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By Sridhar Krishnaswami
Given the conservative orientation of the group, Federal investigators suspect that the terrorist outfit Al-Qaeda had used the group to recruit members, an allegation that is rejected by leaders of the missionary group. "... Since the attack of September 11, 2001, Tablighi Jamaat, once little known outside Muslim countries, has increasingly attracted the interest of Federal investigators, cropping up on the margins of at least high profile terrorism cases'', says a report in The New York Times.
The cases include that of John Walker Lindh, now serving time for aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan; and the truck driver in Ohio, Iyman Faris, who was named in a terrorist plot last month to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge.
Law enforcement officials have been quoted in the report as saying that the global reach of Tablighi Jamaat and its reputation for rejection of such activities such as politics made it a perfect avenue to be exploited by groups such as Al-Qaeda.
"We have a significant presence of Tablighi Jamaat in the United States and we have found that Al-Qaeda used them for recruiting, now and in the past'', Michael Heimbach, deputy chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's international terrorism division has been quoted in The Times as saying.
Another unnamed senior law enforcement official has described Tablighi Jamaat as a "natural entree, a way of gathering people together with a common interest in Islam''.
What has been pointed out is that while Tablighi Jamaat has come to attract the attention of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, neither the organisation nor any of its activists have been directly accused of any crime-supporting terrorism.
And leaders of the group have said that the attention is unwarranted. "It's a very great accusation, a total lie. Anybody who has been active in our work, who spends at least three days, will have an understanding of our peaceful nature'', Abdul Rahman Khan, Tablighi's leader of the North American Council, has been quoted by The Times as saying.
Mr. Khan has said that the fact that his group does not discuss politics meant that people with militant views quickly moved on.
"From our experience, those people who have those intentions don't talk around us. If someone starts even one word, we cut him off. So, he's going to go somewhere where he can get an audience'', Mr. Khan said.
Seen as a network of part-time preachers, Tablighi Jamaat started its work in India in the last days of the British empire and has now bases and schools in Pakistan, Britain and Canada.
Some academics do not believe that the group has any formal ties to terror outfits.
"I don't believe there's a sinister plot where they're in bed with Osama bin Laden but are hiding it. But I think that militants exploit the alienated and withdrawn social attitude created by the Tablighis by fishing in the Tablighi pond'', remarks Professor of Islamic Law at UCLA, Khaled Abou El Fadl.
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