Thursday, February 02, 2006

Terror threat from Bangladesh

By Hiranmay Karlekar

The arrest, on the eve of the Republic Day this year, of two operatives of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HUJIB) in Delhi, and the recovery from their possession of 1.42 kg of PETN explosives, four electronic detonators and two hand grenades, underlined two important facts. The first was Bangladesh's emergence as a major exporter of fundamentalist Islamist terrorism of which the HUJIB is a major practitioner. The second is the fact that though formally banned in Bangladesh on October 17, 2005, the HUJIB is alive and well in that country as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) are in Pakistan.

This was not the first Republic Day on which terrorist from Bangladesh sought to unleash violence on a massive scale in India. In January 1999, Delhi Police had arrested a 27-year-old Bangladeshi, Syed Abu Nasr, a field officer of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, who had come to India from Bangladesh at the head of a ten-member terrorist team to blow up the United States embassy in Delhi and consulate-generals in Chennai and Kolkata.

Of his accomplices, three were arrested from Siliguri where he had parked them while the other six, whom he had stationed in a safe house in Chennai, had managed to vanish. Yossef Bodansky, former Director of the US Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, who mentions all this in his book, Bin Laden: The Man who Declared War on America, further states that the explosions were planned at a meeting at the office of the bin-Laden-linked Saudi charity, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (AHIF), in Dhaka on September 17 and 18, 1998. Those present included Sheikh Ahmed Al-Gamdi, head of the Islamic International Relief Organisation (IIRO) which has close links with bin Laden, Prof Hafeez Mohammad Sayeed, head of LeT in Pakistan, Sheikh Ahmad Heddeshi, head of AHIF and an LeT commander, Azam Chima.

The meeting needs to be viewed in the context of the deal that, according to Bodansky, the ISI signed with Osama bin Laden in the spring of 1998. Under it his men were to carry out "spectacular terrorist strikes in India while Pakistan was to provide them with support, protection and sponsorship. The use of Bangladesh as the base for conducting such attacks is hardly surprising. Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda had been active in that country right from the time of the jihad against Russian occupation in Afghanistan.

In fact, a number of Bangladeshis fought in that war. According to a report by Zayadul Ahsan published in, Bangladesh's leading English-language daily, The Daily Star (Internet Edition) of October 19, 2005, HUJIB leaders, including Abdus Samad, its then President, had released at a press conference in Dhaka as early as 1992, a list of 24 Bangladeshis who had become "martyrs" in Afghanistan between May 10, 1989, and April 7, 1992. The report mentioned their names and places they came from.

In fact, the HUJIB had been founded in Bangladesh in 1992 by returnees from Afghan Jihad at the instance of, and with assistance from, Osama bin Laden. In February of that year, bin Laden had set up the World Islamic Front for jihad against Jews and Crusaders. The first of a series of fatwas issued by the Front immediately after its formation declared that it was the duty of Muslims to kill Americans, civilian and military, where they could do it. According to Bodansky, one of the signatories was Sheikh Abdul Salam Muhammad, emir of the jihad movement in Bangladesh.

Islamist fundamentalism in its present terrorist form had been growing in Bangladesh ever since Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's assassination in 1975. The Islami Chhatra Sangha, the students wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) Bangladesh, which had enthusiastically participated in the campaign of mass murder and rape unleashed by the Pakistani Army during Bangladesh's Liberation struggle in 1971, and had vanished from the scene following the defeat of the Pakistanis, was reincarnated as the Islami Chhatra Shibir on February 6, 1977. The JeI, which had played an identical role during the same period, re-emerged as a political party at a convention in Dhaka from May 25 to 27, 1979.

Dr Muhammad Asadullah Al-Galib, Ameer of the Ahle Hadith Andolan Bangladesh (AHAB), who was arrested on February 23, 2005, when the latter was banned along with the Jamaatul Mujaheedin Bangladesh (JMB) and the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) for involvement in terrorist violence, established the Ahle Hadith Juba Sangha (AHJS) as early as 1978.

It started its public activity in 1990. The AHAB was founded in 1994. The JMB and JMJB were established in 1998 and 2003 respectively. These grew throughout the 1980s and 1990s, depending on when they were formed, with heavy infusion of funds from Saudi Arabia-based charities like the AHIF and Hayatul Igachcha (HI) and the Kuwait-based Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS).

These organisations are inter-linked and virtually every one of their leaders has a JeI or Shibir background. The cadres are often members of more than one of these organisations or shift from one to the other whenever asked to do so. According to a report headlined 'Galib tape reveal his int'l network' by Anwar Ali in The Daily Star (Internet Edition) of November 22, 2005, tapes of Galib's speeches delivered in the 1990s indicated that he used the JMB as his operational wing and the HUJIB as his training outfit.

Also, they have close links with fundamentalist Islamist elements in India. Thus an Indian, Abdul Matin Salafi, who came to Bangladesh as a Muballig (religious preacher) in the 1980s, began to supervise the functioning of both RIHS and HI. His activities and his extremist views alarmed the Bangladesh's authorities who expelled him 1988 on three hours' notice. According to reports, Salafi left behind a vast amount of Saudi and Kuwati currencies which Galib and his associates used to expand their Salafi is alleged to have kept in touch with him and sent him money even after returning to India.

The tapes mentioned in Anwar Ali's report above also mention him talking about his visits abroad and contacts with alleged international militants, including some close associates of Osama bin Laden, in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Kuwait and Libya. Tapes also indicate that among the international guests he introduced at an AHAB conference in Naodapara, Bangladesh, in 1997, were not only Abdul Matin Salafi mentioned above but also Ahle Hadith leaders from Punjab and West Bengal's Murshidabad district.

Galib, who had reportedly been to Afghanistan and Pakistan on fake travel documents, had visited India several times, including once in 1998 on a business passport. Both he and Bangla Bhai, the Operations Commander of the JMJB, had, however, been visiting the border districts of West Bengal without any travel documents and holding meetings with local fundamentalist Islamists. In fact, according to a report in The Daily Star of March 5, 2005, hunted by police personnel in Bangladesh, Bangla Bhai had crossed into India on March 3 and, after spending a couple of weeks there, was planning to go to Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran.

Mufti Abdul Hannan, Operations Commander of the HUJIB, who been trained in Peshawar in Pakistan and fought in the 'jihad' in Afghanistan, and who was arrested in Dhaka on October 1, 2005, had, according to a report in The Daily Star of October 2, 2005, spent six years in the Deoband madarsa in India. Clearly, terrorist outfits based in Bangladesh have strong support systems in this country and since Bangladesh's Government is only going through the motions of cracking down on them, threats to India from Bangladesh will increase. Hence the urgent need to make the India-Bangladesh border less porous and beef up intelligence. #

Source: The Pironeer, New Delhi, India, Thursday, February 02, 2006