Former Eastern Province Governor M. L. A. M. Hizbullah yesterday said National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) Leader Zahran Hashim supported President Maithripala Sirisena at the last Presidential Election in 2015 while he had supported former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Mr. Hizbullah said this while testifying before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) looking into the Easter Sunday attacks.
He said he was the happiest person to hear about Zahran’s death because it would enable him to win the next election without any obstacle.
Following are excerpts of the questioning at the PSC last evening:
Minister Ravi Karunanayake: We want to ask you about a statement you made recently which said Muslims are majority globally though they are a minority in Sri Lanka. This is disturbing.
Hizbullah: I was misquoted by media. Muslims were scared after the attacks on April 21. They were not going to work. There were no prayers at Galle Face for Ramazan after 46 years. I told Muslims to go back to their day to day life. I did this to encourage them not with any racial motive.
RK- Have you met Zahran?
Hizbullah- Yes, before he became a terrorist. He called candidates of all parties contesting the general election in 2015 for a meeting. SLMC candidates also went. He got us to sign an agreement. I went with the objective of increasing my vote base.
Jayampathi Wickramaratne? What was the agreement?
Hizbullah: He wanted us not to use loudspeakers or play music. There was music played at one of my rallies. Zahran then broke the agreement and withdrew support for me. He then supported the SLMC. He launched a campaign against me and I even wrote about it to the elections commission.
MP Nalinda Jayatissa – from which party did you contest the General Election ?
Hisbullah: From the UPFA. Actually Zahran supported President Sirisena at the presidential election while I supported former Presidential Rajapaksa.
NJ – Did Zahran have a large crowd supporting him?
Hizbullah- About 2000 people.
NJ: Was there any other Muslim Organization in Kattankudy?
Hizbullah- Yes, there was a group called Public Thowheed Jamaath and Sufi.
RK- Did you know that Zahran was a terrorist?
Hizbullah- No, everyone knew him as a religious leader. He was having meetings with police permission. He was giving us trouble and complaints were lodged by us and others. Warrants were issued against him. But police said he was absconding and had gone abroad.
Sarath Fonseka – After 2017?
RK: Do you reject IS?
Hisbullah: Yes, I reject it.
JW: Did Zahran use hate speech?
Hisbullah: Yes, he criticized our religion. He did not criticize other religions.
RK: Didn’t Zahran support you at the 2018 provincial council election?
Hisbullah: No, He did not come to Kattankudy because he had a warrant against him.
NJ: Civil society and Muslim organizations testified here that they had complained about Zahran’s activities. Have you lodged any such complaints?
Hisbullah: I have not complained that Zahran was a terrorist.
NJ: You haven’t spoken to a defence secretary about him?
NJ: If others knew, how come you did not know about Zahran’s activities?
Hisbullah: They may know. If I knew, he was a terrorist, I would have informed.
NJ: Do you know about Zahran’s family members?
Hisbullah: No, I don’t know.
JW: When Zahran was out of the country, were his followers active in Kattankudy?
Hisbullah: No, there were no hardcore members.
Rauff Hakeem – Did you know about the blasting of a bike in early 2019?
Hizbullah- I inquired from the police. My security personnel also warned me to be alert as I could be targeted.
SF – Were you made aware of the impending Easter Sunday bomb attack by around April 9, 2019
Hizbullah- No I did not know anything about it. My security personnel did not inform me about it.
JW- How many languages are used in this country?
Jayampathi: Why did you introduce sign boards in Arabic in Kattankudy?
Hizbullah- It was done to attract Arabic tourists. It was for their convenience. Lots of them visit the area. However the arrivals have gone down drastically after the negative travel advisory issued by Saudi Arabia.
MP Ashu Marasinghe: Why did you plant date palm in Kattankudy ?
Hizbullah- We were to plant fox tail plants originally. However we were advised to plant date palm trees to suit the climate.
