| Khaleda Zia greets participants at the Commonwealth Journalists Association conference in Dhaka on Monday. (Reuters)
Dhaka, Feb. 17 (PTI): Bangladesh has banned the newly-formed Shahadat-e-al-Hikma, a group funded by underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, in the first crackdown on an extremist Islamic outfit by the Khaleda Zia government.
“After observing the activities of al Hikma, it was found to be a threat to the peace and security of the country and that’s why the decision has been taken to ban it,” Bangladesh home minister Altaf Hussain Chowdhury told the country’s Parliament yesterday.
The announcement coincides with the return of foreign minister Mohammed Morshed Khan from New Delhi, where both Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani told him that Bangladesh must address India’s security concerns.
Hussain, who announced the decision while making a statement on the blasts at a religious institution in northern Dinajpur, said the ban was effective from February 9, a day after the outfit had been formally launched.
Three people, including two teachers of the madarsa where the blasts occurred, were arrested after the incident.
Kawsar Hossain Siddique, convenor of al Hikma, said on February 8 that his outfit was financed by Dawood Ibrahim, who heads the list of most-wanted terrorists in India and is the prime accused in the Bombay blasts case. “The government was determined to bring to book those who are out to destabilise the administration and defame the country abroad,” Chowdhury said.
The Opposition welcomed the move, saying the government had admitted to the presence of terrorist elements in the country.
This is the first time an Islamic organisation was banned by the BNP-led coalition of which the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami is an important partner.
Suranjit Sen Gupta of the main Opposition party, the Awami League, called for the formation of a parliamentary committee to probe into the funding and source of arms of such terrorist outfits. However, the government rejected the demand and the Awami League staged a walkout in protest.
Describing, al Hikma as “a political party”, Siddique claimed the outfit had 10,000 commandos and 25,000 fighters working in the country to bring about an Islamic revolution. Media reports here said Siddique had gone in hiding since then.
He claimed that a prominent member of Begum Zia’s Cabinet, minister for law, justice and parliamentary affairs Moudud Ahmed, had helped al Hikma, vernacular daily Bhorer Kagoj reported today.
Khaleda blames media
Prime Minister Khaleda Zia today accused foreign media of spreading lies that her predominantly Muslim nation has become a haven for al Qaida and the Taliban. “We have noticed with deep sadness that a campaign has been going on, particularly in the foreign media, undermining the position of Bangladesh,” Zia said today while inaugurating the Commonwealth Journalists Association conference.
Over 80 journalists from 23 Commonwealth countries are attending the five-day meet.