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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Are Jihadist from Bangladesh a security threat to Asian region?

Are Jihadist from Bangladesh a security threat to Asian region?[1]

Saleem Samad[2]

The paper provides an insight of conflict, Islamic terrorism, and social injustices in once a secular Bangladesh. The political Islam has percolated in national politics. In the backdrop of the doctored constitutional provisions for Islamic-nationalization, coupled with political hegemony of the elite Islamic nationalist chauvinist, the Islamic radicalisms dominated national politics and state.

This scenario was never imagined three decades ago, when the country was born through a bloody war of liberation in 1971 on the principles of secularism and democracy. Apparently secularism and human rights have been enshrined in the constitution written in 1972. Subsequently the non-state actor, the sabre-rattling militaries doctored the constitutions and took the dangerous path of Islamisation of the secular state.

Bangladesh was thrice partitioned[3] on the basis of religion – Islam within a span of 66 years. East Bengal or Bangladesh was a historical reality. In 1971 it has been curved out of political boundaries of what was eastern province of Pakistan after a bloody civil war by the nationalists, and of course the secular forces.

In the twentieth century, communal issues increasingly dominated politics. There was hostility and ultimately racial conflicts occurred intermittingly. Racial riots wrecked the traditional secular image of Bengal, on the eve of the second partition of Bengal in 1947.

Between 1946 (East Bengal) and 2001 (Bangladesh), there were scores of incidences of racial violence, which resulted in deaths and deliberately encouraged migration. Peace-loving Hindus and Muslims had little or nothing to do with the riot (Hashim, 1974. pp. 117).

Muslim leaders of Bengal who later dominated and dictated politics, persuaded their anti-secular believes. This phenomenon spilled over into post-liberation Bangladesh.

The pro-nationalist politicians and military dictators in Bangladesh have used the religion Islam as a tool to consolidate their power base. This created a yawning space for Islamist radicalist in a nation where secularism has been practiced for centuries among the apparently peasantry society in ancient Bengal[4].

The Maoists extremists, who are politically out of the “red book” demonstrated that radicalism can survive for more than three decades in the western region[5] of Bangladesh. This has given hope to radical Islamists, who are produced in Madrassah[6] in the rural settings. The funds from get-rich-quick Muslims, and also blessings from oil-rich Arabs for the cause of spread of Wahabism[7] have significantly given rise to their numbers.

Gradually Bangladesh became exporter of foot soldiers for Islamic radicalism in South Asia countries for couple of decades. Later their presence were felt in Central Asia to the Far East. The first batch of hundred’s of mercenaries reached Lebanon in early 1980s, to help create an “Islamic Palestinian” state. The entire batches of mercenaries from Bangladesh were detained, 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 Shiekh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh in 1975. With collusion with 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 turn Bangladesh into an Islamic state.

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

“Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries on earth, on the brink of being a failed state. And that makes it a perfect target for Al-Qaeda and its ever-expanding network of Islamic extremist organisations. The overwhelming majority of Bangladesh's 130 million are Muslim, which certainly helps. Virtually unnoticed by the world at large, Bangladesh is being dragged into the global war on terrorists by becoming a sanctuary for them,” writes Jane’s Intelligence Report (25 January 2005),

Why Bangladesh security agencies got involved with the Islamic terror network? Former security officers argue that they need information of terror network. But this argument does corroborate with their intelligence gathering methodology and their analysis of the situation.

There is evidence that Bangladesh military intelligence[8] have generated funds from gunrunning, timber smuggling and drug trade in the later years of 1970s.

The money was channelled into purchase of weapons, shelter and rations for the half-hearted Muslim militants to curve an independent state for Rohingya[9].

With tacit approval of United States government, Bangladesh military leader General Ziaur Rahman, a liberation war veteran gave the responsibility to Brigadier General Nurul Islam Shishu for the covert operation.

