Isamic Bangladesh : Hotbed of Al Qaida and Islamist Jehad
Submitted by Anand K Rai (India), Oct 15, 2006 at 15:10
Bangladesh: Attempt to Restrain Islamists before Elections Lacks Sincerity
by Dr. Anand Kumar
A series of convictions of Islamic militants took place in Bangladesh in last couple of months. Some of these militants have been given even death sentence. This was a surprising development for a country where Islamic parties are part of the ruling coalition and the government so far has been known for its soft attitude towards them. Unfortunately these actions of government have failed to diminish the strength of Islamic groups.
A string of judgments by Bangladesh courts in the last couple of months have convicted Islamist extremists in cases pertaining to bombing and explosions at public places.
Convictions Fail to Break Terror Network
Unfortunately, these convictions failed to break the terror network in Bangladesh. Towards the end of July 2006 the government alerted law enforcement and intelligence agencies to step up vigilance across the country following information that Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) militants were reorganising themselves under different banners. Media reports also indicated that the militants were trying to regroup in haor and beel areas of northern and north-eastern regions after a downturn in their activities due to arrest of most of their top leaders. This attempt to revive their activities was done by the lower rung leaders who were still outside the security dragnet.
The fear of security agencies came true on August 2, 2006 when Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) captured 26 Islamist militants while they were receiving military training in a remote jungle in Mymensingh. The captured militants included two prospective suicide bombers and a veteran of the previous Afghan war. RAB confirmed that the militants belonged to outlawed Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).
Leader of the Opposition in Parliament and Awami League (AL) President Sheikh Hasina considered the arrest of 26 militants by BNP-Jamaat-led coalition government from Bhaluka upazila in Mymensingh as nothing but eyewash to please the visiting US assistant secretary of state. Hasina said, "Whenever any foreign guests visit the country, the alliance government is seen busy in arresting militants to make them happy…the government had earlier nabbed the militant outfit Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh's (JMB) kingpins Shaikh Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai when US President Bush was visiting neighbouring India."
After these arrests the US asked Bangladesh to take follow up action. Speaking to media in Dhaka on August 3, 2006 Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said, "Bangladesh has made some important strides against terrorism by capturing the leaders of JMB. Still, it is very important to continue to fight terrorism in Bangladesh... 400-500 bombs cannot be set off by half a dozen people." He wanted Bangladesh to uproot the terror network existing in the country.
The US however denied having any specific information about the al-Qaeda network's presence in Bangladesh. Commenting on a media report that the al-Qaeda may have found its way into Bangladesh, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on August 4 said that Washington was as concerned as Dhaka on the issue of terrorism in the South Asian nation. But he denied having any "particular information about the presence of al-Qaeda individuals in Bangladesh."
The weak response of security agencies in Bangladesh against the Islamic militants is because of a symbiotic relationship existing between them. It was seen very clearly in the trial of several cases. These agencies managed to influence the outcome of the trial of the 1999 Jessore Udichi bombing. All the 23 accused have gone scot-free owing to lack of evidence against them. In fact the working of these agencies forced the honourable judge to comment that that the shoddy work done by them has prevented the real perpetrators from being identified and brought to justice. As the Udichi case straddled two regimes, it gave the police ample opportunity to spoil the merit of the case when the regime changed after 2001 elections. Several US lawmakers have also expressed their concern about the Kibria case going nowhere.
Authorities Tried To Delay Trial of JMB Men
Trials of several cases filed against leaders and activists of outlawed Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) was delayed as the authorities concerned showed utter reluctance to produce the charge-sheeted accused before different courts in Dhaka. Courts concerned could not frame charges against the detained militants or start trials of at least a dozen cases as the jail authorities and law enforcement agencies did not produce the JMB leaders and activists before the court on scheduled dates. In some cases, 10 to 12 consecutive dates already passed without hearing as the accused militants were not produced before the courts. The courts repeatedly directed the jail authorities and law enforcement agencies to produce the accused, but the orders were ignored.
JMB Kingpins Provided Special Treatment
Instead of treating them as criminals the Bangladesh government is providing special treatment to the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) kingpins inside the jail. The JMB kingpins Abdur Rahman and Siddiqul Islam Banglabhai have been kept in a sub-jail in Mirpur instead of secured cells of a prison. Jail authorities claim that the two top militant leaders have been kept in a house in a residential area "isolated from people" to ensure "special security". The ruling coalition on the other hand had kept "top-of-the-list" convicts such as the killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the Dhaka Central Jail.
Hanging of Condemned militants Postponed
Seven militants were condemned to death for killing senior assistant judges Jagannath Pandey and Sohel Ahmed in a suicide bomb attack at Purba Chadkati in Jhalakathi town on November 14, 2005. Additional District and Sessions Judge of Jhalakathi Reza Tarik Ahmed on May 29 ordered for hanging Rahman, Bangla Bhai, Sunny, Awal, Khaled Saifullah, Mamun and Asadul Islam alias Arif until death. The High Court confirmed the death sentences on August 31.
