Union home minister Rajnath Singh has asked the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and National Investigation Agency (NIA) to examine if Islamic preacher Zakir Naik’s speeches, books and videos have incited or radicalised Muslim youth towards religious fundamentalism.
The Mumbai-based 50-year-old televangelist, currently touring Qatar after spending time in Saudi Arabia, has been under the lens over allegations that his sermons influenced some of the terrorists killed in the July 1 Dhaka siege. Bangladesh has banned his Peace TV, saying it incited the attack on a Dhaka café in which 22 people were gunned down.
Officials of India’s anti-terrorism agency, NIA, and the IB have started sifting through Naik’s speeches and videos, examining his sermons and literature in the light of Supreme Court judgments on freedom of speech.
Law-enforcement agencies are looking if he had overstepped his right to speak without restraint and incited people, which will allow them to build a watertight case against him. “Any further action on Naik will depend on whether there is a case made out against him and will it stand judicial scrutiny,” a senior official said.
Government sources said home minister Singh decided last Friday to get Naik’s speeches examined after a number of arrested sympathisers of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group as well as the banned Indian Mujahideen outfit were alleged followers of the preacher.
Mumbai police had registered a case of incitement against Naik three years ago.
According to the home ministry, suspected IS recruit Arif Majeed of Kalyan, Burdwan-based Shah Noor Alam, who is allegedly loyal to the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, Muttabir Mohammed Sheikh of Mumbai, who is the so-called IS emir of Jund-e-Khalifa, and members of a busted IS module in Hyderabad have confessed during interrogation to be Naik’s followers.
Arrested Indian Mujahideen operative Tehseen Akhtar alias Monu, the son of a chemist in Bihar’s Samastipur, had allegedly told interrogators that he used to visit a library in Darbhanga to read Naik’s books.
A top bomb-maker, Akhtar targeted the October 27, 2013, election rally of Narendra Modi in the run-up to next year’s Lok Sabha elections. He is an accused in a string of bombings — 2010 in Varanasi, 2011 in Mumbai, 2012 in Pune and 2013 in Dilsukhnagar, Hyderabad.
The Modi government is worried about radicalisation of Muslim youngsters after seven youth allegedly operating under the banner of Jund-e-Khalifa-fi-Bilad Al Hindi, or Warriors of Caliphate in India, were arrested in Hyderabad.
About 44 Indians have been arrested by the NIA for links with the IS, with no less than 23 from southern India. Besides, four youth from Kerala have been suspected to have joined the IS in Syria while another 17 were missing since May this year.
“The IS radicalisation issue is a matter of concern as a large number of those arrested have been in touch with Bhatkal-born Shafi Armar, who calls himself Yousuf al-Hindi. Nearly `25 lakh has reached IS sympathisers through the hawala route with the intention of launching attacks in India,” said a counter-terrorism expert.