non political gathering of Muslims from all over the world hosted by the leaders of “International Tabligh Jamaat”. It takes place in Tongi which is on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The Tablighi Jamaat was founded in the late 1920s by the well known scholar Maulana Ilyas [Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhelvi] in the Mewat province of India. The inspiration for devoting his life to Islam came to Ilyas during his second pilgrimage to the Hejaz in 1926. Maulana Ilyas put forward the slogan, ´Aye Musalmano! Musalman bano´ [Urdu] which translates ‘Come O Muslims! Be Muslims’ [in English]. This expressed the central focus of Tablighi Jamaat, which has been renewing Muslim society by renewing Muslim practice in those it feels have lost their desire to devote themselves to Allah and the Islamic prophet, Muhammad.

Maulana Ilyas was a prominent member of the movement and throughout Tabligh’s history there has been a degree of association between scholars of Deoband and Tablighi Jamaat. Tabligh was formed at a time in India when some Muslim leaders feared that Indian Muslims were “losing their Muslim identity to the majority Hindu culture”. Meaning, in India, Tablighi Jamaat was created with the primary agenda of confronting Hindu religious belief.

In 1978, construction of the Tablighi mosque in Dewsbury, England commenced. Subsequently, the mosque became the European headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat.

Ameer [Emir] or Zimmadar are titles of leadership in the movement. The first Ameer, also the founder, was Maulana Ilyas [1885-1944], second was his son Maulana Muhammad Yusuf Kandhalawi and the third was Maulana Inaam ul Hasan. Now there is a shura which includes two leaders: Maulana Zubair ul Hasan and Maulana Saad Kandhalawi. In Pakistan the duties of the Ameer are being served by Haji Abdulwahhab. Maulana Muhammad Zakariya al-Kandahlawi is also among the prestigious personalities of the Jamaat, as he compiled the famous book Fazail-e-Amal.

With the ascent of Maulana Yusuf, Ilyas´ son, as its second emir (leader), the group began to expand activities in 1946, and within two decades the group reached Southwest and Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America. Initially it expanded its reach to South Asian diaspora communities, first in Arab countries then in Southeast Asia. Once established, the Tablighi Jamaat began engaging local populations as well.

Although the movement first established itself in the United States, it established a large presence in Europe during the 1970s and 1980s. It was especially prominent in France during the 1980s. The members of Tablighi Jamat are also represented in the French Council of the Muslim Faith.

Tabligh’s influence has grown, though, in the increasing Pakistani community in France, which has doubled in the decade before 2008 to 50,000-60,000.

However, Britain is the current focus of the movement in the West, primarily due to the large South Asian population that began to arrive there in the 1960s and 1970s. By 2007, Tabligh members were situated at 600 of Britain’s 1350 mosques.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the movement made inroads into Central Asia. As of 2007, it was estimated 10,000 Tablighi members could be found in Kyrgyzstan alone.

By 2008 it had a presence in nearly 80 countries and had become a leading revitalist movement. However, it maintains a presence in India, where at least 100 of its Jamaats go out from Markaz, the international headquarters, to different parts of India and overseas.

There are many celebrated personalities associated with this movement:

These include the former Presidents of Pakistan, Muhammad Rafiq Tarar and Farooq Leghari [Sardar Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari], and former President of India, Dr. Zakir Hussain who was also associated with this movement. Major General Ziaur Rahman, former President and Chief of Army Staff of the Bangladesh Army, was a strong supporter and member of Tablighi Jamaat, and popularized it in Bangladesh.

Lieutenant General [R] Javed Nasir of the Pakistan Army and former head of Inter-Services Intelligence along with former Prime Minister of Pakistan, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq have also been linked with the movement.

Other well-known politicians such as Dr. Arbab Ghulam Rahim the former chief minister of Sindh, and Muhammad Ijaz-ul-Haq, former Pakistani Federal Minister for Religious Affairs have strong ties with the Tablighi activities.

