Friday, May 25, 2007

Court ruling favoured Galib; given him Tawhid Trust building

A Rajshahi court on Thursday ordered an organisation named Tawhid Trust to hand over its 5-storied building at Kajla in the city to its ousted member, an detained militant kingpin and Ahle Hadith Andolon, Bangladesh (Ahab) chief Asadullah Al Galib within 15 days.


Galib, also a Rajshahi University Arabic teacher was arrested in February 2005 after captured JMB militants named him as their spiritual head.


Zahangir Alam Mollah, judge of public safety tribunal and second special sessions court in his ruling turned down a lower court order that in 2004 adjudged Tawhid Trust and its contemporary officio as tenant of the building.


Tawhid Trust chairman Abdus Salam, secretary general (SG) SM Mahmud Alam, assistant SG Rezaul Karim and their lawyers condemned the judgment to be 'unilateral and biased' and said they would challenge it to the high court.


Abu Bakar, a trust lawyer said, Galib founded the trust and established the building, but he was expelled from the trust in January 2002 following allegations against him of misappropriation of money and abetting so called Islamist militants.


"The trust is an organisation, not private property. The committee that will represent the trust would be the tenant as per rules of land", he said.


Another lawyer Habibur Rahman said, Tawhid Trust chairman Abdus Salam, the main defendant in the suit was not called to the court during hearing on May 22 last.


Moreover, Tawhid Trust lawyers were not heard thoroughly and they were interrupted during delivering speeches, he said.


At a stage of heated debate in open court, the judge mentioned that the property belongs to Galib and it would be given to him, said Advocate Abu Bakar.


The judge's comment drew instant flak from lawyers and the judge replied, "I am not going to hear any word against Galib".


Meanwhile, intelligence agencies in 2005 found evidences that Galib channeled huge Middle Eastern funds to the militants using Tawhid Trust and its properties.


The court heard total 7 witnesses for Galib. Of them, two – Ahab second-in-command Abdus Samad Salafi and organising secretary ASM Azizullah were held along with Galib, but they were released during end of BNP-Jamaat rule.


Charge Sheet against Minu

The charge sheet against Rajshahi City Corporation Mayor and former BNP lawmaker Mizanur Rahman Minu in an extortion case was placed before Rajshahi Chief Metropolitan Magistrate court yesterday for accepting.


The CMM court, however, fixed June 6 for hearing on the charge sheet acceptance.


Sub-Inspector Abdur Rahman Sarkar of Rajpara Police Station pressed the charges against total 11 persons including Minu on May 16.


But, the case documents were shifted to a judge court following two miss cases regarding ad interim bail prayer of two accused persons in the case.


Minu, however, was freed on an anticipatory bail from the high court in connection with the case.


Other accused persons in the case include -- district BNP vice president Nazrul Huda, former city BNP general secretary Shafikul Haque Milon, BNP adherents Tahajuddin, Mainul Islam, Ranju, Ashraf, Shamsul, Sentu and Abdullah Al Mamun.


The plaintiff Shamsul Alam Khan, a governing body member of Evergreen Model College alleged in complaint, Minu called him and the college principal Abu Yusuf Selim at his office in 2006.


Minu requested to include his men – Nazrul and Milon in the college's governing body and otherwise, he threatened with dire consequences.


Again on July 4, 2006, Nazrul, Milon and Sentu went to the college and demanded Tk 1 lakh toll for not including them.


However, they forcibly took away 10 pairs of school benches worth Tk 13,000.


Later on March 29 this year, the accused persons, following the mayor's direction, waylaid Khan at Baharampur Bypass intersection while he was coming out of the college and assaulted him.


They demanded Tk 4 lakh in toll from Khan and threatened him with death.


Jadid Al Qaeda bombs in Rajshahi

3 bombs recovered at RUET

A powerful bomb was recovered from in front of the main gate of Rajshahi University of Engineering and Technology (RUET) Tuesday night, reports our RU correspondent.

Campus sources said, the bomb wrapped in red tape and plastic paper, were found on the ground of the university Central Shaheed Miner.

A tea shop worker saw a red polythene bag, wrapped with red tape and informed university security guards.

They informed Motiher police station. Bomb experts from the police station recovered the bomb.

Motiher thana bomb expert SI Alamgir said it was a locally made powerful bomb.

Earlier, police recovered a powerful bomb and a rifle from Islami Chhatra Shibir dominated Shaheed Selim Hall of REUT.



Two more locally made powerful bombs were recovered from near the main gate of Rajshahi University of Engineering and Technology (RUET) once again yesterday.


One of the bombs was wrapped in a 4 X 10 square inches aluminum sheet that was etched with a short message with spelling errors from 'Jadid Al Qaeda'.


A similar bomb was recovered from RUET main gate on Tuesday.


Police rushed to the scene soon after witnesses informed them at around 9am and the bombs were kept under water for safety.


One bomb was found from inside RUET near the main gate while another was recovered from a passengers' shed nearby.


Later a police bomb expert team led by sub inspector (SI) Alamgir Hossain defused the bombs and examined the bombs.


The 4 lines of message inscribed on the metal plate reads: 'Jadid Al Qaeda Kajla Gate; No 260 persons; this time there are 6 bombs; date- 22/5/07 – 24/5/07'.


Reading the inscription, forces of Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) and police's special branch cordoned the entire RUET campus and areas around.


They searched for hours till 2pm, but did not find out any other bombs as claimed in the message.


"All the three bombs are similar and locally made, but these were sufficient to cause a big humane toll", SI Alamgir told this correspondent.