They presumed that Burma (Myanmar) had an unpopular military government, therefore it would be easy to intimidate them to create a homeland for the Rohingya Muslims. After Burmese authorities unearthed the plot, they expelled the Bangladesh military attaché from Rangoon (Yangon). Soon hell broke out by the Burmese army creating a crisis, which forced thousands of Rohingya’s to flee into Bangladesh territory and sealed the border 1978. The militancy and refugee situation created a diplomatic row and invited international uproar against Burmese junta.

Troops both from Burma and Bangladesh intermittingly fought “undeclared” war in 1978. However, the security agencies continued with the moneymaking business overtly for raising funds for the clandestine operations.

A Saudi daily published an article of an exiled Rohingya leader, which exposed Bangladesh military intelligence’s involvement in the Rohingya operation. Later a prestigious Washington daily published a CIA document, which describes how Bangladesh planned to raise foreign currency from the Rohingya militancy to strengthen the appalling financial condition of the military junta.

The second largest Muslim democracy, Bangladesh is today the site of al-Qaeda-run training camps financed by Middle Eastern charities and organisations, including backing from rogue elements within the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.[10]

A Bangladesh security agency has developed a nexus with Jihadist and militant leaders of troubled states of North East Indian. Indian always blamed ISI for the covert operation in northeast Indian, which both Pakistan and Bangladesh continuously denied.

Hundreds of foot soldiers from Bangladesh were 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.

In an interview with the CNN in December 2001, American “Taliban” fighter, John Walker Lindh, relate that the Al-Qaeda director Ansar (companions of the Prophet) Brigades, to which he had belonged in Afghanistan, were divided along linguistic lines: Bengali, Pakistan (Urdu) and Arabic,” which suggests tat the Bangla-speaking component – Bangladeshi and Rohingya – must be significant.[11]

Most security specialists and researchers have established that 15,000 strong terrorist group HuJI (Movement of Islamic Holy War) has direct links with terror network Al Qaeda. In a statement released by US State Department on May 21, 2002, HuJI is described as a terrorist organization with ties to Islamic militants in Pakistan.[12]

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.

According to US State Department, HuJI headed by Shawkat Osman aka Maulana or Sheikh Farid in Chittagong has at least four militant camps in Bangladesh.

To keep the Burmese government in good humour, Bangladesh shut down the militant’s camps of radical Islamist Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) led by a medical doctor Muhammad Yunus. Those camps were later taken over by radical Islamist.

A journalist working for an English language newspaper in Bangladesh reported that in early 1990s that couple of Bangladesh embassies in the Middle East have reported missing of passports. Later it was transpired that diplomats in Saudi Arabia issued passports to Pakistan militants in the kingdom to enable them to escape to Bangladesh. Other extremists from Pakistan – perhaps also Afghanistan – appear to have been able to enter Bangladesh in the same way during that period (Lintner, 2002).

TIME magazine[13] 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 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).[14]

The Indian police in New Delhi arrested two Bangladeshi nationals suspected to the HuJI militant outfit, allegedly sent by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence to disrupt Republic Day celebrations in January 2006[15].

A culture of violence, especially among the young, is emerging, and many young Islamic militants now are armed. The role of the madrassah in shaping the next generation of Bangladeshis also cannot be underestimated.[16]

The nationalists Islamist chauvinist government has done enough to stump lawlessness unleashed by the Islamic Jihad’s of both home-grown and those believed to be from the terror-network. The recent spate of bomb blasts in August 2005 was a bid to terrorise the opposition political parties and secular activities organised by cultural activists, have brought renewed fear that the process of elimination of opposition has began in Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh military intelligence presently has turned into Frankenstein, like in Pakistan and once in the Latin America. The parliamentary sub-committee on defence has failed to bring the dreaded security agency under parliament scrutiny.

