KATTANKUDY, Sri Lanka (Reuters) – The Sri Lankan authorities have arrested a Saudi-Arabian scholar for alleged links with Zahran Hashim, alleged leader of the Easter Sunday bombings, highlighting Salafi's increasing influence. Wahhabi Islam about the Muslims of the island.
A mosque is located in the Center for Islamic Guidance in Kattankudy, Sri Lanka, on May 4, 2019. REUTERS / Danish Siddiqui
Mohamed Aliyar, 60, is the founder of the Center for Islamic Guidance, which deals with a mosque, Religious school and library in Zahran's hometown Kattankudy, a Muslim city on the east coast of Sri Lanka.
"It became known that the detained suspect had a close relationship with … Zahran and handled financial transactions," the police said late Friday.
The statement said Aliyar was involved in training the group of suicide bombers in the southern city of Hambantota who attacked hotels and churches at Easter, killing over 250 people.
A police spokesman declined to give details of the allegations.
Calls to Aliyar and his staff went unanswered. Reuters could not find contact information for a lawyer.
The government says Zahran, a radical Tamil-speaking preacher, was a leader of the group.
Two Muslim community sources in Kattankudy told Reuters that some of his views were shaped by the ultra-conservative Salafi Wahhabi texts that he visited in the Center for Islamic Guidance library about two to three years ago. The sources are not connected to the center.
"I've always met him in the middle and read Saudi magazines and literature," said one of the sources.
During this time, Zahran began to criticize the practice of asking God for help, arguing that such requests were an attack on pure Islam.
"This type of lesson did not exist in Sri Lanka in 2016, unless you read it in the Salafi literature."
Salafism, a Puritan interpretation of Islam that advocates a return to the values of the first three generations of Muslims and is closely linked to Wahhabism, has often been criticized as the ideology of radical Islamists around the world.
Wahhabi Islam has its roots in Saudi Arabia and is supported by its rulers, although Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has committed the kingdom to a moderate form of Islam.
Apart from the fact that Zahran visited the center, sources in Kattankudy stated that they did not know any personal relationships between him and Aliyar.
Aliyar founded the center in 1990, one year after graduating from the Islamic University of Imam Muhammad ibn Saud in Riyadh. One of the residents said this was a crucial moment for the dissemination of the Salafi doctrine in Kattankudy. The center was partly funded by Saudi and Kuwaiti donors, as indicated by a plaque.
Reuters spoke to Aliyar's arrest with three members of the center's executive committee. They asked to remain anonymous and pointed to security concerns in the midst of a backlash against some Muslims.
They said that Zahran was a troublemaker and warned the authorities against his extremist views. The members said that they thought Zahran had been in the library about a decade ago, but could not remember that he had visited him recently, and denied that one of his books was responsible for his views.
Funding for the center came from local donations, tuition, and private donations made by Aliyar's classmates in Riyadh, sources at the center said. Reuters was unable to immediately gather more details about funding the center.
The Saudi Government Communications Bureau in Riyadh did not respond to any requests for comment on funding the center.
Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin in Riyadh and Ranga Sirilal in Colombo; Letter from Alexandra Ulmer, editorial board of Raju Gopalakrishnan