There was a same electric circuit, 4 pieces of IC, same 4 batteries, electric switches, explosives, and more than 200 bicycle bearing balls, parts of barbed wire, glasses were used as splinters in one bomb, described the bomb expert.


One of the bombs was kept inside a betel-leaf tobacco box and another was inside a 100 watt electric bulb, he said.


The bomb in the bulb was surrounded by a protective wall made up of the aluminum plate he added.


Local intelligences cautioned the law enforcing agencies after the first bomb recovery on Tuesday following its huge capacity, said sources.


Officer-in-charge of Motihar police station in the city said, the bombs were planted sometimes during the early hours.


Security was stepped up in and around the city including all important places, with guards checking suspicious people.


Talking to The Daily Star, Rajshahi Rab director Lt Col Shamsuzzaman Khan said, the homemade devices likely meant to spark off panic, create a volatile situation and thus publicise the new group rather than cause damage.


"Banned militants might have abandoned those fearing recent anti-crime drives", he said adding, "There is nothing to be worried about as law enforcing agencies are alerted highly".


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Revolution: The Islamist challenge to secular Bangladesh :- Nicholas Schmidle


The Islamist challenge to secular Bangladesh

Nicholas Schmidle

The headquarters of Al-Markazul Islami, an Islamic organization in Bangladesh, is a single tower whose frosted green windows rise several stories above the coconut trees and rooftops of Muhammadpur, a neighborhood in central Dhaka. Below, in the streets of this capital city of seven million, bicycle rickshaws with handlebar tassels, tin wheel covers, and carriages painted with faces of Bengali film stars ding-ding-ding along. Car, dump-truck, and bus horns blast four- and five-note jingles, and ambulance sirens wail. But none of the commotion reaches Mufti Shahidul Islam, the founder and director of Al-Markazul Islami, through the thick windows of his fifth-story office.

Al-Markazul Islami provides free healthcare and ambulance services. Many Bangladeshi journalists, analysts, and politicians think it is just a cover, and that Shahidul's real business is jihad. "Mufti Shahidul is a very dangerous man," the owner of my Dhaka guesthouse cautioned the morning I headed off to meet him. Besides running Al-Markazul Islami, he is a former member of parliament. His party, Khelafat Majlish, wants to transform Bangladesh into an Islamic state. In 1999, Shahidul was charged with involvement in a bomb blast that killed eight Ahmadiyyas, members of a sect of Islam that denies that Mohammad was the final prophet. Islamic fundamentalists consider Ahmadiyyas heretics. When I asked about it, Shahidul denied any involvement, rolling his eyes and letting out a dismissive laugh. He does openly admit that some of the organization's funds are used to build mosques and madrasas.

Before I left my home in Islamabad, Pakistan, for Bangladesh, I had visited a radical yet friendly cleric there—someone who talks openly about fighting in Afghanistan, his links to international jihadi organizations, and his relationship with Osama bin Laden. When I asked if he knew anyone I could speak with in Dhaka, he scribbled down Shahidul's name on a business card. Clutching the card, I entered the downstairs reception area of Al-Markazul Islami one recent morning to find barefoot men conversing over cups of tea while custom ring tones and land-lines clattered away in the background. I took the elevator to the fifth floor where Shahidul sat behind a large desk, surrounded by assistants and relatives. His aging father-in-law looked on proudly.

"Assalaamu alaikum," peace be unto you, he said as I opened the door. Shahidul is in his 40s. His face is framed by a scraggly, henna-died beard, and his forehead boasts a puffy, nickel-sized mehrab, a bruise that pious Muslims acquire from intense and regular prayer. He wore a white dishdasha and a diamond wristwatch. We exchanged greetings and made small talk in Urdu. Shahidul wore a wide, comic-book grin the whole time.

Local newspapers describe Shahidul as a former mujahideen who fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. When I asked him if he knew the cleric in Islamabad from Afghanistan, Shahidul shot back, "No, no, no. I never went to Afghanistan." He recited his life story, which included a stint at the infamous Binori Town madrasa in Karachi and, later, a short fundraising trip to Saudi Arabia. No stops in Afghanistan. And since he started Al-Markazul Islami in 1988, how could he have the time to wage jihad? "My main business is driving ambulances and carrying dead bodies," he said later during lunch, as we sat around a blanket covered with plates of french fries, cheeseburgers, and pizza.

Last December, Shahidul sparked a nationwide furor and reinvigorated a long-standing debate in Bangladesh. Four weeks before the parliamentary elections scheduled for January 22 (but later postponed), his party signed a "memorandum of understanding" with the Awami League, one of the nation's two mainstream parties and traditionally its most secular one. The agreement stipulated that Shahidul's Khelafat Majlish would team up with the Awami League for the elections. If they won, the Awami League promised to enact a blasphemy law, push legislation to brand the Ahmadiyyas as non-Muslims, and officially recognize the fatwas issued by local clerics. The deal outraged secularists across the country. "Khelafat Majlish is a radical Islamist militant group which is against the spirit of the Liberation War," said the Anti-Fundamentalism and Anti-Militant Conscious Citizens' Society in a written statement. "By ascending to power through a deal with a section of fundamentalist militants, the Awami League... will never be able to create a secular Bangladesh."

The Western media had been predicting similar things for years. In January The New Republic suggested that, "Left unchecked, Bangladesh could become another Afghanistan—a base for regional terrorism."

