US Synagogue Attack: Tablighi Link Shows Pak-Backed Terrorism Remains a Threat

Malik Faisal Akram, the gunman, had travelled 11 times to Jhelum, Pakistan, between 2007 and 2020.

4 min read
US Synagogue Attack: Tablighi Link Shows Pak-Backed Terrorism Remains a Threat

Malik Faisal Akram, the 'British citizen' attacker of the Texas synagogue, had travelled 11 times to Jhelum, Pakistan, between 2007 and 2020. To see his relatives and family? Not really. According to investigations, in fact, Malik had joined the Tablighi Jamaat and was travelling with other members of the organisation.

News reports, besides the usual comment of “all roads of terrorism lead to Pakistan”, highlight once more the very odd position of European governments towards the organisation. In Brescia, Italy, the so-called ‘cultural centre’ run by the Tabligh Eddawa, the missionary branch of Tablighi Jamaat, has been closely monitored for a couple of years now by the Italian intelligence because of the kind of devotees it welcomed and still welcomes. According to the Italian police, in fact, from the ‘centre’ passed Maulana Tariq Jameel, a member of the Tablighi Jamaat and director of a madrassa in Faisalabad, Pakistan.

And, before his arrest, in April 2015, even Hafiz Muhammad Zulkifal, considered by investigators the “spiritual ideologist” of the massacre at the Peshawar market in 2009 that cost the lives of 137 people, mainly children, as well as being part of an al Qaeda cell based in Sardinia, was an honored guest of the centre.

A Deep Network of Illegal Fundings

Zulfikal, arrested in 2015 during a counter-terrorism operation in Sardinia, was, unfortunately, freed because the terms for pre-trial detention expired. He is currently under close monitoring as the Tribunal said there are “valid sources of evidence relating to his supposed financing, direction and liaison with armed groups operating abroad dedicated to the design and implementation of guerrillas and terrorist acts”.

The Tablighi Eddawa in Brescia was also involved in an investigation related to the transfer of money and funds for ‘Jihad’. The hypothesis of a huge flow of money being sent to jihadi fighters and the link with Pakistan emerged when the Brescia police dismantled an illegal funding network that had been active for months. The network of illegal fundings involved a couple of Pakistani 'Islamic Cultural centres’ active in Brescia, and they were all linked to the Tablighi Jamaat.

According to official reports, these associations are linked to Tablighi Eddawa, a worldwide network of itinerant missionaries engaged in the door-to-door propagation of Islamic faith and aimed at converting ‘non-believers’ or converting ‘bad’ Muslims.

The network is very popular in Italy, especially among immigrants of Pakistani origin. The network, according to the investigations, preaches the “true radical Islam, its members live imitating the Prophet's lifestyle and try to bring back to Allah all Muslims of weakened faith”.

'Only an Antechamber of Terrorism'

Not only Italy, but France, the UK and the US have also proven strong links of the organisation with al Qaeda and other terror groups. But somehow, the attention shown to the group – despite the evidence of its links with a number of jihadi groups and the fact that several famous ‘terrorists’ have been linked to the organisation – is quite loose and the West has not yet banned it.

According to the intelligence networks of Western countries, in fact, the Tablighi Jamaat is not a terrorist group in itself but ‘only’ the “antechamber of terrorism”. They infiltrate mosques and Koranic schools to radicalise local Muslims and transform them into fighters to be sent to war theatres, but do not commit any terrorist act by themselves.

Things are different in Russia. In February 2020, in fact, a counter-terrorism operation in Moscow led to the dismantling of a terrorist cell directly affiliated with Tablighi Jamaat. The Russian Federal Secret Service arrested seven people, both Russian and Central Asians, all members of the Jamaat. The cell, according to Russian intelligence, was engaged in various activities, including a search for new followers through a strong campaign of proselytism, dissemination of Tablighi Jamaat propaganda material in the Muscovite Islamic community, and management of training camps for new recruits. Moscow, unlike the West, has banned and outlawed Tablighi Jamaat activities in the country since 2009, when the organisation was included, on the recommendation of the Russian Supreme Court, in the list of terrorist groups monitored by the Kremlin.


The Roads of Terror Invariably Lead to Pakistan

The Tablighi Jamaat, according to investigations, thrives on voluntary donations, but its transcontinental network of mosques, Koranic schools and cultural centres would not have been able to survive without the funds regularly received by the World Muslim League and other pan-Islamic organisations financed by Saudi Arabia and the Wahhabi countries of the Gulf.

But even Saudia Arabia, with a very controversial decision, decided not so long ago to ban the group, labelling it “a danger to society and one of the gates of terrorism”.

Only Pakistan, as usual, stood for the Jamaat, passing quickly a resolution where they called it “a force for good” and a “peaceful, non-political organisation”. The statement said:

“Tablighi Jamaat is a global organisation. It has nothing to do with terrorism. History has shown that these people have never been involved in such activities. They are earning goodwill for Pakistan with the preaching of Islam all over the world.”

Surely, Malik Faisal Akram has been earning something for Pakistan – perhaps he is enforcing the general belief that, as Latin would say “omnes viae Romae ducunt” (all roads lead to Rome), the roads of terror invariably lead to Pakistan.

(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. Her latest book is Balochistan — Bruised, Battered and Bloodied. She tweets @francescam63. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for his reported views.)

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