India plans to ask Interpol to help track down an Islamic preacher accused of making inflammatory speeches that inspired attackers at a Bangladesh café in July 2016, an official said Friday, one day after the cleric was charged with inciting communal hatred.
In a charge-sheet filed in a Mumbai court late Thursday, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) alleged that televangelist Zakir Naik was involved in a criminal conspiracy to foment terrorism and hatred among religious communities by lauding terrorist outfits.
The 61-page document viewed by BenarNews also accused Naik’s now-forbidden Mumbai-based NGO Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) and his company Harmony Media Pvt. Ltd. (HMPL) of forwarding his agenda.
Naik, 51, came under the Indian government’s radar after Bangladesh media reported that at least two perpetrators of a terrorist attack at Dhaka’s Holey Artisan Bakery café, where 20 hostages were killed in July 2016, were influenced by his sermons.
“We are already preparing papers to get him deported back to India,” an NIA official told BenarNews on condition of anonymity. Naik, who left the country in June 2016, is believed to be traveling between the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia.
Meanwhile, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) president on Friday defended Naik against the charge sheet filed in India, the Malay Mail reported.
“For Muslim individuals, even when they won by using arguments and not weapons, like Dr. Zakir Naik, they are considered terrorists because their arguments cannot be countered,” Hadi said in an opinion piece on Islamophobia published in Harakah Daily.
Naik had been scheduled to appear at a PAS-organized gathering of Muslim scholars in Malaysia’s Kelantan state in July, but cancelled after India revoked his passport.
Arrest warrant issued in April
In April, the Mumbai court issued a so-called non-bailable arrest warrant against Naik after he repeatedly ignored summons issued by India’s Enforcement Directorate to appear to respond to allegations of misuse of foreign funds donated to his NGO.
The Indian government imposed a five-year ban on IRF in November 2016, citing violations by the NGO under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act and the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
“Since the money-laundering case against Naik hinged on the NIA investigation, it was necessary that the agency filed its charge-sheet,” public prosecutor Hiten Venegaonkar told BenarNews.
The NIA’s charge-sheet will allow the agency to approach Interpol for assistance and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can then initiate the process of bringing Naik back, Venegaonkar said.
The NIA accused Naik of praising late al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, supporting suicide attacks and denouncing Hindu gods during sermons delivered through Peace TV. The channel partly funded by the IRF is banned in several countries, including India and Bangladesh.
The NIA has “firmly established that the incriminating public speeches have been in circulation through electronic media such as CD/DVD and web portals Facebook/YouTube etc.,” the charge-sheet said.
“The minutes of IRF board of trustees’ meeting disclose that IRF has approved, organized, promoted and funded public lectures of accused Zakir Naik, including his incriminating speeches. The seized material such as DVD and books list IRF as the publisher,” it said.
The agency also established the role of HMPL in editing the incriminating material and “forwarding [Naik’s] speeches to the Global Broadcast Corporation Dubai for broadcast in the Peace TV.”
“The derogatory and malicious remarks were not just confined to faiths and beliefs of Hindus or Christians but also included non-Wahabi Muslims, particularly Shia, Sufi and Barelwis,” the NIA said.
The charge-sheet cited cases of several youths who were allegedly influenced by Naik’s sermons and attempted to join the Islamic State.
The accused “never included any reference to alternative interpretations by Muslim scholars of the views he presented nor sought to mitigate the potential offence by providing sufficient context for his remarks,” it said.
Lawyer prepared to challenge extradition
Naik’s lawyer S. Hariharan said he would wait to decide the next course of action.
“I have yet to receive the charge-sheet. Although as per protocol the charge-sheet is handed to the accused. But in this case, the accused is not present in the country,” Hariharan told Benarnews without divulging Naik’s current location.
“We will most certainly be seeking discharge after we receive the charge-sheet and will also challenge demands for extradition,” he added.