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BANGLADESH-MYANMAR-THAILAND---THE JIHADI CORRIDOR

Paper no. 1102                                                                                28. 08. 2004

 

by B.Raman

(To be read in continuation of my earlier article titled "Bangladesh & Jihadi Terrorism--An Update" at http://www.saag.org/papers9/paper887.html  )
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At least 16 Awami League (AL) leaders and workers, including two women activists, were killed and over 300 were  injured on August 21, 2004, when a group of unidentified persons threw hand-grenades at a mini truck in front of the party's central office in Dhaka from which Sheikh Hasina, the leader of the party and the opposition, was addressing a party rally.  Four others, including two police constables, died subsequently of the injuries sustained by them in the attack.

2. While police sources have been saying that the grenades, which were reportedly of the sophisticated and lethal type used by the Army, were thrown at the truck from the roofs of the nearby buildings, other eye-witnesses have contested this and claimed that the grenades were actually thrown by individuals, who had infiltrated into the audience without being properly checked by the police and taken up position near the truck.

3. It would seem that the assailants had also managed to carry one or two firearms to the vicinity of the mini-truck without being stopped by the police.  After the grenades had been thrown, there was a total confusion near the mini-truck. The party members, responsible for her security, managed to whisk her away in a jeep. As they were doing so, those with fire-arms fired at the vehicle, including at its tyres, but they managed to take her away.

4. It was the most serious and the most determined  attack on her life since the present coalition Government, headed by Begum Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and  with the active  participation of two Islamic fundamentalist parties (the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) and the Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ ) came to power after the last elections. The attack would appear to have been mounted with considerable precision, indicating a high level of training for the assailants.

5. It has been estimated that 10 to 13 hand-grenades were thrown at the truck. None of them misfired and none of them was mishandled by the assailants, which might have  resulted in their own deaths or injuries to some of them.

6.Commenting  on the daring attack, Brig Gen (retd) Shahedul Anam Khan, who is now the  Editor, Defence and Strategic Issues, for "The Daily Star", wrote in its issue of August 26,2004, as follows. 

  • "The attack on the Awami League rally is qualitatively different than the previous ones for several reasons. Never before in Bangladesh were such high value targets made the object of militant attack. Never before did we behold a situation where a bomb attack was conducted with such precision and professionalism. The modus operandi of the perpetrators points to a well-organised group, trained and committed to carry out a dangerous mission. Never before have we seen so many "bombs" being hurled at one gathering and in such quick succession.
  • "That an area weapon was used points to the fact that no one single individual in particular was the target; the idea was to take out the Awami League leadership in one go. Reportedly, there were bullet marks in Hasina's vehicle, which points to the fact that more than one type of weapon was used.
  • "The qualitative difference is also in the choice of the weapons that were used -- grenades. Grenades are highly lethal weapons with extremely damaging consequences within a short radius of effect, as borne out by the number of deaths and injured caused by the blasts. Also, the type of injury sustained by the victims indicates that the grenade that was used was of the more lethal variety containing pre-formed pellets with enhanced lethality because of its high fragment density. Grenades are more sophisticated than a home-made device or devices put together indigenously.
  • "This incident is also different from the previous ones in that the attack was carried out by a trained group, which  slipped through the security cordons of whatever definition that might have been in place, remained undetected from well before the meeting started, hurled the grenades just as soon as the leader of the opposition finished speaking, and made good their escape. All these speak of a well-coordinated operation.
  • "That the grenades were targeted at the truck that was being used as a podium for the Awami League leaders, and that they all detonated, reportedly in very close proximity to the truck, suggests that all the grenades were hurled from within 30 to 50 meters of it. It also suggests that the attackers had pretty good prior knowledge as to the exact location of the truck, in order to be able to pre-position themselves to be within grenade throwing distance from the podium, yet at a stand off range for their own safety.
  • "The disconcerting aspect of all these is that we now see a graduation, from the use of indigenous explosive devices (IED), to more sophisticated and lethal devices like hand grenades. A matter for greater concern is that weapons, manufactured exclusively for military use, are now in the hands of clandestine militant groups. Needless to say, it takes some training and the self-assurance that comes with it, to operate such devices.
  • "Several armies in the region use the type of grenade used in the recent attacks. But these are also in the possession of various militant groups in the region. Militants having external links or who are externally motivated and sponsored, have easier access to these weapons than do those who are indigenous."

7. An unknown organisation called the Hikmatul Jihad has claimed the responsibility for the attack, but its claim is yet to be proved. For the present, the needle of suspicion points to the Bangladesh branch of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI-B), which is a founding member of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF).

8.Elements of Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia's BNP and her Islamic fundamentalist allies as well as the pro-Taliban and pro-Al Qaeda jihadi terrorist organisations such as the HUJI (B) have mounted a vicious campaign against her since last October, when during visits to Thailand and India, she had made speeches highlighting the violations of human rights in her country and the unchecked activities of religious fundamentalist elements.She has been accused of treason and demands have been made for arresting and prosecuting her.

9. Since then, she and her colleagues in her party have been in receipt of frequent threats to their lives. Greatly concerned over her security and the inadequate security cover provided to her by the Government, the Party strengthened its own measures for her security under the supervision of a special committee for security affairs. It enlisted the services of many private security guards, with licence to possess and carry fire-arms, but it was alleged that the Government cancelled their licences and ordered the surrender of their weapons.

