In what seemed like a coordinated onslaught on police, activists of Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) and its student front Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS) swooped on police on January 28 simultaneously in Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Dinajpur and a number of places. The attackers blasted bombs and set ablaze over 200 vehicles. 150 JEI activists were arrested and 70 police personnel sustained injury. “The attacks are designed to send a clear signal to the government that any decision to hang the senior JEI leaders now facing trial on war crimes charges could unravel the fragile political status quo and lead the country to uncontrollable chaos and anarchy”, said a JEI central leader.
Just the day after launching synchronized attacks on the police in Dhaka and elsewhere, the JEI-ICS activists set ablaze two buses and smashed five others in Dhaka. Then again a country wide dawn to dusk shut-down, one of the deadliest ‘hartals’ in recent times, was enforced on January 31 to pressure the government to cancel the ongoing war crimes trial. The thuggery of the JEI activists held the country to ransom. The party even threatened to enforce non-stop ‘hartal’ (shut-down) if the government does not scrap war crimes trial and release all its leaders facing war crimes charges. Selim Uddin, a member of the JEI Central Working Council, warned of a tougher agitation programme to topple the government if it does not stop what he called ‘repression of Jamaat leaders and activists’.
The JEI top brass including its former and present chief as well as the high-ups in the party hierarchy are now facing trial for having tried to thwart the birth of Bangladesh through helping the Pakistani occupying forces in committing genocide, rape and other heinous crimes against humanity.
Earlier, on January 21, former JEI leader Abul Kalam Azad was served with death sentence by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) – 2. This was the first verdict by the ICT for committing war crimes during the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971. Azad has been absconding since April 3, 2012. He was found guilty on eight counts of crimes against humanity which resulted in death of at least 12 people and rape of two women in Faridpur during the liberation war. ICT is now set to pronounce its second verdict in the case against top JEI leader Delwar Hossen Sayeedi as the trial proceedings against him concluded on January 30. The verdict is expected any day. If faster procedure of trial is ensured, all the JEI leaders now put on trial for war crimes are likely to face capital punishment for their heinous crimes against humanity during the liberation war.
Why is the JEI flexing its muscle at this stage to obstruct the war crimes trial? It knows very well that all its leaders will stand unmasked before the people if the trial is allowed to come to its logical end. However much it tries to project the trial as politically motivated, the people of the country, particularly the young generation who are ignorant of the heinous crimes committed by the JEI leaders in 1971, would not be convinced by its falsehood. If JEI believes that its leaders were really innocent and did not commit any offence, why should it get panicky as the time for ICT’s verdict on war crimes cases approaches nearby? The party should boldly face the trial to vindicate its stand that all JEI leaders were innocent and the ruling Awami League’s decision to put them on trial was politically motivated. The trial will also provide an opportunity to JEI to get rid of the war criminal label.
Ever since the emergence of Bangladesh, the JEI knew that the war crimes trial was an inevitability that it will have to face one day and for this purpose it has assiduously built up a huge corpus to thwart the challenge. JEI has been able to gain organizational as well as financial strength as it enjoyed direct and indirect patronage / support from the pro-Pakistan military establishments that remained in power for a long period after murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and afterwards from political parties that came to power following ouster of Gen Ershad’s autocratic regime in 1990. It also directly shared power with BNP as a constituent of Four Party Alliance for five years from 2001. The party has developed scores of business establishments in Bangladesh, starting from banks to insurance companies to media houses. Moreover, the party has a very strong media base both inside and outside Bangladesh.
An estimate worked out by Prof Abul Barkat of Dhaka University in 2005 shows JEI generating a net profit of Tk 1200 crore annually from its investments in different sectors including financial institutions, transport, health, education and NGOs.
The main brain behind JEI’s financial and business group is Mir Quasem Ali, one of the founders of the infamous Al Badar militia that was directly involved in the killings of 1971. Recently Ali and his US based brother paid $ 310,000 to a US based lobbying firm Cassidy and Associates to influence the country’s politicians and government officials on the Bangladesh war crimes tribunal and issues relating to political vengeance. Ali, a successful businessman, is a member of JEI’s 15 member Central Executive Committee and Working Committee. He has now been put on trial.
JEI owns a number of publishing houses, newspapers and a think-tank, Center for Strategic and Peace Studies. Its daily Naya Diganta which was established in 2005 with a corpus of Tk 100 crore is currently one of the largest circulated dailies with a print run of about 150,000 copies. Dainik Sangram, JEI mouthpiece, is one of the oldest dailies widely read in the country.
Apart from its business earnings, JEI receives funds from many international Islamic NGOs including Qatar Charitable Society, Saudi based International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), Kuwait based Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, UK based Institute of Islamic Political Thought and Muslim Aid. Many of these organizations were found to have funded al Qaeda attacks on Twin Tower. With generous funding from abroad the party has expanded its network among the student community in a planned manner. Islamic Training Centers spread across the country which train the youth in low level technical skill such as electronics repair, car repair, fridge repair etc to generate self employment are important instruments of JEI propaganda. The party isroviding jobs to youths in Saudi Arabia against donations. Moreover JEI run coaching centers across the country also generate huge funds. JEI stands as a political party with significant financial resources which enables its NGOs to penetrate the society at large, especially the lower middle class and the poor. The party hopes that this section of people will come forward to its rescue.
The party is seeking support from Pakistan based militant groups Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Harkat-ul-Jehad-Islam (HUJI) and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) as well as Bangladeh based Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT) and hopes that these radical organizations will indulge in large scale subversive activities and unleash destabilizing forces to scuttle the ongoing trial.
Its student front ICS is known as one of the most notorious one in the country. It was reported in local and international media that, JEI and ICS cadres are holding huge stockpiles of arms and explosives inside various campuses and many of them are well trained in handling and making explosive devices. The cadres are imparted arms and motivational training in dense forest and other inaccessible areas beyond reach of security forces. Pakistani intelligence agency ISI is one of the key patrons of JEI and ICS activities. There are several sympathetic Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabia, which also maintains closer links with this Islamist party.
In a report of the ‘National Consortium for Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism’ of the US Department of Homeland Security brought out in 2010 it has been mentioned that apart from carrying out violent activities and killings the ICS is associated with international terrorist groups operating across the globe.
Connection of JEI and ICS with Pakistani intelligence agency ISI signals one point, their main agenda will continue to remain the same - to turn Bangladesh into a federation of Pakistan.