But the prospects for Bangladesh, a country roughly the size of Minnesota, with 170 million inhabitants, are not nearly as certain as such reports would suggest. Islamist parties have multiplied over the past decade and public support for them has grown. Yet Bangladeshi society remains overwhelmingly secular, even militantly secular. And while the Islamists have grabbed headlines, the secularists are holding their own in an intense power struggle. Bangladesh has a long history of civil activism, and people are passionate and eager to voice their opinions in the streets. The secularists may not have the finances and weapons that the Islamist groups have access to. But the same leaders who fought against the imposition of Islamic politics in the Liberation War of 1971 are not about to hand the country over to men like Mufti Shahidul Islam. And he knows it.

For the most part, Islamic militancy or anti-American sentiment is not what draws support to politicians like Shahidul. While voters in Pakistan or Afghanistan might be impressed by a politician's links to the Taliban or his jihadi credentials, in Bangladesh such affiliations are a political liability. This is why Shahidul hurries to change the subject whenever his are brought up. While he mentioned to me that he didn't believe in secularism, he didn't care to elaborate. He prefers to discuss other things. Take his constituency of Narail, a city in western Bangladesh, for example. "There is no corruption there," he said. "And it is a big Hindu area." Before the partition of India in 1947, more than half of Narail's population was Hindu. Shahidul boasted that, because of his work, "Hindu people now say, 'Islam is a nice religion.' "

Three days after our meeting, I went to Itna, a village near Narail, where I met a teacher, Rajib Asmad, at a local girls' school. "Mufti Shahidul Islam has helped a lot of poor people—Muslims and Hindus," Asmad said. "He's not only built mosques. He also drilled a lot of tube wells and distributed a lot of money. So everyone will vote for him again." A local journalist later told me that Shahidul has funded at least 40 mosques, 13 madrasas, and 350 wells. Of course, this phenomenon, where Islamist parties gain support by providing basic services, is not specific to Bangladesh. Hezbollah has done it in Lebanon. Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Since the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, Jamaat-i-Islami and numerous other groups, some actively involved in waging jihad across the border in Indian-held Kashmir, have provided unflagging relief and reconstruction aid. The Islamists in Bangladesh are pursuing a similar strategy. The major difference in Bangladesh is that the public is almost completely uninformed about their political aims.

"Do local people support his vision of an Islamic state?" I asked.

"Most people don't understand what he really wants," Asmad said. "They think, 'Mufti gave us so much money.' "

Bangladesh is one of the few post-colonial countries whose demographics almost make sense. Whereas Pakistan is a hodgepodge of nations, where hardly 10 percent of the country speaks the national language, Urdu, in their homes, 98 percent of people in Bangladesh are ethnically Bengali and speak Bengali, an Indo-Aryan language derived from Sanskrit. More than 80 percent are Muslim; the rest are Hindu (15 percent), Christian (less than five percent), or Buddhist. Historically, this religious mix has contributed to the vibrancy of Bengali culture. Rabindranath Tagore, a poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, was a Bengali-speaking Hindu. Poems of his later became the national anthems of both Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

Tagore composed both poems during the first partition of Bengal, which lasted from 1905 to 1912. In "Amar Shonar Bangla," Bangladesh's national anthem, he writes: "My Bengal of gold, I love you / Forever your skies, your air set my heart in tune, as if it were a flute." After seven years of unrest and a flurry of nationalist poetry, the British capitulated and reunited Bengal. In 1947 it was divided again, this time for good. As the British were leaving the Subcontinent that year, they created two new states: India and Pakistan. West Bengal joined India; East Bengal became the East Wing of Pakistan.

From early on, the founders of Pakistan faced huge challenges trying to reconcile the West Wing (present-day Pakistan) and the East Wing (present-day Bangladesh). More than 1000 miles separated them, with their hostile neighbor, India, sandwiched in between. Bengalis accounted for more than half the population, yet the country was led by those from West Pakistan, a mix of Punjabis, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Balochis, and Mohajirs. Meanwhile, Urdu, a language spoken by less than five percent of the population, became the national language. Because the written script was derived from Arabic, and Bangla was derived from Sanskrit, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan, said Urdu was a more "Muslim" language. "What nonsense," recalled Kamal Hossain, Bangladesh's first law minister. "Identifying language and religion? Bangla was our language. We were Muslims. What was the problem?"

Decades of economic and cultural neglect took their toll on the Bengali masses. Between 1965 and 1970, the West Wing of Pakistan was allotted a budget of 52 billion rupees (about $865 million), while the East Wing, despite its larger population, received 21 billion. Then, in the 1970 parliamentary elections, Bengalis voted almost unanimously in support of the Awami League, which, because of the Bengalis' numerical advantage, gained an overall majority in the national assembly. Sheik Mujibur Rahman, the head of the party, should have been named prime minister, but the leaders in the West Wing delayed the opening session. On March 25, 1971, Bengali leaders declared their independence and the Bangladesh Liberation War began. The Pakistani Army sent soldiers into the streets to crush the Bengali nationalists, an effort code-named Operation Searchlight.

Shahriar Kabir was one of hundreds of thousands of mukhti bahini, Bengali nationalists who took up arms. "It was total guerilla warfare," he told me. Today, Kabir is a squat man in his late fifties with a comb-over and a hand-broom mustache. On the night I visited him in his Dhaka home, Nag Champa, a type of incense from India, was burning and the room smelled of sandalwood. Between the incense and the hemp tote bag he held on his lap, Kabir didn't strike me as a freedom fighter.

