Thursday, December 22, 2005

Is Bangladesh new front for America's War Against Terrorism?

Crisis in South Asia
By Chris Blackburn*

Bangladesh is the new front in the US War on Terrorism and the US doesn't have a say on it. The recent disclosure that Al-Qaeda and it's supporters are being trained by Pakistani ISI in 172 militant camps shows that has become the new Afghanistan. A failure to deal with it will show that September 10th syndrome has really set in.

Chart: Orchestrated country-wide bombing by suspected home-grown Islamic vigilantes on/courtesy-Daily Star

Al-Qaeda is operating in a country with training camps and with ideological and financial support from Middle East based charities and organisations; it is believed that the terrorist group and its supporters are also receiving backing from rogue elements within the Pakistani ISI. Does this sound familiar? The question is why has this been allowed to happen and why has it happened so quickly?

The country in question is Bangladesh, the second largest Muslim democracy. Bangladesh is slightly smaller than Iowa and unlike Afghanistan, which was the former safe haven for Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda; is perfectly designed for guerrilla warfare. The country has dense jungle and highly populated urban areas which give Islamist terrorists and their supports excellent cover and protection to conduct their evil trade in intimidation and murder. Bangladesh is covered in jungle which allows radical Islamists to hide their training and operations from sophisticated surveillance and helps to protect them from the threat of capture- elaborate escape and evasion plans are enforced.

South Asian analysts have long noted that the country would be ripe for Al-Qaeda but little effort has been made to stop their development and penetration of the country. Time magazine has been banned from reporting in the country since 2002. Alex Perry, its South Asia bureau chief, ran a piece exposing the governmentÂ’s lack of response to the build up of Islamist terrorists with links to Al-Qaeda. The Bangladeshi governmentÂ’s inability to take the criticism constructively has also been a worry.

Indian intelligence and government officials have publicly stated that up to 172 Islamist militant camps are currently operating in Bangladesh, some of these camps are believed to house activists from Jemaah Islamiyah, the Indonesian terrorist group responsible for the Bali bombings and other atrocities. Pakistani groups such as Lashker-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed, both with links to Al-Qaeda are also believed to be operating in the country.

The recent suicide bombings in Delhi and Hyderabad (India) were both believed to have had connections to Bangladesh and the ISI supported networks; recent arrests by Indian authorities have shown this to be the case. India has recently increased its troop deployment on the border with Bangladesh by 100% as a result of the escalating threat from Islamist terrorists. There have been calls in the Indian media for action and they have been growing louder. This new front could help to create another tense stand-off between India and Pakistan; the added threat of a nuclear confrontation looks like it could develop over the horizon. Analysts who specialise in the region thought that Kashmir would be the main flashpoint and trigger for any further escalation in tension between the two nuclear neighbours.

Bangladesh has recently celebrated its 34th independence day, however the celebrations have been marred because the nation is in a grip of panic and many fear anarchy will prevail. Suicide bombs have targeted law courts and government buildings; people are beginning to lose faith in law and order and the institutions that are designed to protect them. The opposition Awami league politicians have been targeted for assassination; mainly because they have been warning of the dangers of the rising threat and they stand against radical Islamism. Shah AMS Kibria, a senior Awami League politician and former under Secretary-General of the United Nations, was murdered by a grenade blast in one such terrorist attack earlier this year. Journalists and reporters have also been threatened with their lives by Islamist groups who donÂ’t want them to reporting on their activities and patronage of the terrorists. The perpetrators believe that democracy should be overthrowShariaariah law and an Islamist theocracy; they also believe that the country is too westernised like India.

The new tactic of suicide bombing in Bangladesh has come shortly after reports that Bangladeshi police believed that up to 2000 suicide bombers were ready to go operational. In August 500 bombs were exploded simultaneously throughout the country in what was seen as a trial run for the terrorists. These attacks show devastating capability for murder and a sophistication not seen before.

