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OPINION / ANALYSIS

Bangladesh: The Locus of Islamic Terrorism

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Rajat Kumar Kujur
February 13, 2006

After months of investigations, authorities in Bangladesh slapped a 40 year jail sentence to three militants of the outlawed Islamic outfit Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) blamed for series of bombings in the country in 2005. Two convicts— Mohammad Awal and Ataur Sunny— have confessed their involvement in the 17 August countrywide bombings that killed three people and left over 150 injured. They also confessed that two British nationals financed the August serial bombings. The third militant was a suicide bomber identified as Mohammad Mamoon who killed two judges in southern Jhalkathi on 14 November last year.

Islamic fundamentalism is not new to Bangladesh. There has been a steady growth in the strength of extremists mostly due to the patronage by successive governments, since the independence of the country in 1971. To be more specific, following the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman in 1975, the fundamentalists grip over the government became more visible. Fundamentalist activism in Bangladesh received a major boost in 2001 when militant Islam stormed its way to the heart of the current regime as Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (JEI) and Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ), became influential partners of the government led by Begum Khaleda Zia.

Besides the Al-Qaeda connection, Bangladesh has become the ultimate destination for terrorists from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Chechnya. Over three hundred terrorist camps, including militant outfits of Northeast India, are fully active in various parts of Bangladesh. Major Islamic networks presently operating in the country are JEI, Jamiat-ul-Mujaihdeen Bangladesh (JMB), Shahadat-e-al-Hikma, and Harkat-ul-Jehad Islami-Bangladesh (HuJI-B).

Many would agree that the vast majority of Bangladesh's 150 million people practice a moderate form of Islam and this makes it rather a difficult task to explain the growth of terrorism in Bangladesh. Chronic poverty, rampant corruption, and anarchy have transformed the nation into an intolerant hub of militant Islam. Political and economic backwardness combined with political instability and military intervention has provided ample space for the rise of Islamic extremism.

Mushrooming Islamic seminaries in Bangladesh have been providing necessary fuel for the so called Islamic Jihad and Pakistan’s proxy war against India. There are about 9,000 government-registered madrasas and another 15,000 Qawmi madrasas under the Bangladesh Qawmi Madrasa Education Board which are totally out of government control and have their own curriculum. The JEI alone runs 6,024 Madrassas along with 620 English medium schools. Thousands of other madrasas are not registered under any organization. This shows that Bangladesh has set up a huge fundamentalist infrastructure, and using them as the breeding ground for the generation next terrorists.

Terror network in Bangladesh also embraces the Banking and Insurance systems as well as its manifestations are also found in the non governmental sector. Existence of fifty-four banks in a failed economy and their modus-operandi reflects one primary objective that is to decontaminate terrorist funds before transmitting them through hawala network. JEI, the fountainhead of Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh has its bank named the Bangladesh Islami Bank and it is all set to open the branches Al Falah Islami Bank, Islami Tafaqul Sanchayee Bima, and Jamati Jiban Bima Corporation. This shows the unique Bangladesh formulation of terrorism combining both political violence and economics of violence. The NGO connection is fast proving to be an effective instrument with the extremists to have a sophisticated and unsuspicious way of operation. NGOs like Ibnesina, KZZ Trust, Ashiab, Muslim Aid and Bangladesh Masjid Mission, under the direct supervision of JEI are exploring ways to make JEI the single largest party in Bangladesh’s political map by 2011. Similarly the dreaded JMB is being lavishly funded by Rabeta Al Alam, Al Hariman Foundation, and Revival of Islamic Heritage Society.

The recent turn of events provide enough reasons to believe that Pakistan’s intelligence agency and Bangladesh’s Director General Field Intelligence (DGFI) have formed a deadly alliance against India. Bangladesh offers Pakistan an attractive alternative base for continuing its proxy war against India and it would not be an exaggeration to conclude that Bangladesh is being groomed as the base for Islamist terrorism for South and Southeast Asia. So far the international community has not paid as much attention as it deserves and it’s equally important that world attention should focus the new locus of terror in the region while trying to implement the spirit of global war against terrorism. Nevertheless, given the nature of terrorism and Al Qaeda’s modus operandi, Bangladesh poses a serious threat to global security and for India there are testing times ahead.

Recent spurt of violence notwithstanding, Bangladesh continues to deny the existence of any terror camp in its soil. However it is an open secret that the country is on its way to become another Afghanistan. It is in the larger interest of Bangladesh and not anyone else’s, that patronage of terrorism would never help her fulfill its quest of ‘Sonar Bangla.’

Rajat Kumar Kujur, Research Associate, Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict, New Delhi