The non-descriptive marriage of criminalization of politics and shattered bureaucracy is reined by the military intelligence (DGFI). There are evidences that the dreaded military intelligence has been harbouring fall-out Muslim Jihad’s from Afghanistan and militant leaders from the insurgency troubled northeast Indian. The trade-off for DGFI was their hands on gunrunning and drug trade from the Golden Triangle.

The military security agency has upper hand over Bangladesh state and politics. This leverage was given by General Ziaur Rahman (1977-1981) and later legitimized by General H.M. Ershad (1982-1990) to organize the political parties to ensure their stay in power.

Bangladesh, is a place where crime, politics, and violence all cross paths, making independent journalism in this country of 146 million people a very dangerous profession, observes a mission report of the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in February 2003.

Those journalists reported the rise of radical Islamists and security issues were harassed, intimidated and imprisoned. The government sharply reacted after articles written by Bertil Lintner in Wall Street Journal and Far Eastern Economic Review, Alex Perry of TIME Asia magazine. Both of them have been blacklisted from entering Bangladesh again. The British Channel 4 TV journalists along with their Fixer Saleem Samad were detained, tortured and intimidated. International uproar has secured their release.

It is indeed a losing battle of the proactive secularists entailed with the civil society and the human rights organizations to forge a common platform against Islamist. Suspected Muslim extremists bombed these soft targets, who disapproves secularism. #

[1] Paper presented at Intelligence Summit, 17-20 February 2006, Hyatt Regency Hotel, Virginia, United States and organized by Intelligence & Homeland Security Educational Center (IHEC).
[2] SALEEM SAMAD, is an Ashoka Fellow and Bangladesh based journalist, presently in exile in Canada. He has regularly contributed articles in Time magazine (Asia edition), Daily Times (Pakistan) and on terrorism, conflict, social justice and democracy in South Asia.
[3] Kabeer, Naila. 1997. A thrice-partitioned history, in Ursala Owen (ed.) INDEX on Censorship 6/1997, pp. 59. London: Index on Censorship.
[4] Bengal - presently split into east and west. Subsequently East Bengal became Bangladesh and West Bengal is a province of neighbouring India.
[5] The western region, bordering India is rife with criminal gangs, outlawed political groups, and drug traffickers.
[6] Koranic schools teaches conservative Islamism in their curriculum, hate against non-Muslims, specially Jewish. The religious schools that educate millions of students in the Muslim world, have been blamed for all sorts of ills since the attacks of September 11, 2001 (Alexander Evans, Understanding Madrassahs, Foreign Affairs Journal, January-February 2006)
[7] Strictly follows Sharia laws, specially force women to wear veil
[8] Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) was formed in 1977 for covert military operations in Burma and North Eastern India states. The dreaded security agency was involved in blackmailing politicians to joining the military dictator General Ziaur Rahman to legitimize his political ambition
[9] Ethnic Muslims are minorities in northwest Burma. However, Burmese authority claims the Rohingya are migrants from neighbouring Chittagong, Bangladesh during the famine in 1943
[10] Blackburn, Chris, 2006. Is Bangladesh new front for America's War Against Terrorism?
[11] Transcript of John Walker interview, CNN, December 21, 2001, as quoted in Lintner’s paper (Honolulu, 2002).
[12] Partners of Global Terrorism 2001, the office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, May 21, 2002
[13] Deadly Cargo, Alex Perry, Time Asia, October 14, 2002
[14] see ERRI Daily Intelligence Report, ERRI Risk Assessment Service, June 11, 1998, Vol.4-162, as quoted in Lintner’s research paper (Honolulu, 2002).
[16] Lintner, Bertil, 2002. Religious Extremism & Nationalism in Bangladesh, paper presented at Religion & Security in South Asia, August 19-22, 2002 organized by Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu, Hawaii

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Stay tuned for Khaleda Zia and her Islamist bedfellows

Cry for me Bangladesh
Date: February 15, 2006

Read Bangladesh government's rebuttal on the article page 1/page 2

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- The world's second largest Muslin state -- at 150 million, co-equal with Pakistan, and behind Indonesia -- Bangladesh was well on its way to falling victim to a coalition of pro-al-Qaida politico-religious extremists. Almost unnoticed, they have been gnawing away at Bangladesh's fragile democratic institutions.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's husband was former president and military strongman Ziaur Rahman. He was assassinated in 1981. Her rival and head of the Awami League is another woman, Sheikh Hasina Wajed. Her father was the country's first prime minister. He was assassinated in 1975.

