Breeding ground of terror

In the complex web of militancy, Bangladesh is a victim of international terrorism as foreign terrorist organisations patronise local outfits, to thrive in their transnational operations. Saad Hammadi investigates how Pakistan based militant outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba instigated terrorist attacks in Bangladesh, in the past, conniving with Harkat ul Jihad al Islami-Bangladesh

The mujahideens (jihadists) of the subcontinent share a strong link between each other, especially since many of them participated alongside each other in the Afghan war of the late 1970s. Many Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis joined the mujahideen resistance of the pro-Soviet Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. In 1989, although the Soviet Union pulled itself out of the conflict, a civil war continued between the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and the mujahideens. Three years down the line, the latter defeated the DRA and established the Islamic State of Afghanistan. A lot of the mujahideens returned to their respective home countries with victorious memory of their fight in Afghanistan.

Two decades later, their relationship is still visible on an even larger scale, with deadly missions being carried out in different parts of the world. They have diversified their operations. Factions of those mujahideens have formed terrorist organisations, like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), in the name of establishing an Islamic state in South Asia. LeT, which was formed in 1990 in the Kunar province of Afghanistan is headquartered in Lahore, Pakistan. As the Kashmir war persists between India and Pakistan, LeT is a major militant outfit that aims to liberate Muslims residing in Indian Kashmir.

The United States’ State Department, in 2001, declared the LeT, a foreign terrorist organisation. Meanwhile, the Pakistan based LeT continues to mobilise its operatives from Pakistan to India via Bangladesh.

While using Bangladesh as a conduit, the LeT has rejuvenated its allied members in Bangladesh, who participated in the Afghan war. Mufti Abdul Hannan is one of the Bangladeshi mujahideens to have participated in the war.

On his return from Afghanistan, Hannan formed the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami- Bangladesh (HuJI-B) in 1992, reportedly with assistance from Osama bin Laden’s International Islamic Front. In the complex web of militancy, the Muslim states are its worst victims. Meanwhile, almost all extremist outfits someway or the other are tied up in the same chain. Earlier media reports revealed HuJI-B having links with the al-Qaeda.

Back home, Hannan is the prime accused for attempting to assassinate Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in July 2000 and again four years later in an Awami League rally on August 21.

Hannan, as the operations commander of HuJI-B, coordinated the militant operations in the country. HuJI-B is charged with several terrorist attacks in Bangladesh and India. Hannan, after his arrest on October 1, 2005, confessed to the police that his organisation conspired in bombing the Udichi cultural programme in Jessore in 1999, Ramna Batamul on April 14, 2001, attacking former British High Commissioner Anwar Choudhury in May 2004 and the AL rally in August 21, 2004.

In conducting the terrorist attacks, HuJI-B had alliances with the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Indian LeT militant Mufti Sheikh Obaidullah was one of the LeT coordinators in Bangladesh. Obaidullah and Hannan were friends since their days in Gangua madrassah in Uttar Pradesh and later on in Deoband madrassah in India in the late 1980s.

The two once again met at Peshawar, Pakistan in 1992 when Hannan was returning from the war in Afghanistan and Obaidullah was going there to join it. Over the last decade, their friendship strengthened even further, until law enforcers captured Hannan.

Obaidullah and Hannan visited several sites in the country to establish training camps in early 2000. Obaidullah was looking to establish camps for the LeT, one of which was formed in 2002 at Purashanda, an area between Srimangal and Habiganj.

The two had extensively discussed some of the attacks, including the one on August 21, at Hannan’s residence in Badda. Abdul Baki, an Afghan mujahid and also a HuJI member in West Bengal provided the explosives to Hannan for the August 21 blast, said Obaidullah to a Task Force Interrogation (TFI) cell, after he was arrested in July this year.

The Rapid Action Battalion on October 5, arrested LeT militant Abdul Malek alias Golam Mohammad for his alleged role in supplying grenades, used in the August 21 attack.

His connections are currently being investigated as a metropolitan magistrate court recently asked the Criminal Investigation Department to collect Malek’s bank account statements. Malek along with another LeT operative Abdul Majid Bhatt disclosed that one Shahed from Pakistan transferred money through Western Union to their Dutch-Bangla Bank account on different occasions.

LeT with the help of HuJI-B frequently use Bangladesh as its base for hideout as well as a passage for sending currencies, arms, explosives and its operatives from Pakistan to India, say intelligence sources. The shelter for LeT operatives is ensured by its Bangladeshi counterparts belonging to HuJI -B.

