By Srijan Shukla
22 April, 2019
A top minister in the Sri Lankan government has accused a little-known organisation called the National Thawheed Jama’ath (NTJ) for the Easter Sunday church and hotel serial blasts in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa.
Harin Fernando, the minister for telecommunications, foreign employment and sports, tweeted a picture of an internal police memo, which warned about a possible bomb attack by the NTJ.
What is the NTJ?
The NTJ is a local jihadist group, which has been associated with activities against the country’s Buddhist majority. Last year, the NTJ was linked to a series of acts of vandalism targeting Buddhist temples in Mawanella.
Reports suggest that the NTJ may be a splinter group of the radical Sri Lanka Thowheed Jama’ath (SLTJ), a relatively known group that gained infamy when its secretary Abdul Rajiz was arrested in 2016 for giving speeches that incited hatred against Buddhists.
Anne Speckhard, director of the International Centre for the Study of Violent Extremism, told The New York Times that the NTJ is not a separatist group — rather; it aims to introduce the global militant movement in Sri Lanka.
Speckhard remarked that the recent attacks seem “as if they came right out of the Daesh, Al-Qaida, global militant playbook, as these are attacks fomenting religious hatred by attacking multiple churches on a high religious holiday”.
Unconfirmed reports suggest the extremist Zahran Hashim might be the mastermind behind these attacks. Hashim was a regular lecturer at NTJ.
However, some scholars who study violent extremist groups continue to remain sceptical about NTJ being solely responsible for these bomb attacks. They argue that the NTJ has just had a history of anti-Buddhist acts, and more information would be required before commenting with certainty.
The Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamaath
Some on social media are confusing NTJ with the predominantly India-based Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamaath (TNTJ).
The TNTJ is a non-political Islamic organisation based in Tamil Nadu, which has some presence in countries such as Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and others.
It aims to preach “true” Islam to Muslims and non-Muslims. The group has captured headlines for organising protests against load shedding and asking for the closure of liquor shops.
There is no publicly available evidence to suggest that TNTJ is connected to the NTJ.