During the Liberation War the mukhti bahini faced volunteer brigades of Bangladeshi Islamists who were collaborating with the more than 100,000 Pakistani army troops stationed in the East Wing. The brigades, known as razakars, came from Jamaat-i-Islami, a fundamentalist political party formed in 1941. "They were a killing squad, like the Gestapo in Nazi Germany," Kabir said. The razakars lurked in places where uniformed soldiers could never go. They targeted intellectuals, whom they considered, according to Kabir, "the root of all evil for promoting the ideas of Bengali nationalism and identity." In December 1971, in the final days of the war, they murdered hundreds of prominent doctors, engineers, journalists, and lawyers.

On December 16, 1971, the Pakistani army surrendered at Dhaka's Ramna Racecourse, and Bangladesh became an independent state. It emerged from the war as a fiercely secular nation. The 1972 constitution declared "Nationalism, Socialism, Secularism and Democracy" to be the four pillars of Bangladesh. The constitution also banned religious-based politics.

But Bangladesh lasted only five years as an officially secular state. In November 1975, General Ziaur Rahman, a hero of the Liberation War, seized power after a quick succession of military coups and counter-coups following the assassination of Mujib, who had become the first prime minister of Bangladesh, and his family in August 1975. To solidify his rule, Zia felt it necessary to appeal to the Islamists. In 1977 he removed "Secularism" as one of the constitution's principles and lifted the ban on religious-based politics. Jamaat-i-Islami bounced back and has been steadily gaining power ever since. Its members occupied 17 out of 300 seats in the last national assembly, including the leadership of two ministries—Social Welfare and Agriculture. "With the Ministry of Agriculture, they have access to grassroots and can reach the farmers. The Ministry of Social Welfare can reach the common people by providing funds. From here, they recruit and build their power," said a journalist with The Daily Star in Dhaka who reports on the Islamists and requested anonymity. According to Shahriar Kabir, Jamaat-i-Islami receives "enormous amounts of money" from the Middle East and "enormous amounts of arms" from Pakistan, part of what he calls their "global jihad network."

Most of Jamaat-i-Islami's top leaders, says Kabir, are former razakars and "enemies of Bangladesh." Fifteen years ago, Kabir formed the Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, which had two demands: to try former razakars as war criminals, and to reinstate the 1972 constitution's ban on religious-based politics. (The Nirmul Committee is known alternatively as the Voice of Secularism.) He feels that the rise of parties like Jamaat-i-Islami and Khelafat Majlish contradicts everything he fought for in 1971. "We wanted a secular democracy," he said. "Three million people were killed during the Liberation War. If we now have to accept Islam as the basis of politics to run the country, then what was wrong with Pakistan?"

A few days later, I made an appointment with Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, the assistant secretary general of Jamaat-i-Islami, whom the Nirmul Committee has accused of war crimes. According to the committee, Kamaruzzaman was "the principal organizer" of one of the most ruthless razakar brigades. Their pamphlet alleges that in 1971 Kamaruzzaman dragged a professor naked through the streets of Sherpur, a city in central Bangladesh, beating him with leather whips. It also claims that he ordered numerous killings and supervised torture cells. When I asked Kamaruzzaman about these charges one morning in his Dhaka office, he scowled and replied: "Is there any evidence? Not a single piece! I was only a 16-year-old college boy. How can I lead such a political force?"

Kamaruzzaman wears nice suits and gold-framed glasses, and his mustache and goatee are so finely kempt they look stenciled. Critics sneer at him for being "all suited and booted," which they say reflects Jamaat-i-Islami's aims to dupe the masses. We snacked on two plates of potato chips, which he ate with his pinky askance.

Despite Jamaat-i-Islami's advances in recent elections, Kamaruzzaman admits that there are numerous barriers to its growth. Its role in the 1971 war, he told me, "can be an obstacle. But we are addressing it. We have accepted reality and are now working for Bangladesh. In 1971, the leaders of Jamaat-i-Islami didn't want to see our Muslim state separated. We wanted the country to be united, but the game is over. The countries are independent. We made a politically wrong calculation," he said. Another obstacle is poverty. Kamaruzzaman added, "People in the villages don't want to hear you talk on and on about religion if you can't provide food to them."

But what about the "Hindu factor"? If Jamaat-i-Islami ever hopes to enact its Islamic revolution, then it will have to undo centuries of cross-pollination between Hindu and Muslim cultures in Bangladesh. Jamaat-i-Islami's puritan vision of Islam simply has no foundation in Bangladeshi society. I asked Kamaruzzaman who was winning the culture war in Bangladesh: the Islamists or those promoting a secular, pluralist vision of Bangladesh. "We are neither winning nor losing at this moment," he said. "But one day people will realize the effects of this so-called openness. Pornography and nudity in these types of Western and Indian films are encouraging violence and terrorist activities. Children shouldn't be distraught by such things. Society cannot be a boundless sky.

"We don't want to impose anything. Of course, there should be a law that, in public places, someone should not be ill-dressed or undressed. But sense should prevail." He paused a moment before reaching in my direction, palm upturned as if to present his next idea on a silver platter: "You know, self-censorship."

Bangladesh has more than 50 Islamic political parties, militant organizations, and terrorist groups, according to Abul Barkat, an economics professor at Dhaka University. Barkat, a middle-aged man with a penchant for coining technical terms, contends that each of these groups comprise "operational research projects," ultimately overseen by the most adept of the bunch, Jamaat-i-Islami. "They know they will never capture state power through democracy, so they all work in different ways," he told me. "Harakat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami is not doing the same thing as JMB"—Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh—"and JMB is not doing the same thing as Khelafat Majlish. They are trying different things to find the best way to get power."

Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh may not be the biggest of the Islamist groups, but its activities provide a terrifying example of how even the tiniest outfits can shake—or destabilize—a society. On the morning of August 17, 2005, JMB simultaneously detonated 459 bombs in 63 of Bangladesh's 64 districts. Near each of the blast sites they left leaflets claiming responsibility in Bengali and Arabic. "It is time to implement Islamic law in Bangladesh," the leaflets read. "There is no future with man-made law."

The irony of the leaflets was that just a year earlier the government and its man-made law had built up Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh in order to fend off a menace from the left. Bands of Communist rebels known as Sarbaharas had been growing stronger near the northwest city of Rajshahi. The Sarbaharas arose during the Liberation War, when they fought to expel the Pakistani army from Bangladesh. They have been trying to bring an armed, Maoist revolution to Bangladesh ever since. Some prominent secularist leaders may have sympathized with the Sarbaharas in the past. But, as Shahriar Kabir told me, the Sarbaharas are "no longer political agents." Kabir, who has interviewed Maoist rebels in India and remains a leftist revolutionary at heart, sounded somewhat despondent when he said that these days the Sarbaharas are "just gangsters. They are looting and plundering the common people. Nothing more."

Meanwhile, just across the border in India, Naxalite rebels were murdering policemen and raiding government offices in several districts. In nearby Nepal, Maoists were threatening to topple King Gyanendra. The government in Dhaka, led by Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party in conjunction with Jamaat-i-Islami and Khelafat Majlish (before it defected to join the Awami League alliance), formulated a strategy to crush the Sarbaharas. They assigned the Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh, a previously unknown militant group, to the task.

The government initially treated JMB with respect. At least eight members of the national assembly bankrolled the group, according to a report in the January 30, 2007, edition of the Bengali daily Prothom Alo. In a phone interview, a member of JMB recalled police officers publicly saluting the JMB operations chief, Siddiqul Islam, or "Bangla Bhai"—Bengali Brother. At the time, Bangla Bhai was torturing and terrorizing anyone who he thought was even remotely sympathetic to the Sarbaharas.

Gradually, as the Sarbaharas were defeated, the government withdrew its support for Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh and had several of its members arrested. Bangla Bhai felt betrayed and used. JMB resolved to send the government a message. "We wanted to frighten everyone about our strength," the JMB member told me. The organization trained in camps alongside remote riverbanks and in jungle clearings. Maulana Abdur Rahman, the group's spiritual guide, would stand in front of the blackboard, sketching out tactics and strategy. Both Rahman and Bangla Bhai carried gym bags filled with grenades wherever they went and clutched field-hockey sticks to use in the event of an ambush. In a Daily Star interview, Rahman warned, "We don't believe in the present political trend," which is to say in democracy and elections.

The bombings in 2005 stunned the nation. Parents rushed to pull their kids out of school and offices closed early. But for Swapan Bhuiyan, it was a call to action. For years, people like him and Shahriar Kabir had been warning people about the threat militant Islamic groups posed to Bangladesh, though few wanted to listen. The bombings proved that their concerns were credible, but did they have any coherent strategy to respond with?

Bhuiyan, a gentle-seeming middle-aged man with dark skin and a grey beard, represents a growing class of militant secularists. Many of them are former socialists or communists who have refashioned their ideology to oppose everything that the Islamists stand for. Bhuiyan told me, "I know you shouldn't kill other humans, but these Islamic fundamentalists are like wild dogs. The Islamists have been destroying our values since 1971. They killed our golden sons in the last days before liberation." I had met Bhuiyan about a year earlier in Karachi at the World Social Forum. On one of my first nights in Dhaka he brought me to the office of his organization, the Revolutionary Unity Front. The electricity was out and a single candle splashed light on a poster of Chairman Mao hanging on one wall and a framed photograph of Lenin on another.

Bhuiyan has fought for a secular Bangladesh twice before. In 1971 he was a freedom fighter. Then, in 1975, while he was serving as a lieutenant in the Bangladeshi army, news broke about Prime Minster Mujib's assassination. Incensed by the murder of the nation's founding father, Bhuiyan led a mutiny at the Dhaka airport against those in the army who sympathized with Mujib's killers. After a couple days, the mutiny was suppressed. Bhuiyan's seniors sentenced him to die by firing squad. That sentence was commuted to four months of solitary confinement. "No one goes longer than three months," he said with a slight twitch. "Four is unheard of. They tried to make me crazy."

When the lights in the Revolutionary Unity Front's office eventually powered on, I could make out the faces of the other six people in the room. Most of them were in their 30s, born after the 1971 war. "We are all anti-fundamentalists," Bhuiyan said, gesturing around the room. The others nodded. Although their brothers, sisters, and cousins weren't killed by razakars, their generation is no less militantly secular. "The secular culture of the common people is strong enough to defeat Islamic fundamentalism here," Manabendra Dev, the 25-year-old president of the Bangladesh Students Union at Dhaka University, told me later.

I asked Bhuiyan how he viewed the contest of ideologies in modern Bangladesh. "There is only one -ism," he replied. "That's Marxism. When it joins with Bengalism—and it will—there will be a great revolution in Bangladesh." His neck jerked and he ran his hands through his long, silver hair. "But first, if I had the money, I would train a brigade of people in India and return to kill all the Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh."

Bangladesh has a rich, turbulent legacy of civil, political, and cultural activism, starting from 1971, immediately after the war. "There was no government and we had no experience of ruling ourselves," said Abul Barkat, the economics professor. "We organized to reconstruct bridges and rebuild the country. The rise of NGOs"—Barkat estimates there are more than 70,000 nongovernmental organizations in the country today, compared to 300 30 years ago—"stems from local-level initiatives. These were people's organizations."