Under Zia's leadership, the Bangladesh National Party has appeased Islamist fundamentalists by including Osama Bin Laden's local fan club in her government. To wit: Jamaat-e-Islami stands for an Islamic republic. BNP coalition partner Islami Okiyya Jote is linked to the pro-al-Qaida Harkat-ul-Jihad-Al Islami, which in turn is linked to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, which wants to impose sharia law by force. It is widely believed to be responsible for a countrywide wave of some 500 bombings on Aug. 17, 2005.

HuJI, or Movement of Islamic Holy War, is in league with some of Pakistan's officially banned but still tolerated extremist groups. The Indian army liberated Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, in 1971 after a bloody civil war.

JMB leader Bangla Bhai favors a Taliban-style medieval theocracy, which was yet another reason why opposition Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina accused the government coalition of "letting loose criminal extremist forces."

Radical Islamist organizations proliferate in the cities, funded by at least ten Middle Eastern charities, while terrorist training camps have been reported in dense jungle areas to the north. Indian intelligence, which keeps a close watch on its former ward, believes it has tracked over 170 concentrations of pro-al-Qaida militants, including members of Jemaah Islamiyah, the Indonesia terrorist group responsible for the Bali bombing and other terrorist attacks.

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.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca flew to Dhaka at the end of January to convey U.S. alarm to government leaders coupled with a stern warning: either they curbed Islamist militancy and terror financing or they would face sanctions under the U.S. "Terrorist Financing Act." Rocca also made clear the U.S. expected free and fair elections to be held in 2006, as required by a frayed constitution.

Rocca expressed surprise that militant JMB leaders were allowed to operate freely even though they were known to be responsible for numerous acts of terrorism. The Foreign Secretary was presumably hard of hearing because after his meeting with Rocca he quoted her as having told him, "Bangladesh is not only a functioning democracy but also a role model for Muslim countries." Then he added, "Rocca was very appreciative of the government's anti-militant crackdown and hoped that this effort would continue."

The U.S. agreed to an exchange of intelligence on matters of mutual concern and to train Bangladeshi operatives in the U.S. on how intelligence sharing works in practice. The country's intelligence service knows only too well what the U.S. wants to know. Islamist sympathizers in the service make sure nothing of value is given to the Americans.

Rocca called on the family of slain former finance minister Shah AMS Kibria who accused the government of "a farcical investigation to cover the masterminds" and demanded a U.N. investigation as was done after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. "The culture of killing will not end in Bangladesh unless the people are active against those who give directions for political assassinations from behind," said Kibria's widow.

Rocca also wanted to know why JMB chief Shaikh Abdur Rahman and sidekick Bangla Bhai had not been arrested. "Because we haven't caught them," came the lame reply.

In a well-planned demonstration of transatlantic solidarity, a high-level European Union delegation timed its visit to coincide with Rocca's -- and gave Bangladeshi leaders the same message: Stick to fair elections in October of this year or face some unpleasant though unspecified music. The opposition Awami League said the Election Commission and provisions for a caretaker government have already been gerrymandered to favor the ruling BNP and its Islamist props.

Suicide bombings and grenade assassinations are more common in Bangladesh than in Israel, Gaza or the West Bank. But they seldom get reported. Time magazine's South Asian bureau chief was banned from the country after a 2002 article exposed the government's lackadaisical response to a buildup of Islamist terrorists with links to al-Qaida.

