While Indian security agencies have not found evidence of Sri Lankan bomber Zahran Hashim or his aides having visited India before the April 21 Easter Sunday attacks, it is learnt that Sri Lankan investigators are working on leads pointing to Hashim’s travel to the Maldives in the recent past, the Times of India reported.
“A thorough scan of our immigration records failed to throw up any evidence of travel by Hashim or other Sri Lankan bombers to India in the past months and years. It is also equally unlikely that they gained illegal entry into India via sea route as that would have required a proper network of local aides to arrange their safe landing here,” a senior intelligence functionary told TOI.
Inquiries by investigators showed that state police and other agencies had not confirmed the existence a local network of National Tawheed Jamaat in south India, or at least one that would be associated with the Lankan terror group.
An intelligence official said while NTJ may share some ideological affinity with radical Indian outfits, including perhaps Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamaath, there is no lead pointing to any active links or networking among them that would have contributed to the Islamic State-inspired terror bombings in churches and five-star hotels in Sri Lanka.
Sources here indicated that it was possible that Hashim may have spent a few months in 2017-18, when he is said to have gone underground, in the Maldives. Maldives itself has reported a high rate of radicalisation among its youth by Islamic State and Al Qaida.
More than 200 Maldivians are said to have gone to Syria or Iraq in 2014. There has been concern over the return of these individuals and a latent radicalisation of sections of the population.
An officer in the Indian security establishment said there was no question of the Sri Lankan attackers travelling all the way to Kashmir, as suggested earlier by Sri Lankan Army chief Mahesh Senanayake.
He had, in an interview to BBC, claimed that some of the members had visited Kashmir, Kerala and Bengaluru as per information “available with us”. However, during a visit to India on Friday, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena denied having received any report of the Easter Sunday bombers’ travel to India.
According to sources in the Indian security establishment, many Sri Lankan Muslims had travelled to Pakistan between 2004 and 2010 for a course in Islamic studies offered by Dawah Academy there. Now defunct, Dawah Academy would offer such courses to overseas Muslims based in nations where they were in a minority. It was here that the first seeds of radicalisation are suspected to have been sown.