Among those arrested in connection with the recent terror plot to blow up transatlantic airliners, the key figures seem to be linked to the Tablighi Jamaat, an orthodox Islamic movement that was formed in India in 1927. Its headquarters was in Nizamuddin, Delhi.
The followers of the Tablighi Jamaat have to adhere to the strict tenets of Islam. However, now security agencies — not just in Britain but across Europe and in the US — are concerned that the missionary movement has become a sleeper or active cell of militants and has links to Al Qaeda.
Assad Sarwar, a suspect arrested in High Wycombe, is said to be a follower of the sect. His brother Amjad was quoted as saying that Assad, who dropped out of university, attended weekend study groups of the Tablighi Jamaat. On Channel Four, Amjad said, "He was at Tablighi Jamaat, which is a sect in Islam which encourages the youth to grow beard, pray five times a day…. He thought religion was more important than study."
It is not just Assad. The relatives and friends of some of the 23 people arrested last week told the police that the detainees were followers of the Tablighi Jamaat, which is believed to control several mosques in Britain.
Another suspect arrested in Walthamstow, Waheed Zaman, is also allegedly a follower.
This is not the first time that a terror plot has been linked to the Tablighi Jamaat. One of the 7/7 suicide bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, was a follower. Another, Shehzad Tanweer, had visited a mosque controlled by the Tablighi Jamaat in Leeds.
The British headquarters of the sect in Dewsbury has denied any link to terrorism. But the police are watching its travelling preachers. (The followers are supposed to undertake journeys -- usually for a specified period of 4 months, 40 days, 10 days or 3 days -- in which members of each group learn the tenets of Islam from each other.)
These preachers had reportedly frequented a mosque in East London where the majority of the 23 detainees had gone to pray.
The Jamaat's links to Al Qaeda became known when some of the operatives of the latter confessed in the US that they had earlier attended the Jamaat's camp in Pakistan.