In 1998, Bangladesh suffered the worst floods of the 20th century, leaving 25 million people marooned while countless thousands drowned. Humongous cyclone-driven natural disasters have been the country's sad fate for centuries.
Bangladesh's 700 rivers funnel down to a delta of five major waterways that are so many potential Katrinas without levees. Opposition leader Sheikh Hasina sees a political system without levees against the tide of Islamist extremism.

But following Rocca's departure, she rallied her supporters from all over the country and began a "Long March" protest on Feb. 2. Opposition activists enlisted an ever-larger following as they moved through towns and villages on their way to Dhaka. Within three days, 100,000 opposition supporters had moved to the capital's Paltan Square where Hasina addressed what was beginning to look like a peaceful counter-revolution against the Islamists. Not for long. Thousands were arrested -- Hasina said 10,000, the government 5,000 -- but she had made her point. Hasima also said she was ending the Awai League's yearlong boycott of the Islamist-dominated parliament. Her only purpose was to hold the other woman leader's feet to the fire of free elections.

Score one for Rocca. For the next move by Ms. Zia and her Islamist bedfellows, stay tuned.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International.All rights reserved.
Debbie D. Stroman, Special Assistant to Arnaud de Borchgrave, Transnational Threats Project, 1800 K Street NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20006
Office: (202) 775-3282

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Bangladesh:Islamic vigilante rage on journalists

Attacks on the Press in 2005:
A Worldwide Survey of the Committee to Protect Journalists

Bangladesh was mired in a political crisis heightened by the wide-scale August 17 attacks by Islamic militants involving hundreds of small, near-simultaneous bombings throughout the nation. Journalists covering the bombings and their aftermath said they were more vulnerable than ever to violent reprisals.

Bangladesh was already one of the most dangerous countries for the press in Asia, according to CPJ research. Even by that poor standard, death threats and physical attacks against journalists spiked in 2005. Traditional enemies of the press such as criminal gangs, underground leftist groups, police, politicians, and student activists continued to lash out at journalists. The newer and potentially graver threat from radical Islamist groups exacerbated the treacherous landscape.

In May, CPJ named Bangladesh one of the world's five most murderous countries for journalists. Nine journalists were killed over five years, eight of them in the lawless southwestern Khulna district, which is rife with criminal gangs, outlawed political groups, and drug traffickers. Seven of the victims received death threats beforehand. Investigations into the murders have yielded no convictions.

Journalists in rural provinces faced threats from the growing number of illegal groups. In February, the Janajuddha faction of the outlawed Purbo Banglar Communist Party sent death threats to eight journalists in the southwestern city of Satkhira. The Janajuddha called the journalists "class enemies" and threatened them with execution because of their reporting on the faction's leader.

In September, five of the same journalists and four others received pieces of white cloth, symbolizing funeral shrouds, accompanied by letters co-signed by the outlawed Islamic militant Bangla Bhai and the radical movement Ahle Hadith. These letters warned journalists not to write about their groups' activities and threatened to kill ethnic Hindu reporters.

The Bangladeshi press operates largely without direct government interference, and it routinely exposes government corruption. But retaliatory physical attacks and threats occur frequently and with impunity. Despite promises from officials to track down those responsible for the attacks, little is done to punish offenders—even in high-profile murder cases.

The February murder of Sheikh Belaluddin illustrates the seemingly intractable pattern of impunity. A journalist with the conservative national daily Sangbad, Belaluddin died after a homemade bomb detonated outside the Khulna Press Club. A breakthrough in the case was reported in July, when a former leader of the Islami Chhatra Shibir, the student wing of the Islamic fundamentalist political party Jamaat-e-Islami, confessed to taking part in the deadly bombing. Yet three weeks later, the suspect was freed on bail, and his whereabouts were unknown, according to local press reports.

