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Al Qaeda support base in Bangladesh

06 Mar 2014

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The recently released audio message of present al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri warning the government of Bangladesh of serious consequences unless it stops ‘wanton killings of Islamic scholars’ and ‘other anti-Islamic acts’ has generated heated debates about presence of al Qaeda and its affiliated groups in the country. There is no dearth of radical Islamist organizations professing al Qaeda ideology in Bangladesh. In fact, al Qaeda had always had a support base in this country.

Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HUJI), one of the leading terror outfits in the country, was formed on the pattern of the Taliban of Afghanistan with the objective of turning Bangladesh into an Islamic state. HUJI sent about 5000 Bangladeshi Mujahids to Afghanistan initially to help the Hizb-e-Islami group of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and later, after abandoning Hekmatyar in1995 to join the Taliban fold. After the success of Taliban in Afghanistan, a group of Mujahids was also sent to Kashmir to fight for Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA). Following the US declaration of HuA as an international terrorist organization, it split into two factions – Harkat ul Mujahideen (HuM) and Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HUJI).

 

Maulana Sheikh Abdus Salam, one of the founders of HUJI in Bangladesh was arrested for his involvement in grenade attacks on a rally organized by the Awami League on August 21, 2004. The attacks were carried out with the intent to assassinate Sheikh Hasina. HUJI commander Mufti Abdul Hannan, another accused in the case, is also facing trial for carrying out the attacks. Hannan revealed that he was enjoying protection from some influential BNP ministers after carrying out the bomb attacks.

 

A group of Bangladeshi Mujahids of HUJI along with Afghan Taliban was captured by the Northern Alliance forces of Rabbani (Masud faction) near the Afghan-Iran border in 1997 and displayed before UN representatives as proof of foreign connections of the Taliban.

 

Arrest of some militants of Pakistan-based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) in Bangladesh has led to disclosure of HUJI’s links with LeT. LeT has spread its roots in Bangladesh with the help of several political leaders of BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami and radical Islamist organizations including Jamiatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). Interrogations of HUJI leaders arrested in connection with the August 21, 2004 attack on Awami League rally and JMB top leaders including Shaikh Abdur Rahman and his second-in-command Bangla Bhai who were executed in 2007 for their involvement in subversive and militant activities revealed their links with Pak based LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) as well as the international terror network of al Qaeda.

 

Earlier, HUJI militants carried out attacks on the American Center in Kolkata in 2002 and interrogation of those arrested for the attack revealed that Aftab Ansari, a leader of Asif Reza Commando Force, an organization allied to HUJI, played a key role in the July 25, 2001 abduction of Kolkata-based businessman Partha Pratim Roy Barman, who was subsequently released on July 30, 2001 after reportedly paying a hefty ransom of INR 3.75 crore in Dubai through hawala network. Reportedly, it is out of this money, JeM leader Omar Sheikh, who killed the American journalist Daniel Pearl, wired $100,000 to Mohammed Atta, leader of the hijackers in the 9/11 multiple terrorist attacks on the Twin Tower. This reveals that HUJI was virtually a part of al Qaeda’s international terror network.

 

The linkages between HUJI and al Qaeda were established when HUJI leader from Bangladesh Fazlul Rahman signed the Fatwa issued by ‘International Islamic  Front for Jehad Against Jews and Crusaders’ in 1998 declaring ‘holy war’ on the US. Other signatories to the Fatwa included top al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Aiyman al Zawahiri, as well as Rifat Ahmad Taha @ Abu Yasir of Egyptian Islamic Group and Sk Mir Hammah, Secretary of Jamiatul Ulema-e-Pakistan. The US State Department, in an executive order on March 5, 2008, designated HUJI as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and Specially Designated Global Terrorist.

 

Threat posed by HUJI escalated further as another pro-al Qaeda outfit Jamiatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) appeared. This outfit was responsible for synchronized bomb blasts and advent of suicide bombers in Bangladesh in 2005. It unleashed a reign of atrocities in the name of Islam. Its founder Shaikh Abdur Rahman and his second-in-command Siddiqul Islam @ Bangla Bhai confessed before their execution in 2007 that they  received training on handling of arms and bomb making at a LeT camp in Pakistan after coming in contact with LeT leader Abdul Karim Tunda. They mentioned that huge funds required for carrying out militancy came from Islamic countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and some other Middle East countries as well as Islamic NGOs. Most significantly, they revealed their linkages with international terror outfits of al Qaeda and Taliban and sources of funds. But their interrogation reports were not made public and with their execution much significant information related to international campaign against terror appear to have been lost.

 

They also said that JMB was backed by some former Ministers and MPs of BNP and Jamaat and particularly named Altaf Hossen Chowdhury, former Commerce Minister, Ruhul Quddus Talukder, former Deputy Minister for Land Development and some JEI leaders including its Amir Matiur Rahman Nizami. Neither the persons named nor the party or the then Government responded to the disclosures.

