Sri Lanka Easter blasts: Similarly sounding names, but different organisations

Following the Easter blasts, groups with ‘Thowheed’ in their names have come in for scrutiny in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.

April 22, 2019 09:57 pm | Updated April 23, 2019 12:56 am IST - Colombo/Chennai

A view of the damage at St. Sebastian Catholic Church on April 22, 2019, a day after bomb blasts ripped through churches and luxury hotels on Easter, in Negombo, Sri Lanka.

A view of the damage at St. Sebastian Catholic Church on April 22, 2019, a day after bomb blasts ripped through churches and luxury hotels on Easter, in Negombo, Sri Lanka.

Soon after Sri Lanka named Islamist radical group National Thowheed Jamaath as the outfit behind the Easter Day serial blasts, other organisations with similar names came under sharp scrutiny.

However, the organisations not only condemned Sunday’s attacks, but voiced strong criticisms of the National Thowheed Jamaath that, some say, was in the making for the last few years. 

SLTJ dissociates itself

The Sri Lanka Towheeth Jamaath (SLTJ) said the perpetrators must be served the highest punishment. According to its Facebook page, the group organised a blood donation drive in Kandy on Sunday to help those injured in the blasts. The organisation had vehemently opposed an initiative to amend Muslim personal law and some of its members have been arrested in the past for hate speech. 

Meanwhile Rasmin, a former assistant secretary of the SLTJ, said a majority of members, including him, had split from the SLTJ to form the Ceylon Thowheed Jamaath (CTJ). “The SLTJ was working with the Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamaath. We were not comfortable with that and decided to split. We also had some differences on the practise of Islam,” he told The Hindu .

Aware of ‘Zaharan’

The NTJ, he said, had absolutely “no links” with the SLTJ or the newly-formed CTJ. However, the organisations were “aware of Zaharan”, he said, referring to the man believed to be leading the NTJ. “He was based in Kattankudy in Batticaloa [Eastern Province] and ran a Facebook page where he would explicitly commend the IS’s ideology and approach. We alerted the Sri Lankan intelligence agencies about this man three years ago, they are a dangerous group,” Mr. Rasmin said, before heading to a police station. “They asked me to come today to record some statements. I have nothing to hide,” he said.

Meanwhile, amidst speculation of the Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamat (TNTJ)’s possible links to National Thowheed Jamaath on Monday, TNTJ spokesperson Abdul Rahman denied that the organisation had any links. “Just because the two organisations have Thowheed in their names, it doesn’t mean that they are linked,” he said.

In 2015, TNTJ leader P. Jainulabudeen was invited by the SLTJ to release the Sinhala version of the Koran in 2015, amid some opposition from within the community. Mr. Rahman added: “It is true that [he] was invited to talk about dargah worship, but the Muslims who practise such forms of worship opposed it and reported it to Sri Lankan authorities saying that such talks would create issues in the society.”

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