Friday, March 03, 2006

Bangladesh:Next epi-center for Islamic terrorism

International Intelligence Summit 2006 Report: Bangladesh

by Chris Blackburn

Executive Summary
Bangladesh is perhaps becoming the most important country in the War on Terror today; the unravelling situation will have a profound effect on South Asia and beyond.

The infiltration of al-Qaeda and the suspected involvement of the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) shows that the United States and its allies must face tough questions if they are to succeed in rolling back radical Islamism. Bangladesh is seen as an important keystone for Islamists as they believe they can implement their totalitarian designs on the country with relative impunity.
In 2003 Islamic militants operating in Bangladesh were found with nuclear materials. Intelligence reports state that they were going to be used in a dirty bomb attack.

Bangladesh at worst could become a dangerous failed state but it is more likely to become the catalyst for an escalation in tension between India and Pakistan. An outcome which will increase militant Islamism throughout South Asia and it will also effect Muslim communities throughout the world.

Talking Points
- In 2003 militants in Bangladesh were found with 255 grams of uranium oxide which was to be used in a dirty bomb attack.
- Assassination and intimidation of opposition leaders, mainly the Awami League. Death threats to journalists from leading Islamists.
- 500 bombs explode simultaneously throughout the country on 17th August 2005.
- Indian intelligence believe 172 militant camps are operating in Bangladesh
Middle Eastern charities with suspected involvement with al-Qaeda operating in Bangladesh.
- Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) involvement in militancy.

Bangladesh was formed after the War of Independence in 1971, the country formerly known as East Pakistan decided that it no longer wanted to be run by the Pakistani dictatorship of Yahya Khan that was gradually trying to dilute the Bengali culture and wanted to impose radical Islam on the country. The Pakistani forces had an ally in the radical Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) which wanted to remain part of Pakistan and wanted to become part of the greater Islamic project once the main Pakistani branch of the JI took greater power. The JI was actively involved in assassinating leading intelligentsia in Bangladesh during the liberation war and many of its leaders were implicated in horrific war crimes. The JI is active in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and in western countries which have Muslim populations from South Asia. Jamaat-i-Islami is a dangerous force because it has meticulously studied the rise to power of communist and fascist regimes and tries to emulate their tactics and strategies.

Islamism has always been a factor in Bangladesh but it has never gathered great public support; analysts have said that without financing from Gulf States, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, it would be finished as a political entity and would hasten the demise of radical Islamism. However after the War of Liberation and the retreat of the Jamaat from political life; Bangladesh gradually became an exporter of foot soldiers for Islamic radicalism in South Asian countries. Later their presence was felt in Central Asia and the Far East. The first batch of Bangladeshi mercenaries, bent on radical Islamist thought, reached Lebanon in early 1980s, to help create an “Islamic Palestinian” state. Israeli forces detained batches of mercenaries from Bangladesh, after Israel invaded southern Lebanon.

Separately a second group of mercenaries were recruited by rogue military officers, who were dismissed from Bangladesh Army in mid 1970s. They were also self-proclaimed assassins of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh in 1975. With collusion with the Muslim Brotherhood, the rogue officer founded the Freedom Party in Bangladesh, which envisaged an Islamic nation. They had recruited several hundred educated youths and had sent them to Libya in the 1980s to train them so they could work to turn Bangladesh into an Islamic state on their return.

During the Afghan war against the Russian invasion, hundreds of youths from Bangladesh were recruited and smuggled into Pakistan to join the Islamic militants for jihad. The flights of Jihadis occurred with the full knowledge of the dreaded Pakistan and Bangladesh military intelligence.

Bangladesh has always appeared as a secular and moderate Muslim nation however there have always been elements that have tilted towards radical Islamism, they have often been funded by external influences from Pakistan and the Gulf states. The majority of the population in Bangladesh has rejected their radical thought and goals, but have often been defenseless to combat their rise because of economic investment from Middle Eastern states which helps to keep their fragile economy running. However intelligence reports and studies now believe that Islamist groups in Bangladesh are now self sufficient, they are believed to have taken over banking and financial institutes. However their financial underwriters are mainly Middle Eastern.