Many well-recognized writers and scholars, such as Dr. Nadir Ali Khan [famous Indian writer] and others are deeply related with it.

Among Pakistani cricket professionals, Shahid Afridi, Saqlain Mushtaq, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mushtaq Ahmed; and the former Pakistani cricketers Saeed Anwar, Saleem Malik are active members. It is also widely believed that Pakistani middle order batsman Mohammad Yousuf embraced Islam with the help of the Tablighi Jamaat. Others include South African batsman Hashim Amla.

This movement also includes eminent directors and producers including Naeem Butt.

Former renowned singer and pop star Junaid Jamshed has close links with Jamaat, and his departure from professional singing career is attributed as the result of his inclination towards this movement.

Many famed actors and models including Moin Akhter, Hammad Khan Jadoon and many others are strongly affiliated with the movement.

Several business men, industrialists, millionaires are actively serving in the movement.

Tablighi Jamaat’s connection with Al Qaeda and jihadist groups

The West’s misreading of Tablighi Jamaat actions and motives has serious implications for the war on terrorism. Tablighi Jamaat has always adopted an extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam, but in the past two decades, it has radicalized to the point where it is now a driving force of Islamic extremism and a major recruiting agency for terrorist causes worldwide. For a majority of young Muslim extremists, joining Tablighi Jamaat is the first step on the road to extremism. Perhaps 80 percent of the Islamist extremists in France come from Tablighi ranks, prompting French intelligence officers to call Tablighi Jamaat the “antechamber of fundamentalism”.

US counterterrorism officials are increasingly adopting the same attitude.

“We have a significant presence of Tablighi Jamaat in the United States,” the deputy chief of the FBI’s international terrorism section said in 2003, “and we have found that Al-Qaeda used them for recruiting now and in the past.”

Recruitment methods for young jihadists are almost identical. After joining Tablighi Jamaat groups at a local mosque or Islamic center and doing a few local dawa [proselytism] missions, Tablighi officials invite star recruits to the Tablighi center in Raiwind, Pakistan, for four months of additional missionary training. Representatives of terrorist organizations approach the students at the Raiwind center and invite them to undertake military training. Most agree to do so.

Tablighi Jamaat has long been directly involved in the sponsorship of terrorist groups. Pakistani and Indian observers believe, for instance, that Tablighi Jamaat was instrumental in founding Harakat ul-Mujahideen.

Founded at Raiwind in 1980, almost all of the Harakat ul-Mujahideen’s original members were Tablighis. Famous for the December 1998 hijacking of an Air India passenger jet and the May 8, 2002 murder of a busload of French engineers in Karachi, Harakat members make no secret of their ties. “The two organizations together make up a truly international network of genuine jihadi Muslims,” one senior Harakat ul-Mujahideen official said. More than 6,000 Tablighis have trained in Harakat ul-Mujahideen camps. Many fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s and readily joined Al-Qaeda after the Taliban defeated Afghanistan’s anti-Soviet mujahideen.

Another violent Tablighi Jamaat spin-off is the Harakat ul-Jihad-i Islami. Founded in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, this group has been active not only in the disputed Indian provinces of Jammu and Kashmir but also in the state of Gujarat, where Tablighi Jamaat extremists have taken over perhaps 80 percent of the mosques previously run by the moderate Barelvi Muslims. The Tablighi movement is also very active in northern Africa where it became one of the four groups that founded the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria. Moroccan authorities are currently prosecuting sixty members of the Moroccan Tablighi offshoot Dawa wa Tabligh in connection with the May 16, 2003 terrorist attack on a Casablanca synagogue. Dutch police are investigating links between the Moroccan cells and the November 2, 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh.

