Thursday, February 28, 2008

Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh - A mix match of ISI, Al-Qaeda and Taliban

R. UPADHYAY

LIKE MOST of the Islamist terrorist groups, the origin of Harkat-ul Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) also lies with the Afghan War of Nineteen-eighties. A group of Mujahideens (Holy Warriors), who returned from this war to their native land Bangladesh formed HuJI-B in 1992 and announced its formation in a press conference at the Jatiya Press Club in Dhaka same year on April 30.

Historically, Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 stirred the Islamist world and prompted them to launch jihad (Holy War) against it. Getting support from the ISI in Pakistan, the then Reagan administration of U.S.A. and Saudi Arabia, they formed Harkat-ul-Jihadi Islami (Movement of Islamic Holy War) in 1980 and gave a call to the Mujahideens (Holy Warriors of Islam) from all over the Muslim world to join this 'Holy War' against the Russian Army.

Responding to the call, the Islamist establishments form different parts of the world sent Mujahideens to Afghanistan. Jamaat-e- Islami, Islami Chattra Shibir and other Islamist groups of Bangladesh also sent a large number of Madrasas trained Bangladeshi Muslim youths in response to the clarion call of this Pan- Islamic jihad. Afghan War gave an interesting meaning of Jihad and created a new trend in Muslim youths for whom Wahabbisation took a prime seat in their religio-political evolution. In course of their training they were told, "If you had spent some time with a whore in Bangkok, you would come to fight jihad to purify yourself" (Warriors of the Prophet by Mark Huband, 1998, page 3).

Bin Laden was reportedly not happy with the concept of Bengali nationalism among the Muslims of Bangladesh. Accordingly, after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989 he convened a meeting of some of his trusted Mujahideens from Bangladesh and advised them to organise the Muslim youths to transform their country into Dar-ul-Islam. Abdul Salam Muhammad alias Fazlur Rahman, Mufti Abdul Mannan, and Shawkat Osman alias Farid were reportedly present in the meeting. Of them Hannan, with his initial madrasssa education in Bangladesh reportedly had higher Islamic education in Deoband and Aligarh University in India. Later he also studied in Gouhardanga Madrassa in Pakistan, trained in the Peshawar City and then sent to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet Army.

Indoctrinated in the mould of the radical Islam of Bin Laden and Talibanised militia of HuJI Pakistan, Afghan War-returned Mujahideens set up a subsidiary unit of HuJI Pakistan in Bangladesh, which was known as HuJI-B. Not believed to be a separate organization but a common name for several Islamist groups under the aegis of 'Jihad Movement of Bangladesh' led by Fazlur Rahman, HuJI-B's primary mission was to establish Taliban type Islamic rule in Bangladesh. This was evident from its slogan: "Amra Sobai Hobo Taliban, Bangla Hobe Afghanistan" (We will all become Taliban and we will turn Bangladesh into Afghanistan). Following the footsteps of Taliban, it also regarded music, dance, movies, concept of Bengali nationalism etc as un-Islamic. It considered them as corrupting influence on the Islamic way of life under the cultural influence of the Hindus and the Christians.

In the initial period HuJI-B used the favourable regime of Begum Khaleda Zia (1991-96) to strengthen the organisation and recruited both the locals and the foreigners as its members. There was once instance when 41 HuJI-B cadres were arrested with firearms on February 19, 1996, subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment by the court, though released on bail by the High Court during the second term of Khaleda Government (October 2001-2006).

Although, Madrasas that were mostly financed by Arab charities were the primary source of recruitment of its cadres, Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar, who had fled from their native land allegedly due to religious persecution were it’s another significant source. With the assistance of ISI it imparted training to the Muslim Rohingya insurgents from Myanmar and also sent them along with its operatives to fight against the Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir besides providing sanctuary for the northeast insurgents. Awami League was accused Government for giving protection to Islamist terrorists.

Installation of the Awami League Government led by Sheikh Hasina in June1996 created some set back for the HuJI-B. But formation of an International Islamic Front (IIF) for Jihad against the Jews and Crusaders in January 1998 by Bin Laden of which HuJI-B was also a constituent made the latter an important militant Islamist organisation of the world. With a view to translate the objective of Al Qaeda in action Osama Bin Laden in association with the terrorist groups from Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh announced the formation of IIF and issued a fatwa on February 23 same year for Jihad against the USA and calling for attack on all Americans including civilians.

With long-term strategy to replace the existing political structure of the word with Caliphate, his immediate priority was to destroy the USA and its allies. Apart from Bin Laden other signatories of this fatwa included Abdul Salam Muhammad alias Fazlur Rahman, of 'Jihad Movement of Bangladesh' (an activist of HuJI-B), Ayman al-Zawahiri and Rifai Ahmad Taha aka Abu Nasir of Egypt and Sheikh Mir Hamzah, Secretary of the Jamiat-al-Ulema-e-Pakistan. (Networks, Terrorism and Global Insurgency -Edited by Robert J. Bunker, 2005, page 115).

