Fiery preacher arrested in terror probe divides, inspires Muslims

Fifty-year-old Qasmi has in the past emerged on the fringes of two terrorism investigations. He was booked in 2012 in Bengaluru for making and selling recordings of speeches that incited communal hatred.

Written by Johnson TA | Bengaluru | Updated: January 10, 2016 7:39 am
Islam, Al Qaeda, Muslims, Islamic preacher, Maulana Anzar Shah Qasmi, Delhi Police Special Cell, Delhi Police, Lashkar-e-Toiba, LeT, india news Maulana Qasmi has been arrested by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police in connection with a terror probe. (Express Photo by Prem Nath Pandey)

Islamic preacher Maulana Anzar Shah Qasmi, who has been arrested by the Delhi Police Special Cell for his alleged links to an Al Qaeda Indian Subcontinent module that is under investigation, has been known for several years to be a radical who has gathered a steady following, his “rabid bayans” causing unease among security agencies.

Fifty-year-old Qasmi has in the past emerged on the fringes of two terrorism investigations. He was booked in 2012 in Bengaluru for making and selling recordings of speeches that incited communal hatred. But he was never arrested.

A polarising force among Muslims themselves, Qasmi has been hailed by his followers as one who speaks the truth and denounced as an enemy of Muslims by detractors — all of whom have had easy access to his speeches through an online website named after Qasmi himself.

In 2012, Qasmi was named as a key influencer by several youths from Bengaluru and Hubli regions of Karnataka who were arrested in the course of an investigation into a Lashkar-e-Toiba attempt to recruit 14 youths from Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh for jihad.

During their interrogation, five youths — Mehboob Bagalkot, Shoaib Ahmed Mirza, Wahid Hussain, Ubdedullah Bahadur and Mohammed Sadiq Lashkar — stated that speeches by Qasmi played a key role in their connect to radical Islam.

“In the past, he has been named in interrogations but not the cases itself,’’ NIA sources said. Qasmi used to preach at the Noorani mosque in Jayanagar area of south Bengaluru but was forced to move to the Makkah mosque in the Banashankari area after his emergence on the fringes of the probe into the LeT recruitment conspiracy case, sources said.

His activities, though considered rabid enough to warrant surveillance, were not considered illegal at that time to warrant arrest, police sources said.

Earlier, in August 2012, Qasmi was named by the Tilaknagar police in south Bengaluru in a case where audio recordings of his statements, allegedly inciting communal hatred, were being commercially distributed. He was not arrested in the case. Moves were afoot to file a closure report in the matter when he was arrested Thursday.

In April 2014, Qasmi was found to have played an influential role in motivating some people involved in the creation of an Islamic State module in Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh.

Five men, led by college dropout Imran Khan Muhammad Sharif, moved towards extremist thinking after being influenced, among others, by Qasmi, sources said. “He is a fundamentalist teacher whose bayans are extremely radical. Many radically inclined youths have been influenced by his speeches. Somewhere, his speeches have had the effect of providing jihadist motivation. His name had emerged earlier in the Bengaluru module case and the Ratlam module,’’ police sources familiar with Qasmi’s activities said.

Qasmi’s link to the alleged AQIS module busted by the Delhi Police Special Cell in Odisha last month is through Maulana Abdul Rahman, one of the persons arrested in the case for attempting to recruit people for the AQIS headed by Asim Umar.

Rahman is the brother of Talha Rahman, an accused in the 2001 US consulate attack in Kolkata. He is alleged to have spent several days with Qasmi in Bengaluru just days prior to his arrest. The Delhi Police Special Cell approached authorities in Bengaluru for finding Qasmi earlier this week, saying he was the third accused, alongside Rahman and Mohammed Asif, in the AQIS module case registered in Delhi, sources said.

At the time of his detention, Qasmi was staying in a house he had rented two months earlier next to the Jamiya Masjid in the Illyas Nagar area of Bengaluru. A father of three, Qasmi was living alone in the house. He has been running a trust called Bazme Qasmi trust to guide young people in the religious path for several years, according to his website.

At the time of his detention Wednesday night, Qasmi informed a student he was with that he would return soon. When he did not return, a police complaint was filed by the student, Mohammed Asif, and others. The Special Cell, meanwhile, flew Qasmi to Delhi.

Qasmi is the son of a religious teacher in Bengaluru and has family in Bengaluru and Bihar. His family will be seeking legal recourse in the case to counter charges brought under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, a civil rights advocate approached in the case said Friday.

“Maulana Anzar Shah Qasmi is well known for speaking the truth. He is known for his fearless speeches against the present fitnahs,’’ says one online description of Qasmi while another says “he uses very abusive language in his speeches and abuses Ahl-e-Hadith/Salafis and tells many lies against the manhaj of Saudis’’.