There are many other cases of individual Tablighis committing acts of terrorism. French Tablighi members, for example, have helped organize and execute attacks not only in Paris but also at the Hotel Asni in Marrakech in 1994. Kazakh authorities expelled a number of Tablighi missionaries because they had been organizing networks advancing “extremist propaganda and recruitment.” Indian investigators suspect influential Tablighi leader, Maulana Umarji, and a group of his followers in the February 27, 2002 fire bombing of a train carrying Hindu nationalists in Gujarat, India. The incident sparked a wave of pogroms victimizing both Muslims and Hindus. More recently, Moroccan authorities sentenced Yusef Fikri, a Tablighi member and leader of the Moroccan terrorist organization At-Takfir wal-Hijrah, to death for his role in masterminding the May 2003 Casablanca terrorist bombings that claimed more than forty lives.

Tablighi Jamaat has also facilitated other terrorists’ missions. The group has provided logistical support and helped procure travel documents. Many take advantage of Tablighi Jamaat’s benign reputation. Moroccan authorities say that leaflets circulated by the terrorist group Al-Salafiyah al-Jihadiyah urged their members to join Islamic organizations that operate openly, such as Tablighi Jamaat, in order “to hide their identity on the one hand and influence these groups and their policies on the other.” In a similar vein, a Pakistani jihadist website commented that Tablighi Jamaat organizational structures can be easily adopted to jihad activities. The Philippine government has accused Tablighi Jamaat, which has an 11,000-member presence in the country, of serving both as a conduit of Saudi money to the Islamic terrorists in the south and as a cover for Pakistani jihad volunteers.

There is also evidence that Tablighi Jamaat directly recruits for terrorist organizations. As early as the 1980s, the movement sponsored military training for 900 recruits annually in Pakistan and Algeria while, in 1999, Uzbek authorities accused Tablighi Jamaat of sending 400 Uzbeks to terrorist training camps. The West is not immune. British counterterrorism authorities estimate that at least 2,000 British nationals had gone to Pakistan for jihad training by 1998, and the French secret services report that between 80 and 100 French nationals fought for Al-Qaeda.

Within the United States, the cases of American Taliban John Lindh, the “Lackawanna Six,” and the Oregon cell that conspired to bomb a synagogue and sought to link up with Al-Qaeda, all involve Tablighi missionaries. Other indicted terrorists, such as “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla, and Lyman Harris, who sought to bomb the Brooklyn Bridge, were all members of Tablighi Jamaat at one time or another. According to Robert Blitzer, head of the FBI’s first Islamic counterterrorism unit, between 1,000 and 2,000 Americans left to join the jihad in the 1990s alone. Pakistani intelligence sources report that 400 American Tablighi recruits received training in Pakistani or Afghan terrorist camps since 1989.

The Tablighi Jamaat has made inroads among two very different segments of the American Muslim population. Because many American Muslims are immigrants, and a large subsection of these are from South Asia, Deobandi influences have been able to penetrate deeply. Many Tablighi Jamaat missionaries speak Urdu as a first language and so can communicate easily with American Muslims of South Asian origin. The Tablighi headquarters in the United States for the past decade appears to be in the Al-Falah mosque in Queens, New York. Its missionaries—predominantly from South Asia—regularly visit Sunni mosques and Islamic centers across the country. The willingness of Saudi-controlled front organizations and charities, such as the World Muslim League, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth [WAMY], the Haramain Foundation, the International Islamic Relief Organization [IIRO] and others, to spend large amounts of money to co-opt the religious establishment has helped catalyze recruitment. As a result Wahhabi and Deobandi influence dominate American Islam.

This trend is apparent in the activities of Tanzeem-e Islami. Founded by long-term Tablighi member and passionate Taliban supporter, Israr Ahmed, Tanzeem-e Islami flooded American Muslim organizations with communications accusing Israel of complicity in the 9/11 terror attacks. A frequent featured speaker at Islamic conferences and events in the United States, Ahmed engages in incendiary rhetoric urging his audiences to prepare for “the final showdown between the Muslim world and the non-Muslim world, which has been captured by the Jews.” Unfortunately, his conspiracy theories have begun to take hold among growing segments of the American Muslim community. For example, Siraj Wahhaj, among the best known African-American Muslim converts and the first Muslim cleric to lead prayers in the U.S. Congress, is also on record accusing the FBI and the CIA of being the “real terrorists.” He has expressed his support for the convicted mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, and advocating the demise of American democracy.

