Govt sits idle as banned HuJi holds open rally |
Renames organisation; wanted militant leaders seen in meetings
Julfikar Ali Manik
Banned Islamist militant organisation Harkatul Jihad al Islami (HuJi) that comprises Afghan war veterans is carrying out activities in the capital but the government seems not to bother at all.
Many HuJi leaders and activists, who are known for their role in running militant activities openly until the organisation was banned last year, held a meeting under a new banner of Sachetan Islami Janata (conscious Islamist people) at the Baitul Mukarram Mosque on Friday.
The names of these leaders--most sought-after figures following the grisly bomb attacks over the past few years--can be found on intelligence agencies' lists of Afghan war participants from the country.
Launched in 1992, the HuJi operated for a decade in the country and now its leaders and activists are continuing clandestine activities after the ban.
Mufti Yahiya, known among his men as "commander Yahiya", was present at the meeting, a HuJi activist confirmed. Investigators searched for the Afghan war veteran for his suspected involvement in the grenade attack on Bangladesh-born British High Commissioner Anwar Choudhury in Sylhet on May 21, 2004.
The law enforcers and intelligence agencies, however, claimed they did not know or failed to recognise Yahiya and his associates.
"We do not know whether these people are involved with Harkatul Jihad or not. The intelligence agencies have not confirmed us yet," Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner SM Mizanur Rahman said, adding that they are not sure about their identity.
HuJi activists confirmed The Daily Star that the HuJi leaders who attended the meeting include Moulana Rahmatullah alias Shaikh Farid, commander Abdul Hye, founder chairman of HuJi's advisory board Moulana Mohiuddin Khan, acting HuJi ameer Mufti Shafiqur Rahman, trainers commander Abdus Salam and commander Moniruddin Monir, commanders Abul Qashem, Salahuddin, Abdul Qayyum, Monjur Ahmed and Joynal Abedin, Moulana Abu Taher, Jainpuri Peer's son Enayetulah Abbasi, State Minister for Information Abdus Salam Pintu's brother Tajul Islam, Asadullah al Galib of Cox's Bazar, Khelafat Andolon founder Hafezzi Hujur's son Moulana Ahmadullah Ashraf and Mufti Nuruddin.
Some of these leaders addressed the meeting held at the north gate of Baitul Mukarram after the Juma prayers while a few others were sitting on the dais.
Following clamp-down on HuJi by the previous Awami League (AL) government after a 76kg bomb was recovered from the then prime minister Sheikh Hasina's meeting venue at Tungipara in July 2000 and the ban imposed by the present government on October 17 last year, these leaders continued their work under the banners of different Islamist organisations.
"Since it became difficult for us to work under Harkatul Jihad's banner, we had to adopt other names and work under different banners secretly," the HuJi activist told The Daily Star on condition of anonymity. He has been involved with the outfit for about 12 years.
According to sources, some of the HuJi leaders and advisers run separate Islamist organisations.
Khelafat Andolon chief Moulana Ahmadullah Ashraf has been actively assisting the HuJi since the AL government took moves against the outfit. Moulana Abu Taher is active with a Khatme Nabuwat group that demands declaring the Ahmadiyyas non-Muslim. Some HuJi leaders are involved in Islamic publication.
A few Afghan war veterans launched the HuJi at a press conference at the Jatiya Press Club on April 30, 1992 in Dhaka. HuJi Bangladesh president Abdus Salam, field commander Manzur Hasan, Dhaka city unit president Moulana Delwar Hossain, publicity secretary Mufti Shafiqur Rahman, Obaidur Rahman Nadvi and Moulana Mufti Abdul Hye were present at the conference.
The HuJi leaders clad in sleeveless olive war jackets over traditional Kabul dresses and grey traditional Afghan turbans boasted of its international link at the press conference. Successive governments, including that of the AL, however, overlooked the matter.
Manzur Hasan told reporters at the conference that Bangladeshi youths went to Pakistan on student and tourist visas and joined Jihad (holy war) in Afghanistan.
Forty-one armed HuJi men were arrested at a Cox's Bazar training camp in 1996 and sentenced to life-term, but were released on bail after the BNP-led four-party coalition came to power. Mufti Hannan, HuJi's operations commander, was arrested in Dhaka on October 1 last year.
After the Baitul Mukarram meeting, the HuJi leaders and activists brought out a procession and joined a rally of Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ) led by "Shaikhul Hadith" Azizul Haque at the Muktangan to protest a recent statement by India's Bharatiya Janata Party president against Bangladesh.
The IOJ leader led a nine-member HuJi delegation to Afghanistan via Pakistan in 1988 and met al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
A report published in The Daily Star on November 7, 2005 carried detailed information about the visit. "The HuJi Bangladesh top brass includes Shaikhul Hadith Allama Azizul Haq, also chief of a faction of ruling alliance partner Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ), Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish second-in-command Muhammad Habibur Rahman of Sylhet, Ataur Rahman Khan of Kishoreganj, Sultan Jaok of Chittagong, Abdul Mannan of Faridpur and Habibullah of Noakhali. All of them are linked with different Islamic organisations and madrasas, and one of them, Ataur Rahman Khan, was elected an MP with BNP ticket in 1991 from Kishoreganj-3," the report said.
"In an interview a few years back, Habibur Rahman disclosed those names, with whom he had travelled to Afghanistan via Pakistan in 1988, visited some Taliban militant camps and also met al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden," the report added.
When contacted after Friday's meeting, a top-level intelligence officer told The Daily Star that they took note of the meeting and were gathering information about the HuJi leaders.
"We are checking whether they are floating a new organisation, who are involved with it, who are their patrons and whether they are agitating just for the BJP president's remark or has any serious motive," he said.
Sources, however, said the intelligence men were aware of the meeting in advance and some members of an intelligence agency were seen near the venue.