Vol. 4 Num 338 Thu. May 13, 2004  
Front Page

Bangla Bhai active for 6 yrs
His outfit spreads tentacles to establish Taliban-like rule

Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) of so-called Bangla Bhai has been active underground for the last six years to establish a Taliban-like rule, although the Islamic militant outfit has grabbed the limelight only recently.

The JMJB idealises extremist Islamic leaders and scholars, follows the militant ideals of the routed Taliban of Afghanistan and spearheads a movement based on jihad, JMJB leaders and other people in the northwest told The Daily Star.

To reach their goal, the JMJB with three tiers of workers trained about 10,000 full-time activists across the country and spends up to Tk 7 lakh on them a month.

The activists have orchestrated over 100 operations in different regions, which came to be known as vigilante activities of different hues, including murders and attacks on people who they believe have committed crime. The outfit is blamed for killing at least five people and torturing several others since April 1.

Although the local administration is apparently in the dark about their activities, their 'crusade' against underground outlaws, popularly known as Sarbaharas, in Rajshahi, Natore, Naogaon and Bogra hit sharp media attention in April.

The revelation of both their presence and locations has annoyed the JMJB leaders. The leaders, talking to The Daily Star at the office of the Kachari Koalipara union parishad chairman in Bagmara upazila in Rajshahi, apparently hid a lot of information about their organisation.

They say their organisation is headquartered in Dhaka but declined to give the address. "We don't want to disclose where our head office is. When the time comes, we will inform you," Bangla Bhai said.

The leaders, who declined to name other top leaders and give their addresses, identified themselves with different names and designations to different people.

Bangla Bhai who leads the outlaw cleansing gave conflicting information about himself to different people. In April, he introduced himself as "Azizur Rahman" to journalists. Later it was said his real name is Omar Ali Litu. When the correspondent of The Daily Star asked him his name, he suggested he read newspapers to know it. On insistence, he said: "I am Siddiqul Islam."

On why he assumed different names, he said: "Siddiqul Islam is my real name. Journalists fabricated other names."

Bangla Bhai says he was born to Nazir Hossain Pramanik of Kannipara village in Gabtoli upazila in Bogra. He claimed to journalists he graduated from Rajshahi University in 1995 with a master's in Bangla. But a crosscheck with the university shows there was no student named Azizur Rahman at the Bangla Department in 1995. Asked again, he said: "I studied Bangla at Azizul Haq University College affiliated with Rajshahi University."

"I enrolled at Rajshahi University. But I registered with the college because of various complications," he said without explaining the complications.

As Bangla Bhai was guarded about his school and college education, his senior leader Amir Mowlana Abdur Rahman who was also present during the interview said he (Bangla Bhai) studied at Tarafsartaj Senior Fazil Madrasa.

"I was a Bangla teacher at two top coaching centres in Dhaka. As my students did well in Bangla, the authorities of coaching centres called me Bangla Bhai," he said without naming the coaching centres.

Bangla Bhai denied his reported involvement with Bangladesh Chhatra League. "I supported it when I was in school. As a college student, I joined Islami Chhatra Shibir (an Islamist student organisation allied with Jamaat-e-Islami). When I finished my study in 1995, I quit Shibir because Jamaat accepted female leadership although it said it considered female leadership sacrilege."

Although newspapers portrayed him as the main leader of the anti-outlaw vigilante group, Bangla Bhai is one of the seven members of JMJB's highest decision-making body, Majlish-e-Shura. His party has however designated him as the commander of the anti-Sarbahara venture.

Rahman who heads the highest tier of JMJB moved from his Jamalpur home to Bagmara in Rajshahi after JMJB activities came to light.

The first tier of the outfit has activists called "Ehsar" who are recruited on a full-time basis and act at the directive of higher echelons, the amir said.

The second tier, "Gayeri Ehsar", has over one lakh part-time activists. The third tier involves those who indirectly cooperate with the JMJB.

"We divided Bangladesh into nine organisational divisions," Rahman said. Khulna, Barisal, Sylhet and Chittagong have an organisational divisional office each. Dhaka has two JMJB divisional offices and Rajshahi three.

Residents of Rajshahi, Naogaon and Natore say the Bangla Bhai group roamed around with firearms openly when the JMJB launched the anti-Sarbahara vigilante activities in April. They also wielded swords, other sharp weapons, hammers and hockey sticks. As newspapers exposed their movement, they started lying low.

Locals say they run training camps -- an allegation the JMJB denied. But the leaders admitted that their workers were given physical training and training on sticks for self-defence.

"We are called part of al Qaeda, Taliban or Islamic militant organisation. But we are not like that. We would like to serve people and serve them in line with Hilful Fuzul (a social organisation founded by Prophet Mohammad (SM) to serve the destitute). We try to awaken people's religious feelings to establish their links with the creator," Rahman says.

On why then the JMJB kept its activities under wraps, he said: "We did not want to declare our presence now. We did not want to take police help at the beginning. We wanted to establish the rights of the repressed people."

"Our workers were taking action against criminals with the help of local people. But local people are not enough to fight the underground outlaws," he justifies seeking police help.

The JMJB has strong bases in Khulna, Satkhira, Bagerhat, Jessore, Chittagong, Joypurhat, Rangpur and Bogra and spread its network to most madrasas and other educational institutions in the districts.

The JMJB amir worked at the Saudi embassy in Dhaka between 1985 and 1990. He studied at Madina Islamic University is Saudi Arabia and travelled to India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, among other countries. As recently as last year, he went to Pakistan.

"My travels abroad are no secret. We don't have links with any foreign organisation. Our funds do not come from overseas. We bear our expenses with the money of our workers and supporters," Rahman said.

"We don't have direct links with the Taliban either. The Taliban wanted to establish the ideals of Allah. They did their part with courage," he said.

Asked if the JMJB idealises the Taliban, he said: "Our model includes many leaders and scholars of Islam. But we will take as much (ideology) from the Taliban as we need."

He says his organisation is against the use of force. Nor does it want to go to power as a political party through elections. "If people of Bangladesh give us the responsibility of running the nation, we will accept it."

"We don't believe in the present political trend. We want to build a society based on the Islamic model laid out in Holy Quran-Hadith," Bangla Bhai said. Asked to clarify his model, he said, "Just wait and see."

Amir Mowlana Abdur Rahman, centre, chief of Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh, talks to The Daily Star at the office of a local union parishad chairman in Rajshahi, while Bangla Bhai, left, and Salahuddin, another member, right, of the extremist Islamic outfit look on. PHOTO: STAR