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Family: Ozaki uncomfortable about his conversion to Islam

  • Published at 12:33 am August 2nd, 2016
  • Last updated at 10:33 am August 2nd, 2016
Family: Ozaki uncomfortable about his conversion to Islam
Mohammad Saifullah Ozaki, a Bangladesh-born Japanese ex-teacher who is believed to have ties to the so-called Islamic State, was always uncomfortable in expressing that he had converted to Islam, his family has said. The Dhaka Tribune recently went to his ancestral home in Brahmanbaria and spoke to his parents, who said their son – whose previous name was Sajit Debnath – never told them directly about his conversion from Hinduism to Islam. Whenever he visited his family in Koroibarai village of Nabinagar upazila, Ozaki also tried to hide the beard he was growing, according to those close to him.
Mysteriously, he kept a surgical mask on his face at all time to hide his beard.
Ozaki used to teach at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto Prefecture, but has been missing since he left Japan for Bulgaria with his family last year, The Japan Times reported last month. The last time the family had any contact with Ozaki was on January 5 this year, a day after the police came to their house to ask about their son, said Ozaki's father Janardhan Debnath. “I was surprised when I found that the police were inquiring about Sajit, so I called him immediately on his cell phone asking the reason,” During a one and a half minute-long conversation, Ozaki tried to explain to his father how one of his friends was trying to frame him for funding a charitable organisation. But Janardhan said Sajit – as he was still known to his family and neighbours – disconnected the line when he was asked the reason behind funding an organisation that was bad in the eyes of the law. Since that call, he never contacted his family again, the father added.  

'Trying to hide his beard'

Talking to the Dhaka Tribune on Sunday, Janardhan said he visited his son in Japan during a 22-day trip in 2006. During that visit, Ozaki introduced him to a neighbour girl named Rina who called Janardhan “Otōsan” - or father in Japanese language. “In 2007, Sajit called us and said she had married the girl I met,” the father said. In 2008, Sajit came to Bangladesh to attend the wedding of his sister. It was the first time the family saw that he had grown a beard. Mysteriously, he kept a surgical mask on his face at all time to hide his beard. When Anima Rani Debi, Ozaki's mother, asked about the beard, her son replied that it should not be a problem as Rabindranath and Baba Loknath both also had beards.
Sajit last visited Bangladesh in May last year and stayed for over a month in Dhaka
Anima said she travelled to Japan in 2009 to meet her daughter-in-law and three grandsons – whose names Ozaki never mentioned. Since the 2008 visit, whenever Ozaki visited Bangladesh, instead of staying with his own family, he made the unusual choice of staying at the home of local union chairman Abdur Rauf, who had a good relationship with Ozaki. Talking to the Dhaka Tribune, Rauf said it was probably because Ozaki wanted to hide his own Islamic rituals from his family. Rauf, whose one son also went to Japan with Ozaki's help, said he last spoke to Sajit when the police came in January to ask about him. But at the time, Sajit did not mention anything about having militant links, but said he was trying to go to a country in Europe. “Sajit last visited Bangladesh in May last year and stayed for over a month in Dhaka,” Rauf added.  

'Whereabouts unknown'

Asked to describe how her son was before he went to Japan for studies, Anima said: “My son always used to read books and prayed at Hindu temple.” Whenever Ozaki visited Bangladesh, he also used to give money, food and support to the orphans and the poor people of the area, the mother said. She said the family would have had no issue if they knew about Sajit's conversion to Islam. But his alleged links to terrorism were completely unacceptable, Anima said. Ozaki is suspected to be a top financier and mastermind behind militant activities in Bangladesh.
It was recently found that Ozaki had helped two extremists travel to Turkey via Japan last year.
Regarding the suspected militant, Monirul Islam, chief of DMP's Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit, told the Dhaka Tribune that Ozaki was a Japanese citizen and they were searching for his whereabouts. However, Times of India recently reported that Ozaki was among five militants believed to be currently hiding in India. Monirul also said the police were not yet sure about Ozaki's involvement in militant activities in Bangladesh but were trying to learn about possible links. But according to The New York Times, three people, including Ozaki, “acted as contact points between militants inside Bangladesh and organisers outside the country.” Meanwhile, The Japan Times also reported that it was recently found that Ozaki had helped two extremists travel to Turkey via Japan last year. The ex-teacher is suspected of supporting the entry into Japan of the two Bangladeshis by passing them off as students. After staying in Japan for a short time, they departed for Turkey, and then apparently travelled overland to Syria, local police suspected. Japanese police had previously questioned Ozaki on a voluntary basis when he was in Japan, but they found no connection between him and any extremist group, Japan Times quoted sources as saying.