The boom of NGOs is indicative of Bangladeshis' inclination to act in the name of some greater calling. Perhaps more than in any other country, protests and strikes are seen as legitimate avenues of political discourse here. Dhaka University is a battleground between the student arms of the two major parties—the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. The campus cafeteria is referred to as "the second parliament" due to the number of student leaders who later became members of the national assembly. "It is a landmark for identity because of its powerful influence in shaping the ethos, the values, and the goals that were pursued by the country's founders," said Kamal Hossain. The Language Movement, which initiated Bangladesh's campaign for independence, began at Dhaka University.

"The history of our country is one of sacrifice and struggle," Manabendra Dev said to me one afternoon in the "second parliament." People's movements have defeated foreign armies, overthrown a military government, and forced concessions from a multinational energy giant. (In August 2006, Asia Energy Corporation abandoned a lucrative open-pit coal-mining project in Fulbari, a city in the northwest, after months of demonstrations against their shady dealings and environmentally damaging work.) With this kind of track record, people are optimistic that society will be able to repel the forces of fundamentalism.

As part of their efforts, Shahriar Kabir's Nirmul Committee has built 80 private libraries around the country, targeting places where the Islamist parties are strongest. Each library doubles as a museum for the Liberation War; while Jamaat-i-Islami is trying to put 1971 behind them, Kabir's libraries are keeping the narrative alive. In Chittagong, the second-largest city, there are 13 libraries. At the Double Mooring library there, 105 members—mostly teenage boys—pay an annual fee of five taka, or about 14 cents, for borrowing privileges. The shelves contain some of Kabir's own work (he has written more than 70 fiction and nonfiction books), classics by Tagore, Bengali translations of The Old Man and the Sea and Harry Potter, and a section about the mukhti bahini. Arif Ahmed, a boy in his early teens with a spiky haircut, had just finished reading a Bengali translation of Hamlet on the day of my visit. His thoughts on Shakespeare? "Not my favorite. It was too much all about kings."

Later that night, Kamran Hasan Badal, the president of Nirmul's Chittagong chapter of libraries, explained what he hoped to accomplish. Badal and I sat on a bench in front of a hip bookstore in downtown Chittagong where poets regularly gather to sip tea and converse. He wore a blue plaid shirt and was freshly shaven. "Secular education is often not available outside of the cities. There is only madrasa education," Badal said. "We want to start a debate through the libraries about what kind of secularism is best for Bangladesh." While children are allowed to check out books for older siblings and parents, the Nirmul libraries are oriented toward the minds of the next generation—and their thoughts about secularism. Badal added that a top priority of a secular state should be to protect the rights of religious minorities. "When the Hindus and the Ahmadiyyas have been attacked by Islamists in the past, the government doesn't do anything. It has to ensure the safety of minorities."

The longer we spoke, the more I sensed Badal's animosity toward anyone who wore a headscarf or beard. I asked how he differentiated between symbols of religious revivalism and so-called "Talibanization." There seemed little room for compromise in his mind. "We are against anyone who capitalizes on religion for political gains," he said.

After our conversation I left the quiet alley where the bookstore was located and stepped into the frenetic streets of Chittagong. A slight chill made the February night air refreshing. I thought about Badal's ideas and compared them to things I had heard from Swapan Bhuiyan, Abul Barkat, and Shahriar Kabir. Besides being staunch secularists, all four men's world views were rooted in intellectual traditions springing from the left. They romanticized the downtrodden. But in trying to protect the rights of tens of thousands of downtrodden Hindus from the aggressive Islamists, were they neglecting the plight of tens of millions of downtrodden Muslims?

On the night of January 11, 2007, after three months of violent protests, President Iajuddin Ahmed declared a state of emergency. The move dashed the hopes of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-i-Islami, whose alliance was heading for a landslide victory in the January 22 elections; in early January, the Awami League–led opposition bloc had announced its intention to boycott the polls. The decision to boycott convinced the international community that January elections could be neither free nor fair. By the time I arrived in Dhaka on the morning of January 13, the army had postponed the election.

In the following weeks, army and police units launched an aggressive anticorruption drive. Scheduling an interview in Dhaka became difficult. Many politicians turned off their mobile phones and slept at a different place each night. Dozens of high-ranking politicians from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party were arrested, including the son of Khaleda Zia, the former prime minister. But Jamaat-i-Islami remained unsullied by corruption charges. In fact, they emerged sounding like model democrats. "The constitution has been violated," Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, the Jamaat-i-Islami leader, said during our meeting in late January. "The election should have been held. Whether a party decides to participate or not, this shouldn't be a consideration."

Mustafizur Rahman, the research director at the Center for Policy Dialogue, a think tank in Dhaka, said, "Jamaat-i-Islami has handled things very tactfully. They just aren't into the business of extortion like the other two parties," he added, referring to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League. A top army general, who asked not to be identified, said, "Every devil has its pluses and minuses. And at least Jamaat is relatively honest." Their party workers, the general added, are the only people in the country who show up for anything on time, "pencils sharpened and ready to take notes."

Even Harry K. Thomas, the former American ambassador to Bangladesh, described Jamaat-i-Islami on several occasions as a "moderate" and "democratic" party. It is the only large party in Bangladesh whose internal affairs and promotions are based on merit and elections. (The mainstream parties are driven by personality cults and family connections.) Most of its members are university educated, English-speaking, and know how to speak to Western journalists. "Our idea is to bring change through a constitutional and democratic process," Kamaruzzaman said.