All the top JMB leaders, after their capture, repeatedly said on different occasions that they would not accept trial and verdict under Taguti (non-Islamic) laws and by any worldly court. They also said on several occasions that they would not appeal against the death penalties.
It appears that the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) militants condemned to death for killing two judges last year will not be executed during the tenure of the present government as all the convicts have sought permission to appeal against their sentences. The Supreme Court registrar on October 3, 2006 ordered stays of execution of the death penalty of JMB military commander Ataur Rahman Sunny and Majlish-e-Shura member Abdul Awal following their special prayers through the jail authorities for leave to appeal. Sunny and Awal submitted their prayers to the Dhaka Central Jail authorities on October 2, three days after expiry of the seven days' time since reading out of the death warrants to the convicts. The SC registrar has sent separate letters to the home ministry, jail and the other authorities concerned, ordering postponement of the execution.
Earlier the court had stayed execution of Rahman and Bangla Bhai. Although Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) kingpins Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai in their letters did not seek to appeal against death penalty, the Supreme Court (SC) registrar ordered on October 1 to stay their executions considering their letters as prayer for appeal. The SC registrar accepted the letters of the two militant leaders as appeals through the jail authority in which the militants once again said it is justified to kill people for establishing Islamic rules and that the judges, who held trial under Taguti (non-Islamic) laws neglecting the Shariah, themselves deserve death.
Inroad of Jamaat in Security Agencies
Jamaat has been able to manipulate the administration with ease as it has made inroads in the government security machinery at all levels with the help of the largest political party, BNP in the ruling coalition. Even the Home Secretary Muhammad Omar Farooq is widely regarded as close to the Jamaat. What is more worrying is the fact that the Jamaat and its allies appear to be penetrating the higher ranks of the armed forces. Some media reports have indicated that Maj. Gen. Mohammed Aminul Karim, recently appointed as military secretary to President Iajuddin Ahmed, and to Brig. Gen. A.T.M. Amin, director of the Armed Forces Intelligence anti-terrorism bureau are linked to Jamaat.
Foreign Link of Militants and Their Patrons Still In Shadow
After the arrest of JMB militants startling revelations were made that they had plans to attack army personnel and overthrow the government. Despite this the security agencies have done precious little to identify the political patrons and foreign links of the militants. On the other hand, the investigating agencies have tried to play down the strength of the Islamist militants who tried to force the government to establish Islamic rule through the bomb blasts that killed around 30 including judges, lawyers and policemen.
Although the names of some ruling party political leaders, ministers and lawmakers have surfaced since the JMB leaders started operating in the northern districts in 2004, the investigators have shown no move to detect and expose them. Several people in Bangladesh are asking the government to allow seven condemned militants of Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) to speak with the media so that they can disclose the names of their godfathers.
Islamists in Bangladesh have international links that provide both motivations and monetary support to them. While refusing to admit that the militants have foreign links, the investigators have stated that a few militants have had training in Afghanistan and Muzaffarabad in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir. They have also revealed that the militants had training on bomb-making in Afghanistan and used Taliban techniques of the trade in Bangladesh. Besides his training in Afghanistan, JMB chief Abdur Rahman also had training in Muzaffarabad. According to intelligence sources, the JMB has connection with the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiyeba, which is also active in India. Foreigners have visited Bangladesh at different times in the name of religious activities and some of them gave training to the JMB men. Its most recent proof came out in July 2006 when two Pakistani militants were arrested in Bangladesh's Jhalakathi district, the hotbed of Islamist militancy. The Pakistanis were among nine militants detained in the district. One of the men was living illegally in Bangladesh for the past 18 years. They gave their names to the police as Golam Sabbir of Sargoda in Punjab and Belal Afsar. According to police, those detained said they were members of ‘Dawat-e-Islami (Tablig and Dawat)' and claimed to be engaged in religious preaching. They were suspected to have links with militancy and sent to Jhalakathi District Jail.
There is no doubt that several extremist groups are active in Bangladesh with a political agenda. They are not averse to achieve their aim with the use of violence exploiting the name of Islam. This growing Islamic fundamentalist movement linked to al-Qaeda and Pakistani intelligence agencies has hardly been dented by the recent actions of the Bangladesh government. In fact, it appears that the government is not interested in uprooting the network of terror in the country. The current actions of the government are aimed at wooing the public at home and impressing human rights bodies and media, both at home and abroad, ahead of the parliamentary elections. The government has not taken a firm decision to act against the Islamic militants. It only wants to restrain them till the elections are over.
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