The New York Times has lauded a “mysterious act of mercy” by would-be terrorist bomber Akayed Ullah, who set off an improvised explosive device at New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal subway station earlier this month.
The newspaper — reflecting on the Bangladeshi terrorist’s past — also described the fundamentalist Tablighi Jamaat group as a “peaceful Muslim outreach” organisation.
Writing on December 18th, Pulitzer Prize winner and South Asia NYT bureau chief Jeffrey Gettleman reported: “As a boy, Mr. Ullah and his mother made the rounds in Hazaribagh, knocking on doors and asking neighbors to go with them to the mosque to pray. They were members of Tabligh Jamaat, a peaceful Muslim outreach group.”
The article focuses on Ullah’s assistance for Rohingya refugees — a persecuted, mostly Muslim minority group with large populations in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan:
After visiting relatives here in the capital city, Dhaka, he traveled across the country, slept in a mosque and under a tree, and passed out a few hundred dollars of medicine in the crowded refugee camps.
“When he left, he seemed happy,” said his mother-in-law, Mahfuza Akhter. “But when he returned, he was so upset. He said those people were living in hell, each and every minute.”
The persecution of the Rohingya has been leveraged by Islamic terror organisations like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, calling into question the New York Times‘ use of “mysterious” when addressing Ullah’s affinity toward them.
THE ARMY OF DARKNESS
Tablighi Jamaat has been tied to a significant number of terrorist incidents in the West over the past decade, from San Bernardino to London’s 7/7 bombings. It is why, when approached by Fox Business on the morning of the attack, I commented: “This isn’t one ideology or one nation that is waging war on us. There are a plethora of countries creating terrorists with their cultural, religious and education systems. This latest attempted attacker I bet will be from the Deobandi school of political Islam, which is very popular in Bangladesh, India and England and growing in the U.S.”.
Experts in the matter will argue this was predictable, though no one else thought to raise it. Tablighi activism, is one of the least discussed indicators of radicalisation, as former Department for Homeland Security official Phil Haney told me for my book on No Go Zones:
They’re called the Army of Darkness outside of the United States because of their stealthy abilities. They’re also able, like water, to take the shape of any group they come into contact with. They’re pro-Jihad. They’re encouraging brethren to go back to the way of prophet Muhammed. They’re essentially accepted by virtually every branch of Islam all over the world. Especially Sunni.
Tablighi was investigated by the Telegraph newspaper in 2016, which commented upon the fact that “with increasing and alarming frequency, the name of Tablighi Jamaat is cropping up in the worldwide fight against terrorism”.
The Times newspaper reported on the back of a terror plot aimed at UK airlines:
The mosque frequented by key members of the airline plot terror cell has been a recruiting ground for Islamist extremists for more than 20 years, The Times can reveal.
The Queen’s Road mosque in Walthamstow, East London, was a regular place of worship and meeting place for central figures from the group.
Abdullah Ahmed Ali, the cell leader, prayed there and met with his associates including Waheed Zaman, who lived opposite.
The mosque is currently under the control of Tablighi Jamaat, an ultraorthodox Islamic sect which preaches that Muslims should replicate the life of Muhammad and tells them it is their duty to travel the world converting non-believers to the one true faith.
Intelligence services around the world believe Tablighi Jamaat’s fundamentalism makes some of its followers easy prey for terrorist recruiters. Mohammed Sidique Khan, the leader of the London 7/7 bombers, was an adherent.
Almost without exception, the Walthamstow bombers were Tablighi followers. They sometimes went to huge Friday night gatherings in West Ham on the site beside the 2012 Olympic Park where the sect wants to build Europe’s biggest mosque with space for 12,000 people to pray….
Even the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) put together a entitled “The Deobandis” which revealed that “Wahhabi preachers, who operated on the fringes of Muslim communities, certainly played an important role in radicalising elements of Britain’s Muslim youth [through Masood] Azhar, a Pakistani cleric, who was the first to spread the seeds of modern jihadist militancy in Britain – and it was through South Asian mosques belonging to the Deobandi movement that he did it”.
Azhar, an associate of Osama Bin Laden, toured with the group which operates the largest mosques, as well as the largest number of mosques in Britain. Tablighi adherents (Tablighs) also pop up consistently in “Islamophobia” scandals, as they seek to silence Western criticism of Islam.
In 2015 I caught one activist lying about discrimination he faced in order to elicit “Islamophobia” news coverage from the BBC and other UK news outlets, while later that year I showed how the group handled questions (or rather, refused to) following the San Bernardino terror attack.
At the time of writing, NYT author Jeffrey Gettleman had not responded to my request for comment on his description of the group as a “peaceful Muslim outreach group”.
THE ‘MYSTERIOUS ACT OF MERCY’
The NYT headline and framing of the story implies it is somehow strange that an adherent of such a fundamentalist sect would seek to assist Rohingya refugees.
