Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
While law enforcing and security agencies in the United Kingdom are thinking of being able to stop Anjem Choudary from spreading radical Islamic indoctrination and jihad, Muslim Londoners are becoming radicalized and even taking preparations of waging jihad against Britain and other Western nations. For the past few years, an ISIS funder in Britain namely Md. Shahid Uddin Khan and members of his family are regularly providing donations to Tablighi Jamaat and jihadist activities. Khan’s organization named ‘Astha’ [faith] has reportedly earned an endorsement from Anjem Choudary for its ideology of establishing Sharia rule by ousting democracy throughout the world.
British-born Pakistani Anjem Choudary is not a new name either in Britain or to the counterterrorism experts around the world. He headed a notorious organization named Al Mujajiroun (ALM) network, a leading group in the United Kingdom that supports an extreme interpretation of Islam that advocated Sharia law for Muslim lands and, ultimately, an inevitable conflict with the Western democracy and secularism. Choudary and his followers denounce democracy as well are dreaming of bring Britain and other western nations under the flag of Sharia rule and even Caliphate.
ALM, which had various guises, franchises and what amounted to brand names, was progressively banned under Britain’s terrorism legislation in the wake of the 2005 London attacks. When its founder, a Syrian Islamist cleric named Omar Bakri Mohammed fled Britain following those jihadist attacks, his key disciple Choudary took the helm.
Although Anjem Choudary is not directly involved in militancy or terrorism, he poses a grave threat due to his role in radicalizing Muslim. Once his followers start believing that the West was victimizing Muslims, it actually opened the way to them in choosing radical Islamic militancy.
Internationally known terrorism researcher Hannah Stuart, who has studied British jihadists since 1999, discovered that ALM was a factor in the lives of at least a quarter of those who have carried out attacks, gone to fight overseas or ended up in jail.
Anjem Choudary was basically found active with East London and Luton areas, where the Muslim population, especially those immigrant Muslims are very high.
Choudary had actively supported Islamic State and had applauded the killing of non-Muslims – especially Jews and Christians and Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi’s notorious agenda of establishing Caliphate. He also praised those responsible for the September 11, 2001, and July 7, 2005, jihadist attacks.
On 6 September 2016, Choudary was sentenced to five years and six months following a conviction for inviting others to support the proscribed ISIS. He was released automatically on license in October 2018.
Jihadist recruitment and training
On 7 November 1999, the Sunday Telegraph reported that Muslims were receiving weapons training at secret locations in Britain. Most of those who
Trained at these centers would then fight for Osama Bin Laden’s International Islamic Front in Chechnya, while others would fight in such places as Kosovo, Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kashmir. The report identified Anjem Choudary as a key figure in recruiting for these training centers.
On 30 March 2017 Choudary was declared a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the United States Department of State. The designation blocks his assets and prohibits him from engaging in trade or financial transactions with US persons.
Preaching radical Islam and jihad
For the last few years, followers of Anjem Choudary have started using Tablighi Jamaat as the most suitable vessel for radicalizing Muslims as well as attracting them towards jihad. Tablighi Jamaat [Conveying Group] is a Muslim missionary and revival movement. Their activities are not limited to the Deobandi community.
Tablighi Jamaat seeks to revitalize Muslims around the world. It is claimed that their ideology and practices are in strict accordance with the Quran and Sunnah. It maintains an international headquarters, the Markaz, in Nizamuddin, Delhi in India and several national headquarters to coordinate its activities in over 80 countries. Tablighi Jamaat was founded in the late 1920s by Maulana Ilyas [Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhelvi] in the Mewat province of India.
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.
Tablighi Jamaat in Britain
In 1978, construction of the Tablighi mosque in Dewsbury, England commenced. Subsequently, the mosque became the European headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat.
Tablighi Jamaat in the West
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 Jamaat are also represented in the French Council of the Muslim Faith.
Tablighi’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, Tablighi members were situated at 600 of Britain’s 1350 mosques.
Tablighi’s inroads into Central Asia
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 revivalist 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.
Prominent Tablighis around the world
There are a large number of prominent individuals around the world, who had affiliated themselves with Tablighi Jamaat and had extended patronization. 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 military dictator 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 Pakistani spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] 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.
Tabligh Jamaat terror connection
Policy analysts and Islamist scholars are fiercely divided in their assessments of Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic revivalist organization that has spread from its origins in India in the 1920s to the broader Muslim world.
Policy communities, for their part, have depicted the Tablighi Jamaat as a “gateway to terrorism” and contend that the organization poses numerous, underestimated security risks. The group appeared peripherally in such high-profile cases as those of Jose Padilla, Richard Reid, and John Walker Lindh, all of whom allegedly used the group as their steppingstone to radicalism.
However, the Islamic studies community tends to depict Tablighi Jamaat, which roughly translates to “group to deliver the message of Islam,” as a revivalist organization that eschews politics in its quest to reform society. What accounts for these starkly different accounts, and how can one resolve some of the deeply perplexing questions surrounding this important and secretive organization?