Tablighi Jamaat has appealed to African American Muslims for other reasons. Founded by Elijah Mohammed in the early 1930s, the Nation of Islam was essentially a charismatic African American separatist organization which had little to do with normative Islam. Many Nation of Islam members found attractive both the Tablighi Jamaat’s anti-state separatist message and its description of American society as racist, decadent, and oppressive. Seeing such fertile ground, Tablighi and Wahhabi missionaries targeted the African American community with great success. One Tablighi sympathizer explained, The umma [Muslim community] must remember that winning over the black Muslims is not only a religious obligation but also a selfish necessity. The votes of the black Muslims can give the immigrant Muslims the political clout they need at every stage to protect their vital interests. Likewise, outside Muslim states like Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Pakistan need to mobilize their effort, money, and missionary skills to expand and consolidate the black Muslim community in the USA, not only for religious reasons, but also as a farsighted investment in the black Muslims’ immense potential as a credible lobby for Muslim causes, such as Palestine, Bosnia, or Kashmir—offsetting, at least partially, the venal influence of the powerful India-Israel lobby.

Not only foreign Tablighis but also the movement’s sympathizers within the United States enunciate this goal. The president of the Islamic Research Foundation in Louisville, Kentucky, a strong advocate of Tablighi missionary work, for instance, insists that “if all the Afro-American brothers and sisters become Muslims, we can change the political landscape of America” and “make U.S. foreign policy pro-Islamic and Muslim friendly.” As a result of Tablighi and Wahhabi proselytizing, African Americans comprise between 30 and 40 percent of the American Muslim community, and perhaps 85 percent of all American Muslim converts. Much of this success is due to a successful proselytizing drive in the penitentiary system. Prison officials say that by the mid-1990s, between 10 and 20 percent of the nation’s 1.5 million inmates identified themselves as Muslims. Some 30,000 African Americans convert to Islam in prison every year.

The American political system tolerates all views so long as they adhere to the rule of law. Unfortunately, Tablighi Jamaat missionaries may be encouraging African American recruits to break the law. Harkat ul-Mujahideen has boasted of training dozens of African American Jihadists in its military camps. There is evidence that African American Jihadists have died in both Afghanistan and Kashmir.

Tablighi Jamaat has made unprecedented strides in recent decades. It increasingly relies on local missionaries rather than South Asian Tablighis to recruit in Western countries and often sets up groups which apparently model themselves after Tablighi Jamaat but do not acknowledge links to it.

In the United States, such a role is apparently played by the Islamic Circle of North America [ICNA]. Founded in 1968 as an offshoot of the fiercely Islamist Muslim Student Association, ICNA is the only major American Muslim organization that has paid open homage to Tablighi founder Ilyas. The monthly ICNA publication, The Message, has praised Ilyas as one of the four greatest Islamic leaders of the last 100 years. While the relationship between ICNA and Tablighi Jamaat is not clear, the two organizations share a number of similarities. They both embrace the extreme Deobandi and Wahhabi interpretations of Islam. ICNA demonstrates disdain for Western democratic values and opposes virtually all counterterrorism legislation, such as the Patriot Act, while providing moral and financial support to all Muslims implicated in terrorist activities. An editorial in the ICNA organ, The Message International, in September 1989 bemoaned the “uncounted number of Muslims lost to Western values” which was a “major cause for concern.” In 2003 and 2004, ICNA has collected money to assist detainees suspected of terrorist activities, participated in pro-terrorist rallies, and mounted campaigns on behalf of indicted Hamas functionary Sami al-Arian. Like Tablighi Jamaat, ICNA initially drew its membership disproportionately from South Asians. As with Tablighi Jamaat, ICNA demands total dedication to missionary work from its members. Because many ICNA members spend at least thirty hours per week on their mission, their ability to independently support themselves is unclear. Many cannot hold full-time jobs. ICNA’s recruitment efforts have borne fruit, though. All ICNA members are organized in small study groups of no more than eight people, called NeighborNets. As in a cult, these cells provide support and reinforcement for new recruits, who may have sought to fill a void in their lives. Its yearly convocations, patterned on the annual Tablighi Jamaat meetings in South Asia, now attract some 15,000 people.

