The young man’s feet were tied to a tree, his head dangling inches above the ground. A microphone was held to his mouth while he was tortured so that the villagers who were not present to witness the “trial” could hear his screams.
The first to hear them were the men in uniform who did not stir from the police station, not far from the tree. The screams rose and fell till the man was dead.
Their mission accomplished, the killers issued fresh warnings to villagers against straying from the Islamic way, swore their loyalty to Bangla Bhai and left the scene.
The incident is one of about 500 cases of killing and torture by Bangla Bhai’s armed Islamic bands that were documented by Taskforce Against Torture, a human rights group founded in Bangladesh three years ago.
Bangla Bhai’s Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh was one of the two principal suspects for Wednesday’s serial bomb blasts across 63 of Bangladesh’s 64 district headquarters. Leaflets issued in the name of the other group, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, and calling for the introduction of “Islamic law” in Bangladesh were found at several blast sites.
The blasts have brought Bangla Bhai back at the centre of discussions on the threat of Islamist jihad in Bangladesh. A former schoolteacher, whose followers are believed to number over 10,000, he had taken part in the Taliban’s jihad in Afghanistan.
He claims to have acquired the nom de guerre during his stay in Afghanistan. He once gave his real name as Azizur Rahman, but changed it to Siddiqul Islam more recently.
He called for an Islamist revolution last year in several districts of northwestern Bangladesh neighbouring north Bengal. His revolution may not have got off the ground and he may have had to go underground following the ban imposed on his group; but thousands of his supporters still roam free and strike terror in large parts of Bangladesh. They force men to grow beards and women to wear the burqa; they beat up people for un-Islamic conduct, such as smoking or selling cigarettes.
They do all this and more with the connivance of ruling politicians, government officials and policemen. Analysts in Dhaka say Bangla Bhai built his equations with the ruling politicians for two reasons.
First, not only the two Islamist parties ' Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Oikya Jote ' but also sections within the Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia share his Islamist zeal. Opposition politicians have complained of a link between the Jamaat and Bangla Bhai, but both have persistently denied it.
The other reason is more directly political. He began his Islamist offensive by first targeting Maoists, other communist groups and mainstream secular politicians, mostly from the Awami League. Bangla Bhai, to many in the ruling coalition, was the enemy’s enemy and hence a friend.
But that is pretty much the same story with the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, whose network of madarsa-trained cadre and arsenals of guns and bombs are, however, believed to be larger than those of Bangla Bhai’s group.
After a spate of bomb blasts in the Dinajpur district of northern Bangladesh in 2003, in which the government saw the Mujahideen’s hands, some reports in Dhaka newspapers claimed that the arms and ammunition at the outfit’s disposal were enough to enable it to fight the Bangladesh Army and police for several months. But, as with Bangla Bhai’s group, the ban on the Mujahideen has not deterred either its growth or its strike power, thanks to its links with powerful ruling politicians.
These two outfits, rising in the mid-1990s, have stolen the jihadi limelight in Bangladesh from older Islamist groups, such as the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami or Huji, which was also born in the Afghanistan cauldron and worked in tandem with Pakistani mentors.
But Huji, which was allegedly responsible for most of the major bomb attacks on secular politicians, writers and organisations during the Awami League’s rule from 1996 to 2001, continues to be one of the major perpetrators of Islamist terrorism.