Islamists vs. Democracy
Islamists in Bangladesh do not believe in democracy, they think that Allah is the only sovereign. They believe that people should not be seen as the sovereign and should not be allowed to develop or implement laws. Islamists use democracy as a way of surviving and being able to propagate their views, their end game is the destruction of democracy and the implantation of a totalitarian state based on Shariah law. The JI was formed through the teachings and literature of Maulana al-Mawdudi, a Pakistani leader and founder of contemporary political Islam. He believed that for the Islamist movement to survive and to accomplish their goals they would have to work with the non-Islamic system until they became powerful enough to challenge these system and eventually other throw it. The JI would have to use different tactics depending on the situation. Mawdudi did not believe in the Muslim Brotherhood doctrine that subversion and terrorism were the only tactics because they often caused the state to crack down on their activities.

In the 1950’s the Muslim Brotherhood and the JI formed partnerships, the MB also started to evolve its tactics as they were finding it difficult to operate when the security agencies in the Middle East were openly oppressing them. Said Ramadan, a major figure in the Muslim Brotherhood went to Karachi in 1950’s to establish ties with Mawdudi and the JI. These partnerships continue today, they are encapsulated in the form of the Institute for Islamic Political Thought (II-PT) Islamic Foundation UK, Markfield Institute of Higher Education, International Board of Educational Research and Resources, International Institute for Islamic Thought and the International Islamic Universities (IIU’s).

The Jamaat-i-Islami is a coalition partner in the Bangladeshi government. They want Bangladesh to eventually become an Islamic theocracy. JI have advocated that Jihad is a ‘continuous revolution’ and should be used with the aim of conquering non-Islamic governments. The Jamaat-i-Islami concept of Jihad is three pronged:

1) Jihad through the sword, which involves terrorism and finally open warfare.
2) Dawah, teaching the goals of Islamism to Muslims and non-Muslims.
3) Islamic Finance, the spread and control of Islamic banking and economics. Islamic financing is also used to help fund the other two tactics of Jihad through the sword and dawah.

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These three tactics and their implementation differ according to the security situation in the States in which they are operating. However JI literature states that they should all be used simultaneously.

There have been reports that terrorists operating in Bangladesh have ties to the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Islami Oikya Jote. Recent arrests have shown that those involved in militancy are directly linked to these Islamist parties. This is not a surprise considering the subversive nature of these groups and their reliance on the goals and strategy of Maulana al-Mawdudi.

A Faustian Bargain?
Khaleda Zia, the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh and the leader of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) had to make a coalition with Islamic parties because she did not have a large enough share of the vote in the general parliamentary elections in 2001. This bargaining led to radical Islamist groups, who do not believe in democracy or the Bangladeshi way of life, gaining political control in important government and civic institutions. The BNP’s pact has been the reason why Khaleda Zia had been reluctant to clamp down on the rise of radical Islamists in Bangladesh. Reports that militants have been or are currently active in JI politics have also made in harder for the government to mount serious counter-terrorism efforts against them.

International Islamic Front and Al-Qaeda
The emergence of groups affiliated with al-Qaeda such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), Harkat-ul-jihad Islami (HUJI) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Bangladesh shows that the International Islamic Front sees the second largest Muslim democracy as an easy target and sanctuary for their activities. Indian intelligence and police agencies believe that they are being helped by sections within Bangladeshi intelligence agencies and from Pakistani ISI.

Hundreds of foot soldiers from Bangladesh have been discovered in Acheh province of Indonesia, in Burma, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Kashmir, Chechnya, Bosnia, Tajikistan and Egypt. The Jihadists were exported by Harkat-ul-Jihad-Al-Islam (HuJI) as part of establishment of global terror network.

According to a former senior Bangladeshi intelligence executive, Jemaah Islamiya leader Hambali, arrested in Thailand in August 2003, had already taken the decision to shift JI elements to Bangladesh to shield them from counter-terrorist operations in Southeast Asia.

TIME magazine claim that fighters from Taliban and Al-Qaeda have entered Bangladesh after United States invaded Afghanistan. Videotapes showing al-Qaeda in training that were unearthed by CNN in August include footage from 1990 that feature Rohingya rebels.