The police claim they have had a clean sweep over militancy in the country. They have busted the camps, captured the militants and recovered the explosives. The police say they have broken the chain of command in the militant outfits. However, sporadic arrests of militants every few days, indicates that subversive plots continue to be conspired.

In the last month alone, two separate law enforcement agencies arrested at least six members belonging to LeT. In spite of their movements inside the country, the law enforcers brush aside any fear of terror attacks.

‘There is hardly anything to fear about the present state of militancy in the country,’ says Monirul Islam, deputy police commissioner of the Detective Branch. Apparently they have crushed all militant dens, camps and activities in the country – so say leading members of the Rapid Action Battalion and Detective Branch – the two top agencies keeping tap over militancy.

However, the number of arrests of members belonging to LeT, indicate that there are several members of the group using the Bangladesh territory to operate their trans-national activities.

Beginning from June last year, RAB and DB have captured some 18 LeT members of Pakistani and Indian origin. According to information divulged by members of the law enforcement agencies, most of these operatives use the territory as a conduit to travel between Pakistan and India. The members are believed to be trained in LeT camps in Pakistan and sent to the Indian part of Kashmir to participate in the unrests.

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, a project conceived by the New Delhi based Institute of Conflict Management, the LeT is closely linked to the Inter-Services Intelligence, the Taliban and al Qaeda.

An Xtra investigation this past week reveals that foreign nationals charged with militant operations in the country manage to acquire bails and continue to operate from Bangladesh.

A first information report obtained by Xtra reads, Mubashshir Shahid alias Mubin alias Yaheya, a Pakistani national, confessed that he was a coordinator for LeT in Bangladesh and was arrested earlier on charges of militant activities. However, he was released on bail and later on got involved with his earlier plans to form a militant group.

The police, after a three-month investigation filed a charge-sheet against him on July 13, which mentioned Mubashshir was earlier arrested for carrying counterfeit currencies. Although he was charged with Section 25(B) under the Special Powers Act 1974, which is a non-bailable offence, he managed to come out on bail. Documents obtained by Xtra reveal Mubashshir was first arrested in Dhaka on January 6, 2009 for carrying counterfeit notes.

The Rapid Action Battalion arrested him again on April 7 this year, with explosives and 100 counterfeit notes of Tk 100, from a local hotel in Kaptanbazar. His initial arrest and subsequent release, however, brings to light the fact that foreign suspects accused of militancy, manage to acquire bail and continue their operations in the country.

‘When a case is filed, if the government lawyers do not place enough material before the court for the judge to be satisfied that a suspect should be detained, then the judge has no other alternative,’ says Anisul Huq, a senior criminal lawyer. The onus of proving a case is always upon the prosecution, he adds.

In case of Mubashshir, the police, despite knowing him to be a foreign terrorist, implicated him for smuggling currencies under section 25(B) of the Special Powers Act in January 2009. ‘It requires serious investigation and the police should be further trained to be equipped with methods for investigating such terrorist activity,’ says Huq.

The members of LeT residing in Bangladesh not only use the territory for their hideout but also to control their movements in Pakistan and India. The LeT is noted for its 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008 killing at least 173 people.

According to Indian media reports, on November 26, 2008, several hours before Mumbai was hit, Indian intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing, recorded a conversation between the LeT’s Muzammil, who has been under surveillance for some time, and a Bangladesh number.

During the conversation Muzammil mentioned that five SIM cards would be required for the operation. The RAW assumed that the Bangladesh number was either a relay station from which the call was forwarded to Mumbai or perhaps the LeT communicated with its Mumbai cells through Bangladesh based cut-outs or intermediaries.

International terrorism has become more prominent nowadays and terrorists have become active in recent times, fears Huq. ‘The connivance of foreign terrorists with local outfits in past terror plots in the country have also been unearthed by the law enforcers.’

Law enforcers brush aside any fear of terrorist attack in the country. ‘The militant outfits currently bred inside the country have a very weak structure because of frequent drives and operations, narrowing their scope of expansion,’ says Monirul.

‘Any terrorist in the 21st century cannot do without external links,’ says Imtiaz Ahmed, professor of International Relations at the University of Dhaka. It is difficult for any group to survive at a national level considering that funding, logistics and equipments may not be available in one location, he explains.

It is not surprising that some links have been found between the militants of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. ‘Since we are referring to them as non-state elements, it is necessary to bring the issue to the notice of the respective governments,’ says Imtiaz.

The strengths of the militants are still substantial. ‘We don’t know how many people they have brainwashed into following their ideologies. I don’t think the finance and supply ranks have been entirely explored,’ says ASM Shahjahan, former inspector general of police.

Note: The article was first published in New Age Xtra on November12, 2010.


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