NEW YORK, July 14: The non-political Muslim missionary group “Tablighi Jamaat” has become the focus of attention and scrutiny by the US law enforcement agencies who believe that the organization was used as a recruitment vehicle by Al Qaeda.

In an extensive article in the New York Times on Monday, law enforcement officials cited cases of Lyman Faris, a Ohio truck driver named last month in a terrorist plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, and John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban, who used the organization because of its apolitical stance.

“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 J. Heimbach, the deputy chief of the FBI’s international terrorism section told the Times.

Another senior law enforcement official described the group as “a natural entree, a way of gathering people together with a common interest in Islam,” the paper said.

The Times said that for Tablighi leaders, accustomed to operating in relative obscurity, the new scrutiny is unwanted, and the government’s contention that the group has served as a recruiting ground for terrorists is grossly unfair.

In interviews with the paper, Tablighi leaders said their beliefs were contrary to everything espoused by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

“It’s a very great accusation, a total lie,” Abdul Rahman Khan, a leader of the group’s North American leadership council told the paper. “Anybody who has been active in our work, who spends at least three days, will have an understanding of our peaceful nature.”

Khan, who lives near New Orleans and has been involved with the group for 36 years, said the Tablighi Jamaat’s refusal to 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,” he said. “If someone starts even one word, we cut him off. So he’s going to go somewhere where he can get an audience.”

So far neither the organization nor Tablighi activists have been accused of committing any crime or of supporting terrorism. Yet, the authorities remain alert to what they see as the group’s susceptibility to infiltration and manipulation, the paper said.

Citing Faris case as an example the US investigators told the Times that Faris used the guise of the organization to change names on airline tickets when he visited a travel agency in Pakistan in 2001.

Because the tickets were not in his name, Faris needed an explanation to validate his request. Investigators say he used one that other Qaeda recruits have relied on to disguise their intentions: he pretended to be a member of Tablighi Jamaat.

Similarly six Yemeni-American men from Lackawanna, a Buffalo suburb, arrested last year in a terror plot reportedly told the family members that they were going to Pakistan in the spring of 2001 for religious training with the Tablighi Jamaat. But once in Pakistan, the men went on to take military training at a Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, investigators told the paper

The six have pleaded guilty to providing material support to Al Qaeda, or otherwise aiding a terrorist organization through their attendance at the camp.

Founded in rural India 75 years ago, Tablighi Jamaat is one of the most widespread and conservative Muslim movements in the world. It describes itself as a non-political, and non-violent, group interested in nothing more than proselytizing and bringing wayward Muslims back to Islam.

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