Islamic televangelist Zakir Abdul Karim Naik cancelled his return from Saudi Arabia to hometown Mumbai on Monday morning, triggering speculation that he is dodging police after allegations that his sermons influenced a terrorist killed in the July 1 Dhaka siege.
In a statement released from abroad, he said no Indian government agency has contacted him over the allegations.
“It would be my pleasure to cooperate with any official Indian government investigation agency for any information they might require from me,” he said, reaffirming that he “does not support terrorism or violence and neither does he support any terrorist organisation”.
Bangladesh has banned Naik’s Peace TV, saying it incited the attack on a Dhaka café in which 22 people were gunned down by young, educated terrorists who belonged to affluent families.
His trouble compounded after suspicion that his speeches inspired 20-odd people, who disappeared from Kerala and feared to have joined the Islamic State terrorist outfit.
Naik is unlikely to return to the country for another two to three weeks as he is planning to visit some African nations for public speeches, an aide of the 50-year-old preacher said.
But he is not running away from any inquiry or the media, whom he will address via Skype on Tuesday to clear allegations of inspiring terrorists through his speeches, the aide said.
“His travel schedule had been made long back. After performing Umrah, he is scheduled to travel to Jeddah from where he will visit Africa for public talks scheduled there. He is, therefore, not expected in the country for another two to three weeks, at least.”
Naik is banned from entering the UK and Canada for his controversial “hate speeches”, but there is no substantial evidence that suggests he or his sermons influenced or radicalised young men to join terrorism.
The political class is divided after Bangladeshi investigators said a terrorist in the deadly Dhaka attack was spurred by his radical speeches on television.
The Shiv Sena demanded Naik’s arrest, as soon as he lands in Mumbai, while the Samajwadi Party’s Maharashtra unit president Abu Azmi supported the preacher.
“Zakir Naik has been a preacher for around 25 years. If he has been inspiring terrorists, why was no action taken against him from so long? There should be an inquiry, conducted by a retired Supreme Court judge. But this media trial against him should stop,” Azmi said.
The qualified doctor, who became a preacher and founded the Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), has been under surveillance since 2003 serial blasts in Mumbai, when his name cropped up. Naik was questioned extensively, but Mumbai police could not find any evidence linking him to any act of terrorism.
“But Naik has been under continuous surveillance of intelligence units and agencies since then,” a senior IPS officer said. “There is little possibility that Naik would try to influence the youth using a public platform such as Peace TV. What if Naik met any youth who joined IS or any other terrorist organisation behind closed doors?” he asked.
Police were not ruling out the possibility as parents of two brothers from Kerala have revealed that the duo had met Naik in Mumbai. The brothers are among the 20-odd missing youth from the state, suspected of joining the IS.
Police sources said a special team has gathered details about his property, funding and other activities.
Apart from monitoring social networking websites, officers are sifting through interrogation reports of suspects to find out if any of them were influenced by Naik’s speeches or had met him in person.
(With PTI inputs)