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    Volume 9 Issue 17| April 23, 2010|

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The Shape of things to Come

Militants are regrouping and can hatch surprise attacks to foil the war crimes trial

Ahmede Hussain

The telltale signs are there that for the last few years - Bangladesh has been used as a hiding and breeding ground for India and Pakistan born militants. Some recent arrests made by the Rapid Action Battalion suggest that Bangladesh is the place they come to spawn their violent demonic ideology. The first in many such arrests took place last December when Abdul Majid Butt alias Abu Yusuf Butt was arrested upon a tip off provided by Harkatul Jihad (Huji) Bangladesh chief Mufti Hannan and Islamic Democratic Party convenor Maulana Sheikh Abdus Selim.

In fact, it is after Hannan and Selim's arrests that the Bangladesh intelligence has found itself opening a can of worms. Credited for launching numerous terrorist attacks, including the assassination attempt on the former British High Commissioner to Bangladesh Anwar Chowdhury, Mufti Hannan and his infamous Huji have maintained close contacts with Pakistani militant outfits such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). Hannan has revealed that, armed with the help of their local fixers, LeT and JeM operatives frequently visited the country after carrying out their deadly acts in India or they sometimes reikied the country for future operations. He has also said that the LeT and JeM's help has been crucial in maintaining the supply chain of money and military hardware for local outfits.

Grim it may sound, Bangladesh however is no stranger to terrorism. Both Hannan and Selim are Afghan war veterans. There are about 1000 Bangladeshis like him who went to fight the Red Army after Afghanistan was invaded in 1979. When they returned after the Soviets left the South-central Asian country with a bloody nose, these Bangladeshi Mujahideens came back home and with them brought violent ideologies to a country, which was otherwise famous for peace and communal harmony.

Ramna Blast

It did not take long for the militants to spread their homemade terror. On March 6, 1999, bombs exploded in Jessore at a cultural programme organised by Udichi Shilpi Goshti, killing 10 people and injuring over 100. Mufti Hannan, in a confessional statement made to the police last year, admitted to have masterminded the mayhem. According to the statement, the Huji leadership held a meeting at the group's office in Mohammedpur and unanimously decided to stop 'this naked musical performances'.

The next big blast took place two years later in 2001-- 10 people died when bombs went off at a programme celebrating Bangla New Year celebration under a banyan tree in Dhaka's Ramna Green. Interestingly, in 2001, in the run up to the national elections, bombs started to go off in different places; Sheikh Hasina, the then leader of the opposition, had been targeted several times. Hasina won the elections and in her first term in office she put a leash on terror. Things started to worsen in the middle of Khaleda's second term that ended in 2007. In fact, her government's role in fighting extremist terror is cloaked with mystery. When bombs went haywire in her first five prime ministerial years, Khaleda Zia blamed everything on the opposition.

Not only did Khaleda keep on accusing Awami League and the opposition for staging these attacks even before the investigations had begun, her ministers, on several occasions, tried to derail the course of the probes into these grisly attacks. Officers with questionable connections were given the responsibilities of carrying out the investigations; in several instances the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leadership denied the presence of any terrorist in the country, calling it a figment of the media's imagination.

In its second term in office, for the first two years, the BNP-government's reluctance to accept even the presence of religious extremists in the country was so vehement that there are reasons to be suspicious of this naivety. In 2003-2004 when Siddikur Rahman alias Bangla Bhai and his goons formed Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), a terrorist militant outfit that killed several people in the Maoist prone southwest and southeastern Bangladesh, three BNP MPs at that time, Aminul Haque, Fazlur Rahman Potol and Ruhul Kuddus Dulu opposed the police actions against Siddikur and his goons, saying the outfit was on a “pro-people mission” freeing the northern region of left wing extremists.

The JMJB-BNP love affair, however, met an abrupt end in 2005, at least publicly. That year, 63 crude homemade bombs went off in equal number of districts to declare the arrival of Jamaetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a militant group that has made a grisly place in the country's history by launching Bangladesh's first suicide bombing. Even though both Bangla Bhai and JMB supremo Shaikh Abdur Rahman were tried and hanged, there are suspicions in the minds of general public that the brains behinds the JMJB and JMB are still at large.

The trial of war criminals has sent the BNP leadership into deep distress. Publicly they welcome the trial, but in the same breath they doubt that the trial will be just and fair. There are reasons for this flip-flopping though, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), on which corruption-ridden and organisationally weak BNP leans for support, has alleged war criminals at the helm. Pressurised by the JI to take a stance on the issue, the BNP is now acting like a wayward zamindar who is too shy to recognise a mistress in public.

Some JMJB-JMB sympathisers in the BNP are still there. They, along with the war criminals, can try to disrupt the war crimes trial. Speculative as it might sound, sources in the Rab thinks that after some big blows that they have taken in recent times after the arrests of Mufti Hannan and the foreign militants, terrorists are trying to regroup. Early this month, the civil aviation authority raised a warning at the country's both international airports as a terror attack was thought to be imminent. A Pakistani militant arrested early this year told the police that they had plans to launch an attack on the US embassy in Dhaka.

Mufti Hannan

Tackling the terror, as it is across the globe, is a multi-pronged affair. The security officials have to be on their guard to nab terrorists and at the same time the government must be prepared to handle any terrorist attack, however big it might be. As a long-term goal, the government needs to make people aware of the true teachings of Islam, which considers suicide and murder cardinal sins. The biggest strength against militancy is our people. Bangladesh has never had any room for fanaticism and deep down in their hearts the ordinary Bangladeshis abhor extremism. Together with the people, the government has to move forward to free the country from this smenace.

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