Saleem Samad’s triptych (part 2): Bangladesh, the next epi center for Islamic terrorism*

Posted on | maart 8, 2011 | No Comments

Bangladesh is a country, which has increasingly been worrying the international community, but more importantly South Asian countries including India and Pakistan, for the meteoric rise of militant Islamism which has been biting into the secular identity of the second largest Muslim democracy. 

The new independent state of Bangladesh emerged as a secular polity with a constitutional embargo on religion in politics. Despite the constitutional prohibition, the military regimes to further legitimise their power indulged the Islamist to preach political Islam.

Since early 1970s, religion plays a significant role in the state system of today’s Bangladesh.[1] General Ziaur Rahman (1977-81) rehabilitated the religion-based parties in politics, the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh soon began to advocate political Islam. To compete with the Islamist, the nationalist parties have rewritten their political strategy and adopted Islamic culture in mainstream politics, which irked the secularist and the apparently independent press. 

The u-turn from secular politics to political Islam has further deepened the racial problems of the Muslims sects, Hindus, and other religious and national minorities. 

The rise in militancy and the decline of law and order has been mainly attributed to the radical Islamist parties, which form part of Khaleda Zia’s Islamic nationalists coalition government. 

Begum Khaleda Zia heads the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and her party could not form a government on her own. This lead to a pact with the main Islamist party the Jamaat-i-Islami, a radical movement with parties operating in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Jamaat has always had a violent and subversive past. It was firmly against the establishment of Bangladesh in 1971 and wanted to remain part of Pakistan.[2] 

Jamaat-e-Islami advocates political Islam, implementation of Sharia and blasphemy laws. Dominant nationalists have favoured the doctrine of political Islam, like BNP and Jatiya Party. Both are brainchild’s of military usurpers. This concept has radicalized the political base of the majoritarian Muslim population. The majoritarian believes Bangladesh is a “moderate Muslim country”, which apparently describes a modern Bangladesh. The secular groups have rejected the moderate Muslim nation theory. The secularist argues it is yet another step towards Islamisation of Bangladesh. 

The Jamaat set up the notorious al-Badr, mainly student paramilitary group, which worked closely with the Pakistani forces to fight the Mukti Bahini (liberation fighters) and helped to round up and murder leading intelligentsia. These actions helped to ostracised party, many of its leaders had to go into exile, but over the years it has managed to claw their way back to power. 

Not all of the ruling coalition are happy with the arrangement with the Islamist parties, some MP’s are even revolting against this alliance. Abu Hena, a sacked MP from ruling party, was expelled from his party because he could no longer tolerate the subversion and tactics of his own ruling party because they had made a Faustian bargain with the patrons of the Islamist militants. 

It must be noted that Al-Qaeda leaders such as Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, Yasir al-Jazeeri, Ahsan Aziz and Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi were all captured in the homes of Jamaat-e-Islami leaders in Pakistan. 

The recent capture of two most wanted fugitive home-grown Islamic vigilantes in one week brought relief at home and praise from the United States, but experts say the South Asian country needs to do more to guard against radical Islam.[3] 

Siddikul Islam aka Bangla Bhai, leader of the outlawed Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh was caught on Monday, four days after the mastermind of the banned Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, Shaekh Abdur Rahman, surrendered to authorities. 

The two men were the most wanted fugitives in Bangladesh, the world’s third most-populous Muslim country, and their groups are blamed for hundreds of bombings since last year. 

The discourse of the paper is to argue when an U.S. official involved in counter-terrorism said “Bangladeshi extremists don’t appear to have joined the global jihad, but the possibility remains a cause for concern.” 

US government analysts have been shown to be categorically wrong in their assessments. The fact that Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuJI), a member of Usma bin Laden’s International Islamic Front (IIF), has a Bangladesh branch is also alarming as it shows that western intelligence agencies have shown relatively no interest in developments within Bangladesh. 

Whereas the security experts on South Asia warn against playing down the problem or viewing the two high-profile arrests as sufficient to win Bangladesh’s struggle to maintain secular politics. 

South Asia expert Hussain Haqqani of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said: “The real problem in Bangladesh is that the government has never fully acknowledged the extent of the Islamic militant problem in the country. 

Alarmed Eliza Griswold writes in New York Times that in Bangladesh, the region, has become a haven where jihadis can move easily and have access to a friendly infrastructure that allows them to regroup and train. 

Recently held international conference on Intelligence Summit[4] near Washington concluded: Bangladesh is perhaps becoming the most important country in the War on Terror today; the unravelling situation will have a profound effect on South Asia and beyond. 

The infiltration of al-Qaeda and the suspected involvement of the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) shows that the United States and its allies must face tough questions if they are to succeed in rolling back radical Islamism.  Bangladesh is seen as an important keystone for Islamists as they believe they can implement their totalitarian designs on the country with relative impunity, Chris Blackburn concludes in his International Intelligence Summit 2006 Report: Bangladesh. 

A Bangladesh born expatriate lawyer, Maneeza Hossain[5] in a study published in conservative Hudson Institute opines that these groups reject accommodation with a democratic system and have adopted radical Islam under the influence of oil-rich Middle Eastern states which fund them. 

Hossain’s article, “The Rising Tide of Islamism in Bangladesh,”[6] says the country’s porous borders and the growing role of the main port city of Chittagong in the arms trade makes radical Islam a regional if not global security issue that requires more attention from the United States.[7] 

With a similar argument, New York Times in December 29, 2005 edition in a headline ask “Why Americans should care about the increasingly radical insurgency[8] and comments: What Bangladeshis want is continued international pressure on the BNP to distance itself from the militancy. 

Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries on earth, on the brink of being a failed state, and that makes it a perfect target for Al-Qaeda and its ever-expanding network of Islamic extremist organisations.[9] Virtually unnoticed by the world at large, Bangladesh is being dragged into the global war on terrorists by becoming a sanctuary for them, says Janes Intelligence Report. 

US officials say they are “looking closely” at Bangladesh as Islamic organisations proliferate amid political violence that has flared since bitterly contested parliamentary elections in October 2001. These were won by a four-party coalition headed by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). It includes three religious extremist parties, which are staunch supporters of Islamic fundamentalism. 

Neighbouring India, which has had turbulent relations with Bangladesh since it gained independence from Pakistan in 1971, alleges that there are 195 camps in Bangladesh where guerrillas seeking autonomy or independent statehood in north-eastern India are being trained. 

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s government in Bangladesh has repeatedly denied it supports anti-Indian militants or allows Islamic organisations, some of them linked to Al-Qaeda, to flourish. Given the BNP’s reliance on its Islamic partners, that position is to be expected. The US and its Western allies are gradually waking up to the potentially explosive situation developing in Bangladesh, which former prime minister Sheikh Hasina, leader of the Awami League, the main opposition party, calls the “Talibanisation” of Bangladeshi society. 

After United States invaded Afghanistan, the remnants of Talibans and mercenaries fleeing from troubled region were instrumental in raising Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI)[10] in 1992 in Bangladesh territory, allegedly with funds from Osama bin Laden. The existence of firm links between the new Bangladeshi militants and Al-Qaeda was proven when Fazlul Rahman, leader of Jihad Movement in Bangladesh (to which HuJI belongs), signed the official declaration of “holy war” against United States on February 23, 1998. Other signatories included Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri (leader of the Jihad Group in Egypt), Rifa’I Ahmad Taha aka Abu-Yasir (Egyptian Islamic Group), and Shiekh Mir Hamzah (secretary of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan). 

As researcher and reporter on conflict and Islamic terrorism, has Bangladesh demonstrated it’s sincerity in tracking and destroying the dreaded terrorist outfits HuJI, Lashkar-e Tayyiba (LeT) and other Jihadist outfits having link with terror network. It seems that Bangladesh security agencies have not taken cognizance of those organizations listed as terrorist outfit by United States.[11] 

In separate raids four young Bangladesh nationals allegedly belonging to the banned outfit LeT[12] and HUJI[13] militant outfit in January and February 2005 allegedly trained by Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s notorious security service. Indian authority claimed that they have informed about Bangladesh about the arrests. 

Hundreds of foot soldiers from Bangladesh have been discovered in Acheh province of Indonesia, in Burma, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Kashmir, Chechnya, Bosnia, Tajikistan and Egypt. The Jihadists were exported by HuJI  and LeT as part of establishment of global terror network. 


Bangladesh has made a step which has dumbfounded many external analysts as the efficiency of the Bangladeshi government has raised certain questions and probably helped answer a few. Why have two militant leaders, which the government always stressed where ‘made-up’ products of the media and the opposition have been arrested within days of each other? The recent tour of President Bush to India and Pakistan has probably spurred the BNP government to act. The rise of links between militants and the Jamaat must also have played a part; the reports from foreign media have also had an impact. The questions is can the government stop and arrest the foreign backers of these terror groups and will it act against high profile leaders? 

Why the kingpin Maulana Fazlur Rahman does not have an award over his head, when the nation is glued to only homegrown terrorism by Islamic vigilantes, specifically Jama’tul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). 

The Jamaat’s links to militancy and subversion are numerous and it is up to the Bangladesh government to show that it is sincerely committed to routing out and arresting the financiers and planners behind the militancy. The BNP Government and authorities must also show that it is willing to confront the radical anti-democratic ideology of Mawdudi that drives the militancy even if it means they will probably have to forfeit power in the elections in 2007, because the how could the BNP form an alliance with a party which seeks to undermine democracy, the rule of law and the spirit of liberation? 

* Paper presented at “Religious & Ethnic Minority Cleansing in Bangladesh: The impact of Religious Terrorism and the Role of Government & Civil Society” organized by Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) USA, at New York, on 25 February 2006. The author, Saleem Samad, is an Ashoka Fellow is a Bangladesh based journalist and presently in exile in Canada for his articles published in TIME Asia, Indian news portal (now defunct), Pakistan-based Daily TIMES, newsweekly Dhaka Courier & political weekly Holiday on conflict, terrorism & Islamic militancy in South Asia, particularly in Bangladesh.

[1] Prof. Islam, Sirajul, 2000. State and Religion, Banglapedia, Asiatic Society, Dhaka. 

[2] Chris Blackburn. Bangladesh: Make or Break? March 2006. 

[3] Paul Eckert, Asia Correspondent. Bangladesh bomber arrests said only the beginning, Reuters. 8 March 2006 

[4] Intelligence Summit, was held near Washington DC during 17-20 February 2006. 

[5] Maneeza Hossain, Manager of Democracy Programs at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Washington, USA. 

[6] Published in Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, Volume 3, February 16, 2006, Hudson Institute, Washington, USA.    

[7] Paul Eckert, Reuters. 8 March 2006. 

[8] By Eliza Griswold, The New York Times. Why Americans should care about the increasingly radical insurgency, Dec. 29, 2005, at 7:18 AM ET 

[9] Is religious extremism on the rise in Bangladesh. Janes Intelligence Review, May 2002 

[10] The HUJI to which the duo belonged is an offshoot of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) 

[11] US State Department, Foreign Terrorist Organizations, October 11, 2005. 



AUTHOR: Saleem Samad
E-MAIL: saleemsamad [at]


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