In a strange twist of events three loyalists of President Maithripala Sirisena who were recently appointed as Provincial Governors have been linked to the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) the organisation that was just banned in Sri Lanka as a terror outfit believed to have been founded by bombing mastermind Mohammed Zaharan.
The NTJ as it is now known was largely headquartered in Kattankudy in the Easter Province which was Zaharan’s hometown.
The first time Zaharan went into hiding police investigators now believe was after he led an attack against Sufi shrines and devotees in Kattankudy in 2017. Several people were injured in the attack. Zaharan fled but police arrested several suspects. The NTJ a little known organisation somehow allegedly managed to get Maithri Guneratne now Central Province Governor to represent them in court. The link to Guneratne may also have been through the Sri Lanka Thawheed Jamath which Guneratne represented during their clashes with Bodu Bala Sena. It is unclear if during the 2017 Kattankudy clashes the NTJ had split from the SLTJ and Guneratne may have believed he was representing the same client.
Now police believe that connection was made through SLFP strongman and Eastern resident the highly conservative politician M.L.A.M. Hizbullah. Hisbullah is now the Governor of the Eastern Province.
Colombo Telegraph learns that Hisbullah regularly visited 15 mosques in Kattankudy which were known in the area to the “NTJ Mosques”. Residents believe Hisbullah was also a patron for mosques and madrasas operated by NTJ and its leader Zaharan with several of these buildings given major facelifts after an infusion of funding.
The third piece of the Governor puzzle involves Azath Salley who was recently appointed Governor of the Western Province. Salley reportedly intervened to have two boys from Mawanella released from police custody after the suspected NTJ members defaced Buddhist statues in the area leading to the arrest of seven young men. Colombo Telegraph learns that Salley intervened to release two suspects Shashid Ibrahim and Sagid Ibrahim who are the sons of a prominent Moulavi in the area. But Colombo Telegraph learns that other Muslim organisations had supported this move by Salley at the time because they believed the two were innocent since they had only provided meals for the NTJ suspects. However investigators have now linked the Mawanella incident to Zaharan and the NTJ conclusively, because many of the suspects were part of Qu’ran classes conducted by the bombing mastermind and radical preacher in the area for several months.
The coordinating secretary of Minister Kabir Hashim was shot a few months after the suspects were arrested and police now believe that shooting was carried out by NTJ members who were getting increasingly violent.
Colombo Telegraph can now reveal that all three of Sirisena’s Governors, Hisbullah, Salley and Guneratne have been questioned in connection with their involvement with the NTJ.
Despite these links President Sirisena who has engaged in the blame game and shirking his responsibility for the Easter Sunday blasts despite being Defence Minister and keeping the Police Department under him, has made no move to upbraid his Governors or hint at their dismissals.
The revelations come amid details about Industry and Commerce Minister Rishard Bathurdeen’s connections to the Yusuf Ibrahim and his family whose mansion in Dematagoda was the first link to the terrorist cell that investigators located. Media reports said some of the empty cartridges used to make the bombs were obtained from the Industrial Development Board which comes under Bathiudeen’s ministry. Last week Minister Bathiudeen’s brother was taken in for questioning by police and later released.
Ibrahim who was a wealthy spice trader from Pettah was closely linked to several prominent politicians. He is reported to have funded several political parties including the JVP which put him on the party’s national list even though he never made it to parliament. According to sources close to the Ibrahim family like many rich Muslim men Ibrahim too cherished hopes of increasing his prestige by going to parliament. He was using his vast fortune to buy his way into the legislature the sources said.
Sending an email to Colombo Telegraph after this report was published, Governor Azath Salley’s media secretary Mohommed Rasooldeen said: “The western province governor Hon Azath Salley was shocked to read your above article about the Western Province Governor Azath Salley’s intervention in releasing the two suspects who were involved in the defacing the Lord Buddha’s statues in Mawanella! the governor in a press release issued to all media, has categorically denied all these allegations and has also produced a letter from the Ministry of Defense supporting his denial!”
Western Province Governor Azath Salley has denied involvement in getting two suspects in the Mawanella incident involving NTJ members released. He has also submitted a letter signed by former Secretary of Defence dated April 25 2019 claiming that no undue influence had been used in getting the two suspects out of custody and that they were released after CID presented facts to court and found no evidence against them. However Colombo Telegraph has independently confirmed from various sources including those in Mawanella and familiar with the incident that Salley had been involved in asking for the release of the two suspects because they were the relatives of a respected Moulavi in the area. The youths were only accused of supplying food to the NTJ members during their assemblies and most of the Muslim community supported their release Colombo Telegraph learns. Several international news organisations have reported the same facts in connection with the Mawanella incident.