Bangladesh is the second biggest Muslim democracy and has remained so even though the country has been scarred by dangerous and often bloody feuds between its political actors. The country was born in 1971 after the countries liberation forces, with the aid of IndiaÂ’s military might fought the West Pakistani dictatorship of Yahya Khan to regain their cultural and political independence. The Bengali people feel that they are once again fighting for their survival and Bengali identity. The country is mainly secular, like Turkey, and has a history of cultural and religious diversity. This month the country has endured its first series of suicide bombings and many fear that the spirit of the liberation has been eroded by those that always stood against it.

The Jamaat-i-Islami is a coalition partner in Khaleda ZiaÂ’s government. The party is founded on the principles of MMaududiMawdudi, who was a major figure in the international Islamist MaududiMawdudi worked alongside the Arab dominated Muslim Brotherhood. Said Ramadan, the father of Tariq Ramadan and the son-in-law of Hassan al-Banna lived in Karachi for a while. He helped the Jamaat-i-Islami set up and train their student groups. The two ideologies have meshed together and they borrow ideas from each Azam. Azzam TamimiÂ’s Institute of Islamic Political Thought (II-PT) which is based in the UK is one such organisation which was borne out of this close relationship. Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi and Khurshid Ahmed (Jamaat) both sit on the II-PT advisory board. The International Islamic Universities IIUÂ’s are also an example of the co-operation between the two ideologies.

Jamaat sided with Pakistan during the 1971 Liberation War and set up the notorious al-Badr forces that were responsible for helping and implementing the systematic genocide of up to 3 million BangladeshiÂ’s. They have supported the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Jamaat wants to create a theocracy in Bangladesh and wants to eventually remove democracy and elements it believes are westernised.

The Islami Bank Bangladesh (IBBL) is controlled by the Jamaat; many of its leaders sit on its board. IBBL also controls the accounts of Middle Eastern charities which have been tied to Islamist terrorism. The Al-Haramain charity which has supported Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups has its accounts at the Islami bank. Bangladeshi and Indian intelligence have named 10 Islamic charities they believe are helping to finance and promote Islamist terrorism in Bangladesh; they are the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS), Rabita Al-Alam Al-Islami, Society of Social Reforms, Qatar Charitable Society, Al-Muntada Al-Islami, International Islamic Relief Agency, Al-Forkan Foundation, International Relief Organization (IRO), Kuwait Joint Relief Committee and Muslim Aid Bangladesh (UK)

Muslim Aid Bangladesh is part of Muslim Aid UK, which is run by persons associated with the Islamic Foundation UK. The foundation was mentioned in BBCÂ’s Panorama programme which documented its ties to radical Islamists in South Asia. The foundation was set up by Khurshid Ahmed, a senior Jamaat leader. Iqbal Sacranie, the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) is a trustee of Muslim Aid UK and was formerly its chairman. Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) helped to found Muslim Aid and it has been alleged by European intelligence agencies that branches of Muslim Aid have provided help to jihadi fighters from Bosnia to Indonesia.

The country is one of the poorest in the world, however it is strategically important to the US led War on Terror. This is why international pressure must be applied to the country before the situation deteriorates further. Bangladesh must be forced to comply and dismantle the terrorist training camps and defeat the ideological infrastructure which turns young impressionable minds towards jihad. The current government has been unable to fight Islamist terrorism affectively because its coalition partner is part of the problem. The current crisis unfolding in Bangladesh must act as an early warning signal and is a glimmer of what groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jamaat-i-Islami do once they become part of governments. The advocates for allowing Islamist parties to enter governments must take notice- political/religious groups such as these abuse their authority and dangerously push for greater powers and privileges which allow them to try to destroy democracy from within- greater political responsibilities arenÂ’t dissuading them from trying to violentlShariament Shariah law- it just it just makes them bolder makes them bolder. #


* Writer is a British researcher on Jihad & Islamic militancy globally based in London