Jamaat-i-Islami's commitment to elections puts voters in an awkward situation. What constitutes democracy? Is it elections? Or liberalism? Should voters back a liberal, one-woman party like the Bangladesh Nationalist Party or the Awami League? Or the democratic but illiberal Jamaat-i-Islami? Who is a liberal, democratic Bangladeshi to support?

In light of the mainstream parties' autocratic ways and backroom deals with Islamist parties, Abul Barkat is relying on civil-society groups to build and sustain a convincing model of secularism. Though the Islamists are strong, he is confident that they aren't going to win. "Jamaat-i-Islami can only succeed if we, as civil society, fail," he said. He rehashed his days as a freedom fighter and nodded slowly, as if impressed by his own strength of character. "The burden is on us."

After our first meeting at Al-Markazul Islami, Mufti Shahidul Islam and I stayed in frequent contact. I think he liked having an American friend; perhaps he thought our relationship would shield him from allegations of being pro-Taliban. But on the first Friday in February he didn't show up for a planned meeting at the headquarters of Al-Markazul Islami. When I inquired into his whereabouts, a colleague of his told me that he was in bed. "High blood pressure," he added. Four days later, Shahidul was arrested for having links to militant Islamist organizations.

The following morning, I visited Kamal Hossain, the former law minister, who wrote the 1972 constitution. Hossain has a deep voice and modest bulges of fat around his cheeks and knuckles. He heads a political party known as the People's Forum. I met him at his house, where we sat in a room with towering ceilings, Turkmen carpets, and glass coffee tables.

"I see that the army arrested a political ally of yours yesterday."

"Mine? No, no, no," Hossain said. His party belonged to the Awami League's electoral alliance that Khelafat Majlish had joined. He glared at me. "I feel insulted and offended and outraged that I should be called an ally of this man. The signing of the deal with Khelafat Majlish was about rank opportunism and totally unprincipled politics," he said. Spittle collected on his lips. "Some of us are still guided by principle."

Hossain describes himself as faithful Muslim, but he is also a militant secularist. He admires the way that the U.S. Constitution framed secularism. The rise of groups like Khelafat Majlish and Jamaat-i-Islami, he believes, is totally anathema to that style of secularism. "I go into the Jamaat areas and tell them, 'You have completed misinterpreted Islam. The Prophet didn't summon you as guides. We had Islam in Bengal for 700 years and we didn't need you then. You did the wrong thing in 1971—and it would be just as well if you stayed out.' " From 1998 to 2003, Hossain had similar conversations with the Taliban government of Mullah Omar while he was serving as the UN Special Rapporteur to Afghanistan. " 'Who keeps telling you this nonsense that women can't work?' I'd ask them. 'The Prophet's wife was a business lady and you don't even let them go to school.' "

As the author of the 1972 constitution, Hossain played as pivotal a role as anyone in deciding the nature of secularism in Bangladesh. I asked him if he ever imagined that he would see the day when the Awami League would be signing agreements with Islamist parties. "Absolutely not," he said. In fact, he says he often asks himself, "What have we done to deserve this?"

Hossain struggles to determine a proper course of action. Immediately after the Awami League signed the memorandum of understanding with Khelafat Majlish, many secular-minded people experienced near paralysis. Hossain cautions that, especially now, society should be vigilant not to be "psychologically blackmailed" into inaction.

But inaction is only one possibility. Overreaction is another.

One evening, near his hometown of Dinajpur, Swapan Bhuiyan and I were sitting on a flat-bed trolley being pulled by a bicycle when we passed a one-room madrasa standing in the middle of a rice patty. Banana and coconut trees leaned over the ramshackle structure. "They are training terrorists there," Bhuiyan said.

The madrasa sign was written in Bengali and Urdu, and I could see that the seminary was for young women memorizing the Quran. "Swapan, it's a girl's madrasa," I chuckled. "Not all madrasas and mosques are training terrorists."

He jerked his head side to side. Then he shared a short Bengali parable with me. In it, a cow gets burned by fire. The rest of its life, the cow is too afraid to even look at the sunset.

Bhuiyan paused. "We are thinking like that," he said. "When we hear about a new madrasa we get frightened." <

Nicholas Schmidle is a writer and fellow at the Institute of Current World Affairs.

Originally published in the May/June 2007 issue of Boston Review.

Autopsy report finds marks of torture

Killing in Rajshahi 'Rab Action'
Autopsy report finds marks of torture

Police yesterday submitted the autopsy report of Quamrul Islam Majnu, killed in a Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) action on May 18, to a Rajshahi metropolitan court that says injury marks were found on the victim's body.

"The death occurred due to hemorrhage resulted from injuries which are homicidal in nature," reads the report signed by a three-member medical board.

According to the report, nine injury marks including one in the stomach were found on Majnu's body.

The report corroborated the investigation report prepared by First Class Magistrate Jonendranath Sarkar on May 20 that also found innumerable torture marks on the victim's body.

Rajshahi Metropolitan Police (RMP) Deputy Commissioner Mahbubur Rahman said, "It has been proved in the report that it was a murder. Our next investigation will be to find out the killers."

Meanwhile, the five-member probe committee comprising Magistrate Jonendranath Sarkar and Asif Ansari, intelligence director of Rab headquarters, will submit its report on Saturday.

The victim's brother, Piarul Islam, in a case filed with Boalia Police Station alleged that Majnu was killed due to torture by Rab members and their associates at Chhotobongram Purbopara in Rajshahi town on May 18.

Majnu's family members demanded a judicial inquiry into the incident. They alleged that the investigation team talked neither to them nor the eyewitnesses. But they met some selected people of other areas.


