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     Volume 8 Issue 83 | August 21, 2009 |

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The 'Gangs' of Dhanmandi

Am Hussain

Fourteen-year-old Raihan Hashem was mugged in front of his coaching centre in Dhanmandi last Thursday. "They came to me at the Shat Masjid Road where I go for my English tuition," he says, "one of the boys held a knife and told me to give them my mobile phone. They took it away before I could do anything." After he was robbed, Raihan did what more and more young men in Dhanmandi have started to do--he called his 'back-up'.

Police have been trying to find out the grafitti writers.

Back-ups are usually older students, almost all of whom go to different private universities, who help their younger friends in times of need. Arman, the back-up, was not late in coming, a few phone calls were made and in less than two hours Raihan got his cell back. All that Arman had asked for in return was 500 taka so that he did not have to rely on his friends for his day's phensidyl.

Things however do not always go as smoothly. Kashem (not his real name), who studies at a private university, regularly mugs passers-by in the alleys of Dhanmandi. "Our gang has 1200 members; most of them study at Dhaka College, Ideal College, City College and Imperial College," he says.

Kashem says that he and fellow gang-members usually start their job at nightfall. "We usually look for mobile phones as they are easy to sell. There are shops in the Stadium Market where old handsets are sold, they readily buy from us," he says. To sell anything made of gold, they cross the Buriganga to go to the goldsmiths in Hasnabad, who Kashem says, give them a 'fair price'.

Kashem claims that he and his friends work alone. "Its not a group per se," he says. Spray-paints of different gangs depicting their logos have recently been seen on the walls of the affluent Dhaka neighbourhoods. When the MS-13 graffiti was first seen in Dhanmandi in the middle of 2007, the residents were horrified. The gang's US namesake is infamous for murder, arson and kidnapping in north and central Americas. In 2005 alone, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested 660 suspected MS-13 members.

Since the gang's alleged presence crept up in Dhaka two years ago, the police have been trying what it says its best to find out the truth behind the grafitti. The Officer In Charge of Dhanmondi Police Station says, "Its existence has not been found. We have tried a lot; we have not found anything. We are still trying."

Hasan Mahmood Khandaker, Director General of the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab), the country's elite serious crime busting force, says that the MS-13 is under surveillance. Sources at the Rab deny the presence of the gang though; a Rab official says that the gang can at best be the outcome of the fertile imagination of some teenagers. "The trends of crime in Dhanmandi is different from the other areas," he says, "all the offences that are committed here are done by people who come from faraway places like Mirpur or Lalbagh," he says. He thinks because it is a pure residential area, the crime rate is comparatively low.

But there are instances though where rival student groups have beaten up by members of other gangs. Such incidents go unnoticed by the police as the victims do not go to lodge a complaint. But these 'gangs', non-criminal they may be, sometimes introduce innocent students to the world of drugs and petty crime. The graffiti of MS-13, ID 15 and 9mm in Dhanmandi and Green Road proves that there exist some groups by these names.

According to Startfor, Global Intelligence, in December 2004 alleged MS-13 member Frankie Sanchez-Solorzano was arrested along with Bangladeshi Fakhrul Islam and 11 other people after they were trying to enter the US near Brownsville, Texas. The connection between the US gang and the Bangladeshi graffiti has not yet been explored. The MS-13 is a dangerous criminal gang and if its presence in the country is proven, we have reasons to be alarmed. The police need to dig deep to find out the truth behind these groups, before they do that, the residents of one of the posh neighbourhoods of Dhaka will live dangerously.

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