All eyes are on Zakir Naik who is set to return to Mumbai from Saudi Arabia on Monday, details of which the Mumbai Police have kept under tight wraps fearing disruption in law and order in the city.
Naik has been in the news for his controversial Peace TV and sermons, broadcast of which Bangladesh banned on Sunday claiming it incited the recent attack on a Dhaka café that killed 22 people.
However, there is no substantial evidence that suggests that Naik or his sermons indoctrinated, influenced or radicalised any of the youths wanted or arrested for terrorism.
A special team has been set up to investigate the preacher, and has gathered information about his properties, funding and other activities. It is expected that Naik will be called in for detailed questioning.
Incidentally, parents of two brothers from Kerala who converted to Islam – and became Essah and Yahiya – said they had travelled to Mumbai and met Naik on more than one occasion. The brothers are among 20 missing youth from the state who travelled to the Middle East, and are suspected of joining the Islamic State (IS).
The preacher’s name first cropped up more than a decade ago when Mumbai was shaken in a series of blasts in 2002-3. Investigations had led the Mumbai crime branch to the Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) which Naik founded, and serves as its president.
“But since then, Naik has been under continuous surveillance of the intelligence units and agencies,” said a senior IPS officer who had questioned him, adding, “There is little possibility that Naik would try to influence youths using a public platform like Peace TV. What is of question is if Naik met any of the youth, who joined IS or any other terrorist organisation, behind closed doors.”
Led by former Intelligence Bureau special director and incumbent Mumbai police commissioner, DD Padsalgikar, the police team is sifting through interrogation reports of various accused to see if any of them were influenced by Naik’s speeches, or had met him in person, apart from monitoring social networking websites.
What led to a deeper investigation into the preacher was an arrest in 2006 by the Mumbai Anti-Terrorism Squad. Feroze Deshmukh, who was allegedly involved in the Aurangabad arms haul case and is out on bail, used to work in the IRF library. He was in constant touch with Rahil, another wanted accused in the case who fled India and is said to have taken haven in Bangladesh. Another youth, Ayaz Sultan from Malwani, who slipped into Afghanistan and joined IS, also worked with the IRF.