The estimated 15,000 Tablighi missionaries reportedly active in the United States present a serious national security problem. At best, they and their proxy groups form a powerful proselytizing movement that preaches extremism and disdain for religious tolerance, democracy, and separation of church and state. At worst, they represent an Islamist fifth column that aids and abets terrorism. Contrary to their benign treatment by scholars and academics, Tablighi Jamaat has more to do with political sedition than with religion.

US officials should focus on reality rather than rhetoric. Pakistani support for Tablighi Jamaat is incompatible with their claims to be key allies in the war on terror. While law enforcement focuses attention on Osama bin Laden, the war on terrorism cannot be won unless al-Qaeda terrorists are understood to be the products of Islamist ideology preached by groups like Tablighi Jamaat. If the West chooses to turn a blind eye to the problem, Tablighi involvement in future terrorist activities at home and abroad is not a matter of conjecture; it is a certainty.

However, there are indeed some links between Tablighis and the world of jihadism. First, there is evidence of indirect connections between the group and the wider radical/extremist Deobandi nexus composed of anti-Shiite sectarian groups, Kashmiri militants and the Taliban. This link provides a medium through which Tablighis who are disgruntled with the group´s apolitical program could break orbit and join militant organizations.

One apparent manifestation of this nexus was a purported militant offshoot of TJ, Jihad bi al-Saif [Jihad through the Sword], which was established in Taxila, Pakistan. Members of this group were accused of plotting a coup against former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1995. Yet, because of the organization´s extreme secrecy, little is known about it other than that it is believed to have developed in reaction to the TJ´s apolitical, peaceful stance.

The TJ organization also serves as a de facto conduit for Islamist extremists and for groups such as al Qaeda to recruit new members. Significantly, the Tablighi recruits do intersect with the world of radical Islamism when they travel to Pakistan to receive their initial training. We have received reports that once the recruits are in Pakistan, representatives of various radical Islamist groups, such as Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Taliban and al Qaeda, are said to woo them actively — to the point of offering them military training. And some of them accept the offer. For example, John Walker Lindh — an American who is serving a prison sentence for aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan — traveled with Tablighi preachers to Pakistan in 1998 to further his Islamic studies before joining the Taliban.

Because of the piety and strict belief system of the Tablighis and their focus on calling wayward Muslims back to an austere and orthodox Muslim faith, the movement has offered a place where jihadist spotters can look for potential recruits. These facilitators often offer enthusiastic new or rededicated Muslims a more active way to live and develop their faith.

Although the TJ promotes a benign message, the same conservative Islamic values espoused by the Tablighis also are part of jihadist ideology, and so some Muslims attracted to the Tablighi movement are enticed into becoming involved with jihadists.

Additionally, because of its apolitical belief system, TJ seems to leave a gap in the ideological indoctrination of the individual Tablighi because it essentially asks the novice to shun politics and public affairs. The problem in taking this belief system from theory to practice, however, is that some people find they cannot ignore what is happening in the world around them, especially when that world includes wars. This is when some Tablighis become disillusioned with TJ and start turning to jihadist groups that offer religiously sanctioned prescriptions as to how “good Muslims” should deal with life´s injustices.

Once a facilitator identifies such candidates, he often will segregate them from the main congregation in the mosque or community center and put them into small prayer circles or study groups where they can be more easily exposed to jihadist ideology. [Of course, it also has been shown that a person with friends or relatives who ascribe to radical ideology can more easily be radical].

