Vol. 5 Num 497 Tue. October 18, 2005  
Front Page

Harkatul Jihad banned at last
Govt terms it 'a terrorist outfit'

The government at last banned Harkatul Jihad Al Islami (HuJi) and its activities in Bangladesh yesterday, over a decade after the international terrorist group had started to spread its tentacles across the country.

The fourth Islamist organisation to be banned, HuJi's Bangladesh chapter has been involved in carrying out terrorist activities in Bangladesh for more than half a decade. It has been behind several major bomb attacks as well as assassination attempts on former prime minister (PM) Sheikh Hasina and some leading intellectuals.

An intelligence report in October 2003 had strongly recommended that HuJi be banned for the sake of the country's security. Despite being well aware of the militant outfit's activities, the government kept denying its existence over the last few years.

Describing Harkatul's activities as sensitive, the government yesterday listed it as a terrorist organisation.

"Harkatul Jihad Al Islami is a self-proclaimed terrorist organisation. Its activities are very sensitive and it is identified as a terrorist organisation," a home ministry press note said yesterday.

The government has always expressed its firm stance against terrorism and as a reflection of the stance, it has already banned some terrorist organisations, the press note read.

"The government is declaring Harkatul Jihad Al Islami and all its activities banned on the basis of information received so far," the press note adds.

Even after the US had blacklisted the Bangladesh chapter of HuJi in 2003, Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan said that he had not seen any "such activity [terrorism] in Bangladesh."

"The way Bangladesh is being painted with the same brush time and again, it seems that it is a conspiracy and an orchestrated campaign by some vested quarters," Khan told reporters at his office on May 2 this year about a US State Department report that named Harkat ul-Jihad Al Islami, Bangladesh (Huji-B) to be a militant outfit.

Earlier on February 23, the government banned Jagrata Muslim Janata, Bangladesh (JMJB) and Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), now learnt to be behind the August 17 countrywide blasts, accusing them of trying to create anarchy.

Shahadat Al Hiqma, which was said to be operating in the northern region, especially in Rajshahi, was the first Islamist organisation to be banned. The government banned it on February 9, 2002 and arrested its chairman, Kawser.

HuJi formally appeared in Bangladesh in 1992 with an aim to establish Islamic rule in the country and announced that those who fought the then Soviet soldiers for the Taliban in Afghanistan were working with the organisation.

The Bangladesh chapter was established in 1992, drawing inspiration from Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF). Shawkat Osman alias Sheikh Farid was given the charge of the organisation.

At the beginning, HuJi used the office of Jago Mujahid, an Islamic publication, at Khilgaon in the capital.

Apart from its ties with Afghanistan-based militant groups, it had always maintained connections with HuJi, Pakistan and some other militant groups of the country.

It stepped up its activities after the Awami League came to power in June, 1996.

Three HuJi activists made an attempt on the life of eminent poet Shamsur Rahman at his residence in Dhaka on January 18, 1999 but failed. It was Harkat's first open operation.

Earlier on February 19, 1996, law enforcers arrested 41 HuJi activists with illegal firearms in Cox's Bazar. The arrestees were sentenced to life imprisonment by a court but all of them came out on bail from the High Court after the four-party alliance assumed power in October 2001.

In one of their major operations, HuJi planted a 76-kg bomb at the venue of a public meeting of the then prime minister Sheikh Hasina at Kotalipara in Gopalganj on July 20, 2000. Hasina narrowly escaped death as intelligence men beforehand discovered the bomb.

HuJi is also suspected to have links to some other major blast incidents, including the one at Ramna Batamul in Dhaka on Bangla New Year.

Although its activities were an open secret, it started to opt for covert operations from early this decade. Now banned militant organisation JMB and JMJB came to the limelight with their terrorist activists by that time.

After the August 17 countrywide blasts, top JMB leader Azizul Bari Mintu of Joypurhat had confessed that the HuJi took the name of JMB in 2003.

The Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) arrested HuJi Bangladesh operations commander Mufti Abdul Hannan in Anandanagar of city's Madhya Badda on October 1.

Hannan told journalists that he did not have to flee the country as the former home minister, now the commerce minister, Altaf Hossain Choudhury, had assured him that there would be 'nothing for him to fear' if he stayed in Bangladesh. Altaf, however, denied Hannan's claim.

The militant kingpin has also admitted to planting the 76-kg bomb in Kotalipara on July 20, 2000.

He told a Dhaka court the following day that the law enforcers were not supposed to arrest him as some influential ministers of the government had assured him that he would be exempted from the charge of attempting to kill Sheikh Hasina.

Hannan, who is now being interrogated under remand, attempted to make a speech in a courthouse on October 12, but a court inspector barred him from doing so.

Lawmakers of Jamaat-e-Islami also denied HuJi's existence in Bangladesh and termed it as "baseless".

Jamaat lawmaker Riasat Ali Biswas said in parliament on September 11: "Reports of militant training of Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Harkatul Jihad to turn Bangladesh into an Islamic state is nothing but a propaganda."

"A section of politicians of our country and India have long been propagating that Bangladeshis intrude into India, there is repression on minorities, fundamentalists exist here and militants of Jama'atul Mujahideen and Harkatul Jihad are trained to turn the country into an Islamic state," he said, dismissing the allegations as 'baseless'.

State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfozzaman Babar, however, told parliament the same day that the JMB has been learnt to be involved in the August 17 bombings.