M.A Sumanthiran: When the court ordered you to remove the palm trees, you transferred the judge?
Hizbullah: There is an ongoing case in Supreme Court so I do not like to talk about it.
AM: Were you aware of Zahran’s safe houses?
Hizbullah: No, I did not know anything about them
AM: When was the Heera Foundation started?
Hisbullah: Sri Lanka Heera Foundation was started in 1993 under the Social Services Department Act. The foundation came under the company registrar in 10.12. 2014
AM: How was the Heera Foundation started, how is it funded and what is its purpose?
Hizbullah: It was funded by Saudi Arabia as well as with local funds. We have done several projects such as water supply projects, mosque renovation and construction. An Emergency Unit was donated to the Kattankudy Hospital at a cost of Rs. 120 million.
AM: What is the total amount received by the Sri Lanka Heera Foundation as donations?
Hizbullah: About Rs. 350 million.
AM: After the Heera Foundation was started in 2014, why was another foundation started thereafter?
Hizbullah: I established the Batticaloa Campus Pvt. Ltd. It needed a 90 per cent non-profit company. None of us can receive profits from the company. The money should be spent only for the campus. Only10 per cent can be obtained by the shareholder.
AM: You signed an agreement in 2013 with the then vocational training minister Dullas Allahapperuma?
Hizbullah: Minister Allahapperuma introduced a system called University College during the time of the previous government. The Government and private sector also started these colleges. I also requested one for Batticaloa. It is called University College of Batticaloa (UCB). It is only for three years.
AM: Were you a deputy minister at the time?
Hizbullah: Yes, I was a deputy minister
AM: You signed the agreement with the government while you were a deputy minister and an MP?
Hizbullah: It is not for profit. It is free of charge. I signed it as the chairman of my NGO. There is no issue. It is just that I cannot do business with the government.
AM: According to the agreement, students were not charged?
Hizbullah: No, we cannot charge even a cent. It was 100 per cent free of charge.
AM: How were the students selected?
Hizbullah: Applications were called.
AM: Was the race of the student considered?
Hizbullah: There was no racial difference. Those who applied were enrolled. But a majority of those that applied were Muslims. Some Tamils also applied. There was a Sinhalese student also.
RK: Where was the funds coming from?
Hizbullah: This is a soft loan with no interest. We signed an agreement with a charity in Saudi Arabia. We were given a five year grace period.
RK: How do you plan to repay it, if it is a non-profit organization?
Hizbullah: Students are charged. We cannot take the profit. The loan will be paid from the earnings of the University. It earns about Rs. 20 to 22 million per month.
AM: Do you believe in Wahabism?
Hisbullah: No, I don’t.
MP Ashu Marasinghe: We got to know that persons who funded you were connected to Wahabism?
Hizbullah: No, completely false. They are living in Paris not in Saudi.
RK: Is this university open to everyone?
Hisbullah: It is open to all. If I wanted it only for Muslims I would have built it in Kattankudy, Kalmunai or Samanthurai. I built it on the Polonnaruwa border instead. I built it for poor students. It has no connection to Islamic studies as claimed. There is nothing like Shariya in it. It is false news spread by the media. This is done with a plan to take the attention of the public away from what happened on April 21 and who was responsible for it. I have clearly said that no religious subjects are taught here. I am ready to join with the government to run it in any manner demanded by the government. The Vice Chancellor of the university was a Sinhala Buddhist. He resigned after the incident. The head of the IT Department was a Sinhalese. He also resigned. There are some who are against private universities. They closed down SAITM, They are trying to close down this institution as well.
SF: Do you know Abdul Razik?
Hizbullah: Yes, I have talked to him over the phone.
SF: One gentleman who testified here said Razik was loyal to IS?
Hizbullah: I do not know sir.
JW: You were blamed for Arabising Kattankudy?
Hizbullah: No sir that cannot be called Arabisation. That architecture was designed to suit Islamic culture.