Detectives piece together disturbing picture after Beruwala violence
The Government yesterday launched a manhunt for a controversial South Indian Islamic preacher amidst reports that he was responsible for sparking sectarian violence among Muslims in Sri Lanka.
Immigration Controller P.A. Abeykoon told the Sunday Times yesterday he had sought Police help to locate the preacher named Kovai Ayoob.
Two youths at the Masjidur Rahman read slogans written by Thawheed members condemning the attack. The slogan dubs a rival mosque moulavi as Sheikh Prabhakaran . Pic by Athula Devapriya
This was after a complaint from the Religious Affairs Ministry that he was fanning religious hatred among Muslims. The Ministry wants him deported immediately. Ayoob who had come to Sri Lanka on a tourist visa, is said to be a member of the controversial Tawheed sect, and was scheduled to deliver a sermon at a mosque in Kalmunai in the Ampara district after the weekly Jumma prayers last Friday. Upon learning that a search had been launched for him, he had read out a message for the devotees of the mosque through a telephone. This was broadcast via loudhailers in the mosque on Friday.
The move comes against the backdrop of the July 24 incidents in the southern coastal town of Beruwala. A mob of angry Sunni Muslims attacked the Masjidur Rahman mosque after a Moulavi (cleric) had during Friday prayers called the followers of a rival sect Kafirs or infidels because they had celebrated a feast.
The incident came after the neighbouring Bukhari Thakkiya ended a two-day 130th anniversary feast drawing tens of thousands of Muslims from all over the country. Two people died and 40 were injured in the violence. Nine of the injured are still in hospital.
The Thawheed group which has increased its numbers and influence in recent years in Muslim majority areas in the Eastern, Western and Southern provinces follows Wahabism, which for more than two centuries, has been Saudi Arabia`s dominant faith. It is described as an austere form of Islam that insists on a literal interpretation of the Quran. Wahabis believe those who do not practise their form of Islam are heathens and enemies.
The Beruwala incident and subsequent investigations by intelligence agencies have led to the authorities beginning to piece together a disturbing picture. It has come to light that some preachers were coming here regularly from abroad to conduct sermons on the virtues of Wahabism. A closer watch on activities in mosques in the East had pointed to preacher Ayoob`s plans.
In a related development, Police yesterday questioned members of a mosque said to belong to the Tawheed group in Ottamavadi in the Batticaloa district. This followed the abduction of an Imam (also cleric) from a mosque in the same village. Deputy Inspector General (Eastern range Central) Edison Gunatillake said the investigation into the incident began after the uncle of the Imam lodged a complaint.
The complainant had alleged that a Moulavi of a rival mosque was responsible for the abduction, he said. Police have now unearthed records that show that another South Indian preacher named P. Jainulabdeen was arrested and deported in 2006. This was after his sermons caused serious unrest among Muslims. A Police official who did not wish to be identified said that Jainulabdeen on being questioned after his arrest had disclosed plans to visit the Masjidur Rahman mosque. However, he was deported before that. `A pattern in their activities is now emerging,` he said.
Visit The Sunday Times Insight team`s full report on the Beruwala incident.