These men’s fleeing from troubled Afghanistan were instrumental in raising HuJI in 1992, allegedly with funds from Osama bin Laden. The existence of firm links between the new Bangladeshi militants and Al-Qaeda was proven when Fazlul Rahman, leader of Jihad Movement in Bangladesh (to which HuJI belongs), signed the official declaration of “holy war” against United States on February 23, 1998. Other signatories included Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri (leader of the Jihad Group in Egypt), Rifa’I Ahmad Taha aka Abu-Yasir (Egyptian Islamic Group), and Shiekh Mir Hamzah (secretary of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan).

Indian police in New Delhi arrested two Bangladeshi nationals suspected to be from the HuJI militant outfit, allegedly sent by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence to disrupt Republic Day celebrations in January 2006

Islamist International: Manipulation?
There have been reports that Middle Eastern charities and western based Islamic charities have been financing and promoting Islamist militancy in Bangladesh. Some of these charities such as al-Haramain and the International Islamic Relief Agency, Al-Rabita Trust and Muslim Aid have been linked to militancy in other areas such as Pakistan, Africa, Middle East and South East Asia. These organisations have strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jamaat-i-Islami.

Bangladesh’s largest Islamic bank Islami Bank Bangladesh (IBBL), which is connected to the JI, is linked to Middle Eastern banks and charities; some of these charities have been working directly with radical Islamists.

Free Fair Elections
The government of Khaleda Zia must implement reform proposals of the Awami League and from recommendations of its donors. The diplomatic community has found it difficult to try to stop the rise in militancy and the lack of law and order because Bangladeshi is still a representative democracy. This has made it harder for the diplomatic community to act on certain issues relating to the deteriorating situation in Bangladesh.

Analysts, journalists and academics have long been warning that Bangladesh is rapidly evolving into a failed state. It’s function as a safe haven and training ground for radical Islamists poses a direct threat to India and also has repercussions beyond the region. The added worry that Pakistani intelligence is manipulating subversive and terrorist groups in Bangladesh with the aim of destabilising India looks like a continuation in its proxy war, a decrease in activity in Kashmir looks like Bangladesh has become the new avenue for the continuation of hostilities. This will increase the likelihood of direct conflict between India and Pakistan should a major terrorist attack on India be attributed to the new nexus in Bangladesh. In 2003 terrorists operating in Bangladesh were found with 255 grams of uraninium oxide, they were planning to use it for a dirty bomb, however the targets were not disclosed.

Bangladeshi radicals see India as the main target and also the main obstacle to their goal of creating an Islamic theocracy in Bangladesh. The ramifications of a terrorist attack on India, with Bangladeshi connections, are endless they include nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan, the violent removal of General Pervez Musharraf and leading to radical Islamists gaining power. These will all effect US and coalition efforts to stabilise the region and move forward in defeating radical Islamism.

Indian intelligence and others have been documenting the rise of al-Qaeda linked Jihadi groups and also local groups within Bangladesh. There has been speculation that Bangladeshi authorities have been involved with the training and logistical support of the terrorists. However there is no concrete evidence to support this claim. It must be noted that several high ranking members of Bangladesh’s intelligence services have links to radical Islamists, some were members of the JI student wing.

Islamist organisation which are based in the US and Europe are also believed to be manipulating the situation to their advantage. Islamist organisations with ties to the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood see Bangladesh as an easy target and believe it will help in their goals of removing democracy and provide a much needed victory for the Islamist movement. Intelligence reports have stated that Middle Eastern charities are also providing support to militant groups in Bangladesh.

There have also been reports that international cooperation to target the rise in militancy is being seriously undermined because the US is helping to fund and train military and intelligence services in Bangladesh; because it is widely believed that key figures in these institutions are sympathetic to the aims of Jihadi groups. It is also believed that the Jamaat-i-Islami and other Islamic charities have made an impact into the work of Bangladesh’s United Nations peace keeping operations in Kuwait. The JI are believed to have tried to Islamise military personnel who have always maintained a secular approach to their operations, there are also reports that Bangladeshi forces are also being systematically exposed to anti-Indian propaganda. Intelligence has reported that the introduction of silhouette targets depicting Sikhs are used in target practise etc. This worrying development and should be looked at more closely as the United States and donor countries maybe financing and training intelligence operatives that are actively working against the democracy and engaging in virulent anti-Indian activities. #