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Extremist cleric with possible ties to ISIS accused of masterminding Sri Lanka bombings

Extremist cleric with possible ties to ISIS accused of masterminding Sri Lanka bombings
Sri Lankan intelligence has reportedly named local extremist cleric Moulvi Zahran Hashim as the driving force behind the deadly Easter Sunday attacks. The radical cleric used social media to call for violence against non-Muslims.

Hashim is suspected to be an organizer of the attacks shortly after senior government officials accused the National Thawheed Jama’ut (NTJ) of involvement, according to multiple media sources. Hashim is both an Imam, and a prolific lecturer for the NTJ, and is said to have used social media to incite violence, including against rival mosques.

Having since been removed from YouTube, Hashim’s videos contained messages of support for Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) against images including the burning twin towers and a tapestry of flags from countries around the world engulfed in flames.

The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka reportedly complained to the government about Hashim for years, flagging his ‘hate speech videos’ after it became clear he was radicalizing young students in his Koran classes.

The NTJ itself was a little-known hardline-Islamist outfit until it was named as a suspect in Sunday’s bombings by government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne. Despite the accusation, intelligence organizations believe that the sophisticated attacks could not have been carried out without the expertise of outside groups, which could lend credence to IS’ recent claim to be behind the bombings. 

Sri Lankan security agencies had been allegedly tipped off by Indian and US intelligence agencies that the NTJ was possibly preparing for terrorist acts against churches, but the information never made it to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s hands.

Wickremesinghe said on Tuesday that “some links’ to IS were possible in the bombings, and that similar attacks might still be in the works.

Also on rt.com Chilling VIDEO shows suspected Sri Lanka church bomber moments before explosion

There are currently conflicting reports about Hashim’s fate. Originally identified by CNN’s News 18 as one of the suicide bombers that carried out the attack, some sources say he fled the country after helping to organize the assault on Easter Sunday. Others like Al Jazeera journalist Saif Khalid have maintained that implications of Hashim's involvement have been made too swiftly, even accusing News 18 of “Islamophobia” over their accusation.

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