India has accused Bangladesh of sheltering terrorists who operate in India’s Northeast and also of having become the new haven of Islamic extremists, including al Qaida. Similar accusations against the ruling coalition, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, have also been levelled by the country’s main opposition party, the Awami League. The leader of the opposition, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, has accused two ministers of the ruling alliance of having links with the taliban. Similar charges were also levelled by others in the opposition, after a series of bomb blasts rocked the country recently.
The government summarily dismissed the charges by India, saying that they had been levelled by an unfriendly neighbour and were simply malicious propaganda. It also accused the Awami League of making baseless allegations, peeved at having been thrown out of power in the October 2001 elections.
But recent incidents, which have clearly established the presence of extremist Islamic forces in Bangladesh, have put the government on the defensive. On February 13, a series of bomb blasts took place inside a tin-shed house in Chhoto Gurgola area in Dinajpur town, which injured three persons. Besides arms and ammunitions, police recovered some subscription receipts and leaflets of an extremist outfit, Za'amatul Mujahedin Bangladesh, as well as some hand-written directives. Among the arrested were two employees of the Hazrat Aayisa Siddiqa Salafia Islamia Girls' Madrassah. A mobile phone recovered from the blast site also revealed the addresses of a number of fanatics.
Out of the woodwork
The police later confirmed that the hideout belonged to the ZMB and that its militants had planned several more bomb blasts in the area. The organization had been working in the region for more than a year and that eight of its activists had been arrested on May 20, 2002. A madrassah teacher named Faruk, who was arrested after the blasts, was the ringleader of the outfit, which had about 25 activists and many more hideouts.
The Awami League demanded a probe into the Dinajpur blasts. Its representative in the central legislature, Suranjit Sengupta, demanded that a parliamentary committee table a report on these blasts. The government however did not agree to the demand.
But the sustained opposition pressure did result in a ban on another extremist organization, the Shahdat-e-Al-Hikma, financed by the Mumbai-blast accused Dawood Ibrahim. The home minister, Altaf Hossain Chowdhury, stated in parliament that the organization had been banned because it was found to be a threat to law and order and the security of the country. Notably, this was the first time the government had officially accepted the existence of such organizations in the country.
Bad for the image
Some time later, two young men were arrested from near the Benapole border for carrying arms and explosives. Interrogation revealed that they planned to carry out subversive activities.
The extent of the activities of the Islamicists was realized on March 11 when police unearthed a training centre of the ZMB in the frontier town of Chapainawabganj. It arrested five militants and seized explosives, fire-arms and incriminating documents on jehad, the taliban and instructions on making time-bombs. The existence of Islamic extremists was further confirmed when the inquiry commission indicted them in the Mymensingh cinema blasts.
A series of such incidents and persistent international pressure have forced Bangladesh for the first time to overtly acknowledge the existence of Islamic extremists on its soil, who want to convert Bangladesh into a fundamentalist Islamicist country.
The image of Bangladesh as a moderate Islamic country has suffered in recent times because of such activities, but it can still be retrieved if the country’s leadership manages to deal with them successfully.