After becoming a constituent of IIF HuJI-B increased its violent attacks on the Hindu minority, progressive intellectuals like poets, journalists and liberal Muslims. It was alleged that HuJI-B had a plan to kill 28 prominent intellectuals, including National Professor Kabir Choudhury, writer Taslima Nasrin and the Director General of the Islamic Foundation, Maulana Abdul Awal. It was also alleged that HuJI-B with a view to assassinate Shiekh Hasina mobilised the support of the killers of her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh. Although, Awami League Government made some attempt to crackdown on HuJI-B, its operatives escaped into Indian territory. Bangladesh Home Minister Mohammed Nasim in his interview with BBC Bengali Service on 11 December 1999 disclosed that during his visit to India in 1999 he had confided to the then Union Home Minister L.K. Adwani and Buddhadeo Bhattacharya, the then Minister in Jyoti Basu cabinet in West Bengal about the presence of HuJI-B operatives in India. He said, "his government had definite information about HuJI militants taking shelter in India particularly in West Bengal, to flee from the crackdown unleashed by Awami League Government after the bombing attempt of Kotalipara". (Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict in South Asian Region - Edited by Om Prakash Mishra and Sucheta Ghosh, 2003, page 280).

With the help of ISI and the patronage of radical Islamists it became easier for the HuJI-B operatives to merge among the Muslim groups in states like Assam, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi and set up their cells there. Various reports suggest that in addition to its links with Indian terrorist groups like the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), it also maintained links with terrorist groups outside Bangladesh, including Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) in Pakistan. Calling its members as Bangladeshi Taliban, HuJI-B gradually emerged as one of the most militant Islamist outfits and became an important link in the chain of the wider net work of Al Qaeda.

Prime suspect in 2000-assassination attempt on then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, HuJI-B had a history of carrying out violent attacks on secular and progressive intellectuals, writers and journalists. It was also involved in assassination of a senior Bangladeshi journalist for making a documentary on the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh. Mohammad Salim, the prime accused in the New Jalpaiguri explosion incident in a troop mobilisation train for Kargil War was believed to be an activist of the HuJI-B (Ibid.).

Post September 11 American's attack on Taliban, which enraged the Islamist forces all over the Muslim world also had its impact on the general election in Bangladesh in which a relatively secular party of Sheikh Hasina led Awami League got defeated. Return of Khaleda Zia led coalition Government in October 2001 provided a favourable environment to HuJI-B to expand its jihadi influence not only in Bangladesh but also in the international terrorist circles. The ruling coalition that included two Islamic fundamentalist parties, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Islamic Oikya Jote overlooked the arrival of a sizeable number of Arab and Afghan Mujahideens of Al Qaeda and Taliban, who were forced to flee Afghanistan after the fall of Kandahar in December 2001. In fact Islamic Oikya Jote's chairman, Azizul Huq, who was said to be a member of HuJI's advisory council openly expressed support to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. HuJI-B hosted those Mujahideens and worked with them in its assigned operational action plans in India including Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of the world like Indonesia, Southern Thailand and Cambodia. Some reports suggested that this combined group of terrorists also imparted training to the newly recruited HuJI-B cadres and sent them to some other countries like Chechnya and Philippines. With powerful patrons in the government and financial support from Osama bin Laden and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other Islamic countries through the Muslim non-governmental organisations in Bangladesh, HuJI-B emerged as a potential threat to global security.

Despite the publicly known militancy of HuJI-B, Khaleda Zia Government (1991-1996 and 2001-2006) persistently denied the presence of the Afghan-returned 'holy warriors' in Bangladesh. It was however, the pressure from USA that forced her to impose a ban on it followed by the arrest of its operational commander Mufti Abdul Hannan, on October 1, 2005. Mufti Abdul Hannan had reportedly confessed that Altaf Hossain Choudhury, Minister in Khaleda Zia cabinet, had assured him of protection and guaranteed his freedom from the case for his involvement in the assassination attempt of former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in July 2000. Although, Hannan along with some of his associates were arrested, various cells of the HuJI-B under the overall command of its present chief Shawkat Osman alias Farid and General Secretary Imtiaz Quddus remained active both in Bangladesh and India.

In the absence of any authoritative information it may be difficult to know the actual cadre strength of HuJI-B, but various reports suggest it to be around 15,000. Establishing training camps in the coastal areas of Bangladesh stretching from Chittagong hills to Burma border HuJI-B built its operational bases in this area. Notorious for smuggling the area is also convenient rendezvous to infiltrate its operatives to India. While HuJI-B's original mission was to set up Islamic rule in Bangladesh, its ambitions and its geographical spread particularly in India should be cause for concern.

Although, it was an open secret that HuJI-B was hand in glove with ISI, Al Qaeda and Taliban, absence of will in the successive regimes in Bangladesh to crack down on its operatives transformed this country from a democratic establishment to an emerging Islamist State. The present military backed regime assured India that it would not allow any terrorist infrastructure in the soil of Bangladesh. But if its stand at the two-day Home secretary level talks between the two countries on August 3-4, 2007 in New Delhi is any indication it is only a repetition of the earlier stand of Khaleda Zia Government All concerned in Bangladesh are aware that the top ULFA leaders like Arbind Rajkhowa and Paresh Barua are enjoying their safe stay in Bangladesh and are operating from there and yet Mohammad Abdul Karim, Home Secretary of Bangladesh did not admit their presence! #

First published in DanielPipes.Org, on August 11, 2007