10. In a statement issued some weeks ago, the special committee said as follows: "Considering the fact that Sheikh Hasina and her sister Sheikh Rehana are the only surviving family members of the Father of the Nation ‘Bangabandhu’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was brutally murdered along with his entire family on 15th August 1975, and the recent threats on her life, the committee expresses its shock and disbelief at the Government’s recent decision to recall her licensed firearms along with those used by her personal security staff. This is  ill motivated and suspicious. The Government has in effect, in a pre-planned manner, ensured a weakened security structure that has left her totally vulnerable to any attack. In view of these facts, the committee expresses its  grave concern regarding the poor security measures provided by the Government.  It again asks the Government to take immediate steps to bolster the security of the leader of the opposition, Sheikh Hasina, or the responsibility for any breach or lapse in her security due to its inaction will rest solely on its (Government’s) shoulders." The Government ignored this statement and it was alleged by her party that no action was taken to strengthen her security.

11. In the meanwhile, the fundamentalist and jihadi terrorist elements, who suspected her and her party of having inspired the reports carried by the "Far Eastern Economic Review", the "Time" magazine and other Western media on the activities of some of the dregs of Al Qaeda from Bangladesh territory, further stepped up their vicious campaign against her, accusing her of being a traitor to the cause of Islam.

12. It is against this background that the attempt to kill not only Sheikh Hasina, but also the secular and liberal minded leadership of the Awami League as a whole has taken place. The attack has come at a time when there has been an increase in the activities of the pro-Taliban and pro-Al Qaeda elements in Bangladesh . Since November last year,the sectarian extremist  International Khatme Nabuwot (Last Prophet Movement) and organisations allied to it such as the Jaish-e-Mustafa have stepped up their demonstrations and rallies to demand that the Ahmadiyas be declared non-Muslims as they are in Pakistan and debarred from holding any public office. There have been many attacks on their places of worship and their religious books have been burnt by the fundamentalist elements. Succumbing to their pressure, the Government banned their religious books on January 8, 2004, ostensibly  in the interest of the  "safety and security" of  Bangladesh, but it has resisted the pressure to declare them non-Muslims and to debar them from holding public office. It has been reported that there has been considerable flow of funds from the fundamentalist and sectarian organisations of Pakistan for the anti-Ahmadiya movement.

13. The secular and liberal sections of the Bangladesh society have been rendered silent by the fear that if they backed in public the cause of the Ahmadiyas they too might be declared non-Muslims and apostate by the fundamentalists and sectarian extremists.

14. The HUJI (B) continues to be very active in the rural areas and in the interior urban centres and it controls a large number of the estimated 64,000 madrasas in Bangladesh, which has reportedly more madrasas than Pakistan. As already mentioned by me in the past, following the difficulties faced by the Muslims of South-East Asia in going to Pakistan for studying in the madrasas there, the IIF has entrusted the HUJI (B) with the responsibility for training the Muslims from S.E.Asia.

15. Even in the past, the HUJI(B) was playing the leadership role in training the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar. While continuing to do so, it has also started training small groups from Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and Brunei in the madrasas controlled by it and in its training centres. The HUJI(B) is taking an active interest in assisting the followers of the IIF in Southern Thailand to step up their movement for their independence and for setting up an Islamic State ruled by Sharia in the southern provinces. It has reportedly been an important source of finance for the jihadi terrorists of Southern Thailand

16. The Tablighi Jamaat of Bangladesh has been as active as its Pakistani counterpart and funds many of the madrasas and provides scholarships to the Muslims of S.E.Asia recruited by its tablighi teams visiting those countries and brought to Bangladesh for religious education.

17. About 150 to 200 dregs of the Al Qaeda and the IIF, who had fled from Pakistan to Bangladesh in 2002 and thereafter, continue to be present in Bangladesh. They have been provided sanctuary by the JEI and the Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ). Some of these dregs, who had worked as instructors in the Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, now work in the training camps of the HUJI (B). Both the JEI and the IOJ have reportedly been in receipt of funds from the JEI of Pakistan. It is said that it was at the request of the JEI of Pakistan that they have provided sanctuary to the Al Qaeda dregs. They have also been actively involved in the anti-Ahmadiya campaign.

18.The Al Haramain, the so-called charity organisation of Saudi Arabia, which has been brought under the provisions of the UN Security Council Resolution No. 1373 because of its suspected role in funding the terrorist activities of Al Qaeda, continues to be  active  in Dhaka, though its branch in Cox's Bazaar would appear to have been closed down.

19.Of late, there have been reports of the Hizbut Tehrir stepping up its activities in Bangladesh, particularly among the junior officers of the armed forces. Like its Pakistani counterpart, the HUJI (B) too has reportedly made some headway in penetrating the lower ranks of the Armed Forces.

20.Begum Khaleda Zia continues to show a strong disinclination to discard the JEI and the IOJ and to act against the HUJI (B) and other jihadi terrorist elements or to put an end to the influx of foreign jihadis for training. She is not even prepared to concede the growing presence and activities of the jihadi terrorist organisations in the territory of her country. Taking advantage of her reluctance to act, the jihadi terrorist organisations have been strengthening their roots in Bangladesh territory and spreading their activities to S.E.Asia. The consequently emerging Bangladesh-Myanmar-Thailand jihadi corridor should be a matter of great concern to the countries of the region.

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