Examples of people making the jump from TJ to radical Islam are the two leading members of the cell responsible for the July 7, 2005, London bombings — Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shahzad Tanweer. Both had life-changing experiences through their exposure to TJ, though by 2001 the men had left the Tablighi mosque they had been attending in the British city of Beeston, because they found it to be too apolitical. They apparently were frustrated by the mosque’s elders, who forbid the discussion of politics in the mosque.

After Khan and Tanweer left the Tablighi mosque, they began attending the smaller Iqra Learning Center bookstore in Beeston, where they reportedly were exposed to frequent political discussions about places such as Iraq, Kashmir and Chechnya. The store’s proprietors reportedly even produced jihad videos depicting crimes by the West against the Muslim world. Exposed to this environment, the two men eventually became radicalized to the point of traveling to Pakistan to attend a terrorist training camp and then returning to the United Kingdom to plan and execute a suicide attack that resulted in the death of them both.

TJ also is used by jihadists as cover both for recruiting activities, as discussed above, and for travel. Like Khan and Tanweer, many jihadists desire to travel to Pakistan for training, while others want to get to Afghanistan, Kashmir or other places to fight jihad. However, the travel environment is far different today than it was in the early 1980s, when 747 jetliners packed with jihadists from Saudi Arabia and other places flew into Pakistan en route to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Prominent amongst the Wahabi-Deobandi organizations active in the CARs, Chechnya and Dagestan are the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen [HUM–formerly known as the Harkat-ul-Ansar], the Markaz Dawa Al Irshad and its militant wing, the Lashkar-e-Toiba.A detailed paper on the HUM was disseminated on March 20,1999,and on the Markaz and its Lashkar on July 26,1998.

This paper deals with the Tablighi Jamaat [TJ], which is the mother of all the Pakistan-based jehadist organizations active not only in the CARs, Chechnya and Dagestan, but also in other parts of the world.

In an investigative report carried by the “News” [February 13, 1995], Mr. Kamran Khan, the well-known Pakistani journalist, brought to light for the first time the nexus between the TJ and the HUM and their role in supporting Islamic extremist movements in different countries.

He quoted unidentified office-bearers of the HUM as saying as follows: “Ours is basically a Sunni organization close to the Deobandi school of thought. Our people are mostly impressed by the TJ. Most of our workers do come from the TJ. We regularly go to its annual meeting at Raiwind. Ours is a truly international network of genuine jihadist Muslims. We believe frontiers can never divide Muslims. They are one nation. They will remain a single entity.

“We try to go wherever our Muslim brothers are terrorized, without any monetary consideration. Our colleagues went and fought against oppressors in Bosnia, Chechnya, Tajikistan, Burma, the Philippines and, of course, India.

“Although Pakistani members are not participating directly in anti-Government armed resistance in Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Jordan, many of the fighters in those Arab States had remained our colleagues during the Afghan war and we know one another very well. We are doing whatever we can to help them install Islamic governments in those States.”

The report also quoted the office-bearers as claiming that among foreign volunteers trained by them in their training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan were 16 African-American Muslims from various cities of the US and that funds for their activities mostly came from Muslim businessmen of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UK.

The February 1998, issue of the “Newsline”, a monthly of Pakistan, quoted workers of the TJ as saying that the TJ had many offices in the US, Russia, the Central Asian Republics, South Africa, Australia and France and that many members of the Chechen Cabinet, including the Deputy Prime Minister of Chechnya, were workers of the TJ and participated in its proselytising activities. . One of them, merely identified as Khalil, said: ” It is possible that France may become a Muslim state within my lifetime, due to the great momentum of Tablighi activity there. ”

According to the “Newsline”, the TJ was started in the 1880s to revive and spread Islam. Its annual convention held at Raiwind in Pakistani Punjab in November every year is attended by over one million Muslims from all over the world. This is described by the “Newsline” as the second largest gathering of the Muslims anywhere in the world after the Haj in Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Jassim Taqui, an Islamic scholar, wrote in the “Frontier Post” of Peshawar of January 15,1999, as follows:

The TJ has been able to establish contacts and centres throughout the Muslim world. [Comment: By “Muslim world” he does not only mean Islamic countries, but all countries where there is a sizable Muslim community].

