MLM: A Brief Sketch of Mohammed Zahran Hashim of National Thowheeth Jama’ath, Sri Lanka
Following the April 21 Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed over 250 people and injured many more, the Sri Lankan authorities and a devastated populace are still left with troubling questions. How had this unheard of ‘Islamic extremism’ reach its shores unnoticed and who nurtured this deadly strain of jihad in the country?
While initial investigations unearthed evidence of the involvement of little known local Salafi jihadist groups National Thowheeth Jamaat (NTJ) and Jamathei Milathu Ibrahim (JMI), on April 23 Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility through its Amaq news agency. The 59-second Amaq video prominently featured Muhammad Zahran Hashim, a.k.a Abu Ubeida, spiritual leader of the NTJ and the mastermind behind the mayhem, along with seven others pledging allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Two suicide bombings at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo were carried out by Hashim and Mohammad Ibrahim Ilham of JMI (Ada Derana News [Colombo], May 21). The rest of the suicide bombers have since been identified, including Mohammad Ibrahim Inshaf (brother of Ilham), Mohamed Hasthun, Ahmed Muaz, and Abdul Latif Jameel Mohammed (News.Lk, May 21). Intriguingly, except for Hashim—who was clearly leading other members in that IS fealty video—the other attackers covered their faces and dressed in black tunic and monochrome headscarves. The video to some extent proves that both NTJ and JMI members are part of a covert network inspired by transnational jihadist ideals espoused by IS.
Hashim was born in 1985 to a poor Muslim family in the coastal town of Kattankudy. During his education at the Jamiathul Falah Arabic regular madrasa, in the township of Kattankudy, he was exposed to literature on the fundamentals of Islam, especially Towheedism or Islamic monotheism. After dropping out in 2007 due to his rebellious nature and his radical views on Islam, Hashim joined the Ibn Mas’ood Madrasa in Kurunegala, which is the capital city of the North Western Province, and later became a member of Sri Lanka Toawheed Jamaath (SLTJ) (Sunday Times, April 28). The SLTJ has been operational under another Islamic cleric, Abdul Razik.
Zahran Hashim was also associated with another organization, Dar-ul-Athar, which was founded by his like-minded mentor Nowfar Maulavi. However, Zaharan Hashim parted with this group due to a conflict of interest, and went on to set up NTJ sometimes in 2012 (News First, May 1). A controversial figure within the Muslim community in Kattankudy and nearby localities, Zahran Hashim succeeded in pushing his followers towards a violent strain of Islam.