Dr Naik was addressing a press conference via Skype from Medina in Saudi Arabia, where he has been on a religious tour.
“I have knowingly never met any terrorist, but if some people stand next to me take photographs, I smile. I don’t know who they are,” the Mumbai-based preacher said, pleading that “in a month I meet thousands of people.” He had been asked if he had met the Bangladesh attackers who were allegedly inspired by his speeches.
Bangladesh claims that Dr Naik inspired at least two of the seven young men who attacked a cafe in its capital, Dhaka, earlier this month, killing 20 hostages. India is investigating that allegation and Dr Naik’s sermons, writings and funds are being examined by the Centre and the Maharashtra government.
The Islamic preacher today said it was “misinformation” that he had supported suicide bombings, asserting that he has always condemned them since innocent people get killed and it is “anti-Islam”.
“My statements were taken out of context…I am a messenger of peace,” he said, refuting the allegation that his speeches have provoked terror.
“I have been branded a hate monger without an iota of evidence from my speeches,” he added.
His press conference today was held after multiple cancellations through the week. Dr Naik was widely expected to return to Mumbai last Monday, but his Islamic Research Foundation said he will be traveling Africa over the next few days.
Bangladesh has pulled Dr Naik’s Peace TV, which broadcasts out of Dubai, off air. The channel has been banned in India for years but was made available illicitly through cable operators, who have now been warned with stiff punishment.
“Peace TV is a legal channel,” Dr Naik said today, alleging that he has not been given a reason why it has been denied permission to air in India.
In Mumbai, the Skype presser was hosted by Dr Naik’s foundation at a Banquet Hall, near Mazagaon Garden around 9.45 on Friday morning. A police van was parked outside the venue to ensure law and order.