The former librarian of Dr Zakir Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation was arrested by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad years ago for his involvement in the May 2006 Aurangabad arms haul case. Former chief of Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS), K.P. Raghuvanshi told The Sunday Guardian that Naik’s statement was recorded by the ATS after the arrest of his librarian. Investigators are, thus, questioning Zakir Naik’s claim that he was never questioned by the police until now. Feroz Deshmukh, the librarian, was alleged to have been found to be a key Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) functionary and a major link between two other LeT operatives, Rahil Ahmed Sheikh and Zabiuddin Ansari, alias Abu Jundal. Both of them were co-accused in the Aurangabad arms haul case and sneaked into Bangladesh to escape Indian security agencies. Later on, Abu Jundal moved to Pakistan and taught Hindi to the November 2008 Mumbai terror attackers, including Ajmal Kasab. It was found that both Rahil and Abu Jundal used to meet at Naik’s IRF in Mumbai’s Muslim-dominated Dongri area, regularly.

“When his (Zakir Naik’s) statement was recorded by us, he had denied that Feroz Deshmukh worked for him. We had not questioned him in detail after that,” K.P. Raghuvanshi told The Sunday Guardian. Meanwhile, Naik’s brother-in-law Mubarak Kapdi denied that Naik was ever summoned or questioned by the security agencies. “He has not been called until now. But if he is called, he is willing to co-operate 100%,” he told this correspondent.

“During our probe of the May 2006 Aurangabad arms haul case, we found that Feroz Deshmukh was continuously in touch with Rahil Sheikh. The Maharashtra ATS and the Delhi Special Cell formed a team to nab Rahil, who escaped from his Grant Road house after jumping from a wall. He later sneaked into Bangladesh. Even Abu Jundal crossed over to Bangladesh to avoid the security agencies. They were found to be in continuous touch with Feroz Deshmukh. He was thus booked. He is currently out on bail,” Raghuvanshi said.

Way before that, in 2003, Zakir Naik was on the radar of the anti-terror agency after several blasts ripped through Mumbai between 2002 and 2003. The accused in these blasts were alleged to be inspired by Zakir Naik. “In 2003, during investigation into the blasts from 2002 to August 2003, Zakir Naik and his institute IRF were on the ATS radar,” a top IPS officer told The Sunday Guardian on the condition of anonymity.

“It may be that the common link for the youths to join terror from Mumbra, Kalyan, Meera Road or Hyderabad is that they are inspired by Zakir Naik’s speeches,” claimed Feroze Mithiborwala, a secular Islamic scholar. The claim has been vehemently denied by Mubarak Kapdi, Naik’s brother-in-law.

“Even in the year 2011, when I was the Police Commissioner of Thane, Zakir Naik had approached the police to seek permission for holding a rally in Mumbra, a Muslim-dominated area of Thane. At that time, a large delegation of Muslims had opposed it on the grounds that this man gave provocative and divisive speeches, and that his rally might cause a law and order problem in the area. I had thus denied him permission then,” said Raghuvanshi.

The next year, he was denied permission by the Mumbai Police to hold his yearly “peace conference” at the city’s Somaiya ground. He had been holding the conference there since 2007. The event used to be attended by thousands of people. But the Mumbai Police was wary of giving him permission in 2012 after his provocative speeches offended both Muslims and Hindus the previous year. Local media reports said that he has not been granted permission after that to hold any rallies in Mumbai. Kapdi said that Naik never sought permission to hold his conference in Mumbai after that.

“See, he has always been known as a man who gave inciting and provocative speeches. But apart from that, there was never any evidence against him. If you ask me if he could be booked only on that basis at that time, I would still maintain, he couldn’t be. He was on the radar for some time after the Ghatkopar blast in 2002,” a retired Mumbai Police officer, who played a pivotal role in the probe of many terror cases, told The Sunday Guardian.

Currently, the Mumbai Police’s Special Branch is probing Dr Zakir Naik’s speeches, CDs, books and his organisation Islamic Research Foundation (IRF). Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had asked Mumbai Police Commissioner Datta Padsalgikar to look into  Naik’s speeches. “We will complete the probe as soon as possible, though there is no deadline. We are currently scanning through his material, speeches and books,” Mumbai Police Commissioner Datta Padsalgikar told The Sunday Guardian. When asked if Naik would be summoned for questioning, he said, “Depending on the outcome of the inquiry, we will call him if we require any clarification.”

Security agencies looking into the funding of IRF have gathered momentum after former Mumbai Police Commissioner and current BJP MP, Satyapal Singh claimed that his report against IRF’s funding was ignored by then UPA government. He has sought a ban on IRF by Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) for contravening its norms. 

At present, the security agencies, including the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Maharashtra Police are scrutinising Zakir Naik’s speeches, books and CDs to check objectionable contents. The statements of terrorists belonging to various organisations who have been arrested here, are also being screened for references to him. Media reports have claimed that wanted terrorist Hafiz Saeed’s Jamat ud Dawa’s website has a direct link to Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation website.

BJP’s ruling ally Shiv Sena has demanded a ban on Zakir Naik and his channel, Peace TV. In a letter written to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Shiv Sena’s Arvind Sawant has demanded that Naik should not be allowed to enter India.

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