Tablighi Jamaat: Gateway to Terrorism
In Britain, France, and the United States, the Tablighi Jamaat has appeared on the fringes of several terrorism investigations, leading some to speculate that its apolitical stance simply masks “fertile ground for breeding terrorism.” While acknowledging the involvement of the movement’s individuals, Eva Borreguero, Fulbright Scholar at Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding discounted the claims made against the organization itself.
Eva Borreguero began her assessment by providing a historical overview of this complex movement. Maulana Muhammad Ilyas founded the Tablighi Jamaat in 1925, against the backdrop of the British Empire and a waning Muslim identity in South Asia. Believing that social, political, and economic hardships beset Muslims in India, Ilyas sought a return to a pristine form of Islam from the heterodox variants flourishing in South Asia.
For nearly two decades, the Tablighi Jamaat operated mainly within South Asia. 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 group first established itself in the United States, Britain is the current focus of the group in the West, primarily due to the large South Asian population that began to arrive there in the 1960s and 1970s.
Tablighi Jamaat: Breeding ground of tomorrow’s jihadists
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 few 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.” U.S. 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. Known 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 have prosecuted 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 were 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 firebombing of a train carrying Hindu nationalists in Gujarat, India. The incident sparked a wave of pogroms victimizing both Muslims and Hindus.
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 advantages of Tablighi Jamaat’s benign reputation.
Jihadists hide under Tablighi disguise
Moroccan authorities said 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 adapted 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.
Tablighi Jamaat spreading hast in Britain
In Britain’s East London and Luton area, Muslims are regularly encouraged to join Tablighi Jamaat. Members of this group approach each of the Muslim households targeting younger men. Currently, more than 60 percent of the Muslims in Britain, especially those who had migrated from the Asian and African nations are enthusiastically joining Tablighi Jamaat and participating in their mission in “inviting” non-Muslims towards Islam.
Circulation of Jihadist propaganda materials
It is also learnt, members of Tablighi Jamaat, especially the followers of Anjem Choudary are distributing leaflets, propaganda materials and even videos of Islamic State and other jihadist outfits amongst the Muslim community in Britain.
Marriage between Tablighi, Anjem, Astha and ISIS
In Britain, a secret affiliation has already taken place between Tablighi Jamaat, Anjem Choudary and his followers, Astha and Islamic State. It is even learnt that members of Hamas in Britain also have joined this nexus. The key target of this nexus is to radicalize Muslims in Britain as well lure non-Muslims in embracing Islam and joining jihad with the final goal of establishing Caliphate.
Tablighi: A Trojan Horse for terror in America
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 decades 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 engaged 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 and Christians”.
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 United States 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 advocated 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 Muslim 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, Indonesia, Bangladesh, 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 US 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: The Future of American Islam
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 and Saudi 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.
The Tablighi Role in the Global Jihadism
However, there are indeed significant 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 Tablighi Jamaat (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.
Jeffrey Battle, who reportedly once served as a bodyguard for Black Panther leader Quanell X, later attempted to obtain a visa to Pakistan by saying he was affiliated with TJ. The Pakistanis, probably recognizing him from his prior [and apparently somewhat vocal] visa attempts, denied him, though he was able to get a visa to travel to Bangladesh using the feigned connection to TJ. Unable to make his way from Bangladesh to Pakistan or Afghanistan, however, Battle returned to the United States, where he was later arrested. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of seditious conspiracy and waging war against the United States.
Similarly, in the spring of 2001, the members of the so-called Lackawanna Six-cell traveled to Pakistan under the pretext of studying the Islamic religion and culture at the TJ training center. In reality, the men traveled through Pakistan to Afghanistan, where they attended training at the al-Farooq camp, a training site being run by al Qaeda. Again, the men used TJ as cover for travel, though there is no indication that TJ played any real part in their alleged plot.
Investigation on Terror Connection of Tabligh Jamaat in Pakistan
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 jihadist 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], 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 TJ. Most of our workers do come from 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 proselytizing 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:
TJ has been able to establish contacts and centers 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.
The TJ claims that it never accepts money from anybody and that all its workers who volunteer to go on preaching mission have to spend their own money.
Even though 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.
No one paying real attention to the TJ monster
Although Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) poses a grave threat to the world, particularly the Western nations, Western policymakers, and the security agencies, unfortunately, are either failing in realizing the gravity of such threats or simply ignoring the activities of TJ thinking it to be a peaceful entity. Such tendencies may ultimately invite unimaginable catastrophe to those societies.
For the sake of ensuring security and stopping Tablighi Jamaat and jihadist from growing further, patrons, funders and participants of Tablighi Jamaat should come under strict surveillance forthwith.
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is the editor of Blitz. Follow him on Twitter @Salah_Shoaib