Belaluddin's murder shocked the nation's press, prompting protests and briefly uniting the country's polarized journalists. Editors from across the political spectrum came together to form a new group, the Forum to Protect Journalists, which rallied in the capital, Dhaka, soon after Belaluddin's killing. The protesters marched to the National Press Club and called for justice in all of the murdered journalists' cases. But longstanding divisions kept the forum from following up with more action, local journalists said.

The government has professed a commitment to solving the 2004 murders in Khulna of veteran reporter Manik Saha and editor Humayun Kabir Balu. Arrests have been made in both cases, but family members are skeptical about the proceedings and don't believe that the masterminds have been apprehended, according to The Daily Star of Dhaka and CPJ sources.

Police brutality was a continuing problem, particularly for photographers covering the country's growing political tensions. In May, baton-wielding riot police on the Dhaka University campus beat seven photographers and camera operators who were covering protests. When journalists staged their own demonstration in July to protest the mistreatment, intelligence officers assaulted nine photojournalists in full view of police.

Islamic militant activity in Bangladesh is on the increase, according to local and international news accounts. Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party rose to power in 2001 through an alliance with conservative Islamic parties. Her government had flatly denied the existence of militant groups, saying that journalists reporting on the trend were engaged in "informational terrorism."

Covering this emerging story in the face of official denials carried risks for journalists. Government leaders harshly criticized a January New York Times Magazine article that described the rise of militant Islamism. Intelligence officers questioned and harassed people interviewed for the article and journalists who cooperated in its reporting. The family of Time reporter Saleem Samad was among those targeted. In June, four men identified as cadres of Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), an outlawed militant group headed by Bangla Bhai, attacked Janakantha reporter Shafiqul Islam in the northwestern town of Rajshahi because he had helped other journalists report on the JMJB's activities, according to The Daily Star.

The government was finally forced to confront the rise in radical groups' activities after the nationwide attacks on August 17. In a well-coordinated, half-hour-long series of strikes, hundreds of small bombs exploded across the country, killing at least two, injuring hundreds, and dealing a heavy psychological blow to the nation. The Supreme Court, the Foreign Ministry, airports, and at least seven press clubs were targeted in the bombings, which went off in 63 of the country's 64 districts. Leaflets said the bombs were a message from the banned Islamic militant group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) to Western leaders to leave Islamic countries. The leaflets also called for the establishment of Islamic sharia law.

Militant groups made use of the media to publicize their ideas, according to local news reports. The popular daily Prothom Alo reported in late 2004 that radical groups were increasingly using the media to recruit and spread propaganda about jihad. "Books, magazines, and cassettes are on sale in the capital urging people to join in a jihad," according to Prothom Alo. Books with titles such as "Why Should We Participate in Jihad" were selling briskly.

An imprisoned journalist was released in April. Authorities freed Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor and publisher of the weekly tabloid Blitz, after he spent 17 months in jail awaiting trial on sedition charges stemming from his attempt to travel to Israel in November 2003 to participate in a conference with the Hebrew Writers Association. Bangladesh has no formal relations with Israel, and it is illegal for Bangladeshi citizens to travel there. The initial charge of violating passport restrictions was later dropped in favor of the more serious sedition charge.

Choudhury told CPJ that, because the sedition charges were pending, he was forced to appear in court once a month. He said that his passport was not returned, and that he was still at risk; after the August bombings, he received threatening letters from radicals. Choudhury relaunched the weekly Blitz in October.

Joynal Hazari, the member of parliament accused of ordering the savage beating of reporter Tipu Sultan in 2001, continued to elude justice as legal proceedings against him stalled. Despite the many delays, Sultan focused instead on journalism, covering the news for Bangladesh's most popular daily, Prothom Alo.