But Ullah had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, and the Islamic State is believed to be using the persecution of the Rohingya people to recruit as it alters its broader regional strategy after being decimation in Iraq and Syria in 2017.
The Guardian reported earlier this year comments from the head of Malaysia’s counter terrorism organisation, Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, who said: “There is a high possibility that Muslims, be it from IS or other groups, will find the ways and means to go to Myanmar to help their Rohingya Muslim brothers”. Malaysia is host to around 150,000 Rohingya.
“The highest threat to Myanmar emanates from Islamic State networks,” Rohan Gunaratna, a security expert at Singapore’s Rajaratnam School of International Studies said. He added: “The Rohingya conflict is emerging as one of the rallying issues for IS. At a strategic level, Myanmar should resolve the Rohingya conflict to prevent IS influence and expansion.”
Foreign Affairs magazine noted comments from Al Qaeda: “The savage treatment meted out to our Muslim brothers in Arakan by the government of Myanmar under the guise of ‘fighting rebels’,” the statement went, “shall not pass without punishment, and the government of Myanmar shall be made to taste what our Muslim brothers have tasted in Arakan, with the permission of Allah.”
The problem is underscored by recent remarks from the Indian government, seeking to remove up to 40,000 people from the country after the nation’s security services discovered terror-links with Pakistani groups.
Reports “indicating linkages of some of the unauthorised Rohingya immigrants with Pakistan-based terror organisations and similar organisations operating in other countries” were picked up in September 2017 in English-language newspapers, but warnings over Islamic terror groups recruiting from the two million-strong group of people emerged in 2015:
Up to 100,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from Myanmar over the past few years and there are increasing concerns that the persecuted community may be easy targets for Isis, particularly if they are seeking asylum in Malaysia and Indonesia – two countries the terror group are known to actively recruit from.
Ullah’s “mysterious act” suddenly appears less of a mystery. In fact, it was predictable as far as regional authorities, Western news reports, and even terror groups themselves were concerned.
The question posed by Gettleman: “…was he following his own heart, reflecting some sort of inner struggle as he headed toward his first known act of violence and self-destruction?” either reflects a dangerous naivety or an intentional attempt to change the narrative.
One indicator of this is actually contained in the NYT article.
“You guys in the West are naïve,” Mohammed Abdur Rashid, a retired army general who now runs a conflict research centre in the Bangladeshi capital said. “You give more space for the preachers, the hate speech. We don’t tolerate it.”
Ullah, as far as he Rashid is concerned, “had fewer reasons to feel desperate,” an excuse often deployed by apologists for radical Islam.
Aid work of the sort Ullah engaged is often inseparable from adherence to fundamentalist philosophies. This can be seen in organisations such as the Ummah Welfare Trust, who were denied a bank account by HSBC following its alleged work with the U.S. Designated Terror group Interpal, as well as Islamic Relief, another group which encountered similar restrictions following its Israeli government proscription.
During my research for No Go Zones, I encountered another such group at the al-Hikmah centre in Dewsbury, England, which is home to the largest Deobandi presence, the Markazi Masjid mega mosque, and the Institute of Islamic Education. It is also close by to some of the most popular Sharia councils in the country.
The al-Hikmah centre is run by the Indian Muslim Welfare Trust, another Deobandi group:
In Dewsbury, where the Markazi Masjid—one of the largest mosques in Europe and Western centerpiece of Tablighi thought—is located, the charitable aims of groups like the Indian Muslim Welfare Association is welcomed with open arms, as local government struggles to provide public services. It is perceived as refreshing to many who fail to scratch beneath the surface that in an area closely linked with Islamist extremism—the 7/7 tube bombers went to the Markazi Masjid—there are Muslim groups serving the community.
I soon discovered that behind the charity lay extremist tendencies:
The sect’s active support of local communities is laudable, but this might be a cover for something much darker. The group segregates by gender, boasts over its advocacy work and fundraising for “Palestine” and Gaza, and has held a conference for Khatme Nabuwat, an Islamist group that encourages persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslims.
Khatme Nabuwat has repeatedly called for the murder of adherents to the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, and has had some success in the murder of Glasgow shopkeeper Asad Shah, as well as attacks on Ahmadi mosques, boycotts of Ahmadi businesses, death threats, and more.
Again, the New York Times reporting bears the hallmarks of either naivety and ignorance, or outright deception.
“Mr. Ullah found enormous satisfaction in doing the charity work, his family said. That raises the question of how deeply radicalized he was at that point and how many other young men in similar circumstances might be passing across that same membrane,” reported Gettleman, before going on to quote a friend of the would-be suicide bomber:
“It shows you how powerful that propaganda must be,” said Mr. Rahman, his old high school friend. “How could he forget his friends, his family, his baby’s face?”
The real answer is… very easily.