Sri Lanka: Muslim Preacher Who Masterminded Easter Jihad Massacre Preached that Idolaters “Need to be Slaughtered”
“Idolaters, he added, ‘need to be slaughtered wherever you see them.’”
Where did he get that idea? “Kill them wherever you find them” (Qur’an 2:191, 4:89); “Kill the idolaters wherever you find them” (Qur’an 9:5).
“Sri Lankan Accused of Leading Attacks Preached Slaughter. Many Dismissed Him.,” by Hannah Beech, New York Times, April 25, 2019:
KATTANKUDY, Sri Lanka — Zaharan Hashim, a radical Muslim preacher accused of masterminding the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, never hid his hatred.
He railed against a local performance in which Muslim girls dared to dance. When a Muslim politician held a 50th birthday party, he raged about how Western infidel traditions were poisoning his hometown, Kattankudy.
There were, Mr. Zaharan said in one of his online sermons, three types of people: Muslims, those who had reached an accord with Muslims, and “people who need to be killed.”
Idolaters, he added, “need to be slaughtered wherever you see them.”
Mr. Zaharan has been described by Sri Lankan officials as having founded an obscure group with inchoate aims: a defacement of a Buddha statue, a diatribe against Sufi mystics.
But in his hometown, and later in the online world of radical Islam where his sermons were popular with a segment of Sri Lankan youth, it was clear for years that Mr. Zaharan’s hateful cadences were designed to lure a new generation of militants.
“He was influential, very attractive, very smart in his speeches, even though what he was saying about jihad was crazy,” said Marzook Ahamed Lebbe, a former Kattankudy politician and member of a local Islamic federation. “We all underestimated him. We never thought he would do what he said.”…
Muslims in Kattankudy said they had repeatedly contacted the police to warn that Mr. Zaharan was dangerous, but that the authorities played down the threat. Adding to questions about the government’s competence, the Sri Lankan authorities on Thursday vastly revised their earlier count of fatalities, saying that about 250 people had been killed as a result of the bombings, not 359.
One of the targeted churches — where more than 20 people were killed, many of them children — was in Batticaloa, a religiously mixed city just to the north of Kattankudy.
“I cannot digest this, even if it was done by my own brother,” said Madaniya, Mr. Zaharan’s sister, who lives in Kattankudy and who goes by one name. “I strongly condemn this.”
Growing up in Kattankudy, an oasis of Islam on a majority Buddhist island with significant Hindu and Christian minorities, Mr. Zaharan’s religiosity was unremarkable. Most houses here have a picture of Mecca on their wall, and road intersections are decorated with golden monuments in Arabic.
Mr. Zaharan and his brothers were sent by their father, a small-time seed and spice seller, to a madrasa, where teachings adhered to a strict interpretation of Islam. But even as he impressed with the fluency of his Quranic recitation and easily made friends, Mr. Zaharan confronted his teachers and accused them of failing to adhere to true Islam.
Like other Kattankudy youth lured by new overseas fashions, he had come under the spell of foreign preachers whose sermons were being passed around town by DVD, said M.B.M. Fahim, one of his classmates and now a lecturer at the same madrasa.
“He spread misinformation about us,” Mr. Fahim said. “He said the school should close because it was teaching the wrong way. He was just a student and he was saying like this.”
Mr. Zaharan was kicked out of school. He enrolled at another Islamic college but never graduated, his acquaintances said. Still, by listening to the sermons of charismatic but extremist preachers based in India and Malaysia, Mr. Zaharan was honing his oratory.
“He was a very good talker and a good researcher of how Islam was developing worldwide,” said M.L.M. Nassar, an administrator of a Kattankudy mosque federation.
Mr. Zaharan was unafraid of taking on the powerful, a rarity in a society bound by respect for those richer or older.
“He would criticize big shots, he would criticize anybody,” said Mr. Marzook, the former politician. “People were attracted to his lack of fear.”
After getting ejected from serving as imam of one mosque for his extremist views, Mr. Zaharan started a group in 2014 called National Thowheeth Jama’ath, which drew from the austere Wahhabi tradition that claims to follow the faith as practiced in the age of its founder, the Prophet Muhammad.
Mr. Zaharan preached that the Sri Lankan national flag was a worthless piece of cloth, and that the country should be ruled by Shariah law — an unlikely outcome in a country where only about 10 percent of the population is Muslim….
Still, an Islamic school dropout with an unlicensed mosque was gaining followers in Sri Lanka and beyond. Last year, Indian security officials investigating what they said was an Islamic State cell in southern India reported that one of the suspects they had arrested said he had been inspired to join the group after watching Mr. Zaharan’s videos.
But another of the ISIS suspects in southern India, Ashiq, 25, is out on bail and rejects the notion that Mr. Zaharan’s sermons were anything more than a guide to the Quran and Islamic law. “They preach that Islam is good,” he said. “What is wrong with that?”…