It has thousands of dedicated and disciplined workers who never question any order from the high-ups. What has helped the TJ to expand [without creating alarm in the security agencies] is its policy of a deliberate black-out of its activities. It does not interact with the media and does not issue any statements or communiqués. It believes in human communication through word of mouth. [Comment: It does not bring out any journals or other propaganda organs to explain its policies and objectives. All explanations to its workers and potential recruits are given orally].

During its training classes, it claims to have frustrated the efforts of the US Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] to penetrate it and succeeded in converting the CIA agents to Islam.

Even though the TJ claims to be apolitical and disinterested in political or administrative influence, many of its active members have come to occupy important positions. Examples are Lt. Gen. [Retired] Javed Nasir, who was the DG of the ISI during Nawaz Sharif’s first tenure as the Prime Minister, and Mohammad Rafique Tarar, the President of Pakistan, who has been an active worker of the TJ for many years.

“Those who are close to the inner circles believe that the Tablighis were the brain who bailed out Nawaz Sharif from the constitutional crisis. Tarar is believed to be the brain behind the Shariah Bill [which could not be passed by the Senate] and the concept of speedy justice through military courts [the military courts were declared unconstitutional by the Pakistan Supreme Court]. However, the contacts of the Tablighis had always been with Mohammad Sharif [father of former Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif] and not with the son. Mr. Nawaz is well aware of the “tariquah” [the path advocated by the TJ]. He has been with the Tabligh for a fairly long time. He takes part in their meetings on a regular basis. He donates money to their welfare projects. As usual, the Tablighis never publicise the donors or the projects or the beneficiaries. All are committed to remain silent.”

Writing in the “Frontier Post” of January 27, 1999, Dr. Mumtaz Ahmed, another Islamic scholar, said: “Despite its enormous significance as a mass-based religious movement that has influenced Asian, African, Arab and Western Muslims alike, the Tablighi Jamaat has received scant attention in the literature on modern Islam. Maulana Ilyas, the founder of the Tablighi Jamaat, was of the view that the Tablighi movement and politically-oriented Islamic groups, although operating in two different spheres, were complementing each other’s work. Hence, there should be no competition and rivalry between them”.

Tablighi Jamaat: A convenient vessel of spreading jihadism

Pakistani spy agency’s connections with Tablighi Jamaat is not new. It has been using this group as the most convenient vessel of penetrating within various targets in India and other countries. But, the most disturbing information as revealed by Nordic Monitor is – Pakistan-based Tablighi Jamaat’s direct involvement in giving training to jihadists, including Al Qaeda members. There is no doubt – Pakistani ISI has succeeded in recruiting or infiltrating its cadres of jihadists and anti-India elements within New Delhi’s Tablighi headquarters. In my opinion, Pakistani ISI is most definitely making efforts in maintaining connections with various radical Islamist and militancy groups inside India through the members of Tablighi Jamaat.

Under the above circumstances, for the sake of India’s national security, activities of Tablighi Jamaat should come under stricter surveillance. Similar measures should also be adopted by Bangladesh and other South Asian nations and other countries in the world. Similarly, policymakers in China should restrict activities of Tablighi Jamaat, as it can incite terrorism and violence within the Uyghur community in particular and Muslim population in general in the country.

Tablighi Jamaat no more remains an innocent entity. It already poses grave threat to global security.

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Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
An internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, writer, research-scholar, counterterrorism specialist and editor of Blitz. He regularly writes for local and international newspapers on diversified topics, including politics and counterterrorism. Follow him on 'X' @Salah_Shoaib

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