Sultan told CPJ that four years after thugs smashed the bones in his right hand in retaliation for his reporting on local corruption, he was excelling professionally and investigating many of the paper's lead stories. CPJ honored Sultan for his courage with an International Press Freedom Award in 2002.#

Contact: Committee to Protect Journalists, 330 7th Avenue • 11th Floor • New York NY • 10001 • Tel. 212-465-1004 • Fax 212-465-9568


Sunday, February 05, 2006

Bangladesh witnessing ethnic cleansing: Shahriar Kabir

photo: Shahriar Kabir taken by police when he was charged under sedition in 2002

Monday January 30, 01:50 PM
By By Sujoy Dhar, Indo-Asian News Service

Kolkata, Jan 30 (IANS) Under the vice-like grip of fundamentalists, Muslim majority Bangladesh is pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing to rid the country of Hindus, says human rights activist and writer Shahriar Kabir.

'What has been going on in Bangladesh since October 2001 is a kind of ethnic cleansing though the government is constantly denying it and accusing us of unleashing a disinformation campaign,' Kabir, who is under surveillance in his country, told IANS in an interview at the Kolkata Book Fair ground here.

'What happened in Gujarat in India was for a period. But in Bangladesh, atrocities on the minority have been continuing since 2001 in the same intensity,' says the 55-year-old general secretary of the South Asian People's Union Against Fundamentalism and Communalism.

'Actually when they (the present government) came to power in 2001, the Talibanisation of Bangladesh had begun. Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ), one of the alliance partners of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led government, gave the slogan 'Amra Sabai Taliban, Bangla hobe Afghan' (We are all Talibans, Bangladesh would be Afghanistan) even before they won elections,' says Kabir.

The partners in the Bangladesh government are BNP, IOJ, Jamaat-e-Islami and Jatiya Party (JP).

'These fundamentalist organisations are supported by at least 10 NGOs of the Middle East, including the Saudi Arabia-based Rabeta Al Islam,' says Kabir, who is also a reputed freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker.

Slapped with sedition charges and put behind bars twice in 2001 and 2002, Kabir has compiled a three-volume publication titled 'Bangladesh-e Sankhyalaghu Nirjataner Ponerosho Diner Swetpatra' (White Paper on 1,500 Days of Torture on Minorities in Bangladesh) to counter the government's denial of atrocities on minority.

'We want an end to these multi-dimensional atrocities and minority-bashing which is unprecedented anywhere in the world. We have not documented a single incident of political violence in this compilation, which has over 300 pictorial descriptions and account of about 2,750 cases of atrocities,' says Kabir, whose compilation was released here recently.

'The government in Bangladesh is neither banning the book nor allowing us to sell it there though in places like New York and London the publication has been launched and organisations like Amnesty International praised us for such a well-documented treatise on human rights violations,' says Kabir.

'We have listed the presence of at least 84 fundamentalist militant organisations in Bangladesh. The country has left even Pakistan way behind in their number,' he says.

'The (corrective) actions taken so far by the government are only under pressure of the West and to show its seriousness to the world about curbing fundamentalism. The arrested fundamentalists are not even interrogated fiercely or chargesheeted properly because even the policemen are afraid of them.

'The government, which itself is run by the fundamentalists, would have to admit first about the atrocities which they are constantly denying,' says Kabir who was once blindfolded and interrogated by police and is made to report to court twice a month.

'I met with an accident some time back and cannot walk without a support. But I am made to climb three storeys of the court building to appear before the judge,' says Kabir.

'I was offered asylum in the West along with my family by Amnesty International. But can they offer asylum to the millions of Hindus in Bangladesh?' he asks.

'In Bangladesh, the secular parties are not united and so far the protest against fundamentalism and minority bashing has come only from civil society and media.'

'The people of Bangladesh in general are not fundamentalists. It was proved in 1971 when Pakistan was defeated but later systematically the country was introduced to Islamic nationalism from a secular democracy following the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975.'

Kabir does not think that the elections in Bangladesh early next year would be free and fair.

'If the elections are free and fair the secular democratic forces would return to power. But all arrangements have been made to rig the polls. The opposition for once is united on this issue as they have refused to fight elections under the present election commissioner who favours the government.' #

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