 

Synchronized bomb explosions rocked capital Dhaka and 63 of the country’s 64 districts on August 17, 2005, thanks to JMB. There was a complete mayhem following the bomb blasts most of which were set off in the vicinities of public places like the High Court, airport and administration offices. Leaflets in Arabic and Bengali, found near the blast sites, called for establishment of Khelafat (caliphate) in the country, adding that international laws were not applicable in Muslim land and that democracy and communism were the methods of the infidels. Describing the perpetrators of the synchronized attacks as ‘soldiers of Allah’ the leaflets called upon the authorities to implement ‘Allah’s rule’ and introduce ‘Khelafat’.

 

The country was shell shocked with the advent of JMB suicide bombers targeting judges, lawyers and court buildings in order to compel the authorities to concede to the demand for introduction of Islamic laws. The country’s first suicide attacks were carried out on October 3, 2005 in 3 district courts simultaneously. Another near simultaneous suicide attack was carried out on November 29, 2005 in Chittagong and Gazipur court when 13 people were killed and more than 50 injured. In another such attack, 2 judges were killed by a JMB suicide squad member on November 14, 2005. In another suicide attack on December 8, 2005, seven people were killed and more than 100 injured as two human bombs exploded in Netrakona. Earlier, a suicide bomber set off a bomb on December 1, 2005 in front of the office of Deputy Commissioner in Gazipur. The militants were specifically targeting the judges, court buildings and lawyers with a view to pressurizing the authorities for introducing ‘Islamic laws’ in place of the existing ‘man-made laws’.

 

 

Lately another al Qaeda affiliated radical Islamist organization has grabbed international attention. Ansarullah Bangla Team, an extremely militant al Qaeda affiliated group, has made its presence felt by ruthlessly assassinating Ahmed Razib Hyder, a pro- Shahbag activist, on February 15, 2013. Salman Yaseer Mahmud who masterminded the murder of Ahmed Razib Hyder was earlier an activist of Jamaat’s student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir.

 

The existence of Ansarullah Bangla Team came to light in March 2013 during interrogation of five students of Dhaka’s North South University. They were arrested in connection with murder of Shahbag activist Ahmed Razib Hyder.

 

 ‘Ansar al Mujahideen English Forum’ (AAMEF), an al Qaeda affiliated website posted the news about five arrested students of North South University of Dhaka with the headlines ‘five lions of Ummah’. Further probe into the website by cyber sleuths gave clues about another website, ‘bab-ul-islam.net’ launched in Pakistan. This website revealed that Ansarullah Bangla Team was founded at North South University in Dhaka and it was modeled on Iraqi al Qaeda group Ansar-ul-Islam. Activists of Ansarullah Bangla Team became active towards the end of 2012 through AAMEF website advocating jihad in Bangla, Urdu and Arabic languages. This militant organization geared up its campaign for armed jihad in Bangladesh recently in its website and those who carried out murderous assault on Ahmed Razib Hyder were deeply motivated by the sermon by its spiritual leader and radical Islamist Mufti Jasimuddin Rahmani. Following the murder of Ahmed Razib Hyder, police arrested Mufti Jasimuddin Rahmani, founder head of the militant Islamic group along with 30 of his followers from a hideout at South Khejurtola, district Barguna.

 

Mufti Jasimuddin Rahmani, a follower of Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni spiritual leader of al Qaeda in the Arab peninsula who was killed in a US Drone attack in 2011, has been carrying out his activities in Bangladesh with impunity for the last couple of years. Youngsters motivated by him include Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, a 22 year old Bangladeshi recently jailed for 30 years in the US for plotting to bomb US Federal Reserve Bank in New York. Another is Razib Karim, a computer expert working for British Airways who was jailed for 30 years in the UK for plotting to blow up a British plane in March 2011 after consulting with the Yemeni al Quaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki. Mufti Jasimuddin Rahmani has more than 4000 militant followers who believe in armed jihad.

 

Dr Farid Uddin, an ophthalmologist and former Jamaat Amir of Madaripur District, disclosed after his arrest in March 2013 that he held meetings with Mufti Jasimuddin Rahmani at Markajul Ulum Islamia several times to chalk out strategies and discuss how all Islamic organizations working for establishing khelafat in Bangladesh could come under a single umbrella.

 

Ansarullah Bangla Team has recently posted on its website a documentary video entitled “Eradicate Democracy”. It elaborates that democracy is not an Islamic system and the western system of democracy is completely in conflict with Islam.

 

According to US media reports, intelligence services intercepted a conference call between al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and more than 20 operatives from across the group’s global network. This prompted the US and several allies to shut embassies across the Muslim world fearful of a major attack. On August 1, the US issued a world wide alert, warning of al Qaeda plans to launch an attack. The sudden one day closure of the US Embassy in Dhaka on August 1, 2013 demonstrates that international marginalization is a real danger for Bangladesh. The government will need to ensure that such threats to Bangladesh’s security, economic development and international standing are eliminated before they can take root.




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