Police's Role

However, local intelligence officials blamed police for playing mysterious role behind angry protests and incidents following the killing.


He informed, Majnu was a follower of local ward commissioner Moniruzzaman Sharif, who was recently detained by joint forces and later released on bail.


Another official said police, in an illegal move, recorded two separate cases in same incident.


Recording Zahurul Islam's kidnap case that detailed entire incident from kidnap of Baser Ali to death of Majnu, police recorded the murder complaint hours later.


Moreover, police in its own inquest report 'intentionally' mentioned 'no injury marks' on Majnu's body, he said.


RMP deputy commissioner Mahbubur Rahman refuted the said wrongs.


"We did not resist protestors for avoiding untoward situations that may damage government's image".


"The crowd and their protests had nothing in violation of state of emergency as those were not political...the protests were out of emotion and anger", he added.


"We recorded two separate cases, because, there are two incidents – kidnap and murder – in kidnap case dead Majnu was shown as accused", he explained.


Charge Sheet against Dulu; Pabna lawyer held; editorial: Militant threats

Charges pressed against Dulu for JMJB link
23 others also accused; Nadim Mostafa's name dropped
Police yesterday submitted charge sheet against 24 people including former deputy minister for land Ruhul Kuddus Talukhdar Dulu in a Natore magistrate court for abetting Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) militants.

Arman Hossain, investigation officer (IO) of the case and also officer-in-charge of Naldanga Police Station, dropped former BNP lawmaker Nadim Mostafa from the charge sheet for lack of witnesses and evidences against him.

The other accused are Ratan, Kalu, Kawsar, Amjad, Afzal, Golap, Hafizul, Yunus, Aser, Ataur, Hazrat, Wahidur, Abdur Razzak, Abdul Kuddus, Hazrat-2, Abdul Khalek, Jalal, Abdul Malek, Sahadat, Biplob, Helal, Belal and Zeher.

JMJB torture victim Muhidul Islam Khan of Nandipara Darbeshpur under Puthia upazila of Rajshahi lodged the case on April 1 accusing 21 persons including Dulu, Nadim Mostafa and JMJB top leader Siddikul Islam Bangla Bhai, executed recently, court and police sources said.

According to the charge sheet, Dulu formed a terrorist group 'Dulu Bahini' to take retaliation of the murders of his nephew Sabbir Hossain Gama, cousin Majedur Rahman Maju and chairman Mukul.

Dulu used JMJB militants to strengthen his group and also set up a torture cell on Peergachha Community Center premises at Naldanga jointly with the JMJB.

The militants led by Bangla Bhai marched to Dulu's residence at Alaipur on April 18, 2004. During the rally, they wore T-Shirts carrying Dulu's portrait and BNP's electoral symbol, a sheaf of paddy.

Dulu's cadres picked Muhidul up from Akkelpur at Naldanga on June 13, 2004 and beat him after hanging his upside down from a tree.

The plaintiff was asked to pay Tk 20,000. However, he was released later after getting Tk 10,000.

Police said apart from eyewitnesses, evidences including some pictures were also found to prove the case.

Pabna lawyer held for 'patronising' militants

Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) yesterday arrested Advocate MR Khan, brother-in-law of militant outfit Allahar Dal chief Matin Mehedi, from his house in the district town allegedly for patronising militants who have regrouped recently under the name 'Jadid-al-Qaeda'.

The elite force personnel raided MR Khan's Gopalpur residence early yesterday following an intelligence report that militants were holding a secret meeting there. But the militants managed to flee before the raid., Rab officials said.

Pabna camp-in-charge of Rab-12 Capt Taifur Mahbub said Khan's eldest son Mahmudur Rahman has direct links to Allahar Dal, and Matin Mehedi used visit his (Khan) house. But he did not inform them anything.

Mahmudur Rahaman was involved in threatening to blow up Hardinge Bridge at Pakshey and Ishwardi railway station recently, Rab suspects.

Earlier, Rab had picked up Mahamudur and three others around one and a half months back but they were freed due to lack of proper evidence of their involvement in militancy.

Capt Taifur referred to leaflets sent to local NGOs and the station master of Ishwardi railway station a few days back in the name of Jadid-al-Qaeda threating to blow up Hardinge Bridge and the station. He said they are now almost certain that absconding Allahar Dal and Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) members have regrouped under a new banner-- Jadid-al-Qaeda

The leaflets said around 100 dedicated and suicide squad members of 'Allahar Dal' have joined Jadid-al-Qaeda, which indicate its members are JMB or Allahar Dal militants.

"We are certain that Allahar Dal members held several meetings at MR Khan's residence. Now detained chief of the outfit Matin Mahadi had also held meetings at the house earlier," Rab ASP Tanvir Arafat told The Daily Star yesterday.

Over 200 Jadid-al Qaeda members are still active in Pabna. These Islamist militants are holding meetings in several areas in the district, Rab sources said.

Meanwhile, MR Khan told journalists at Pabna camp of Rab that his son was involved in Allahar Dal earlier. He denied that militants held any secret meeting at his house.

Militant threats
Determined efforts needed to neutralise them

The report that members of the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, a banned militant outfit, are now regrouping themselves in the remote char areas in the northern region is a harsh reminder of the truth that militancy in the garb of religion continues to be a source of major concern. The JMB men are also reported to have formed suicide squads to apparently carry on the "unfinished job" of their leaders who were executed in April last.

There can be no other reason for such regrouping except hitting back with a vengeance. And it is precisely this possibility that the law enforcers have to bear in mind and address by launching a vigorous drive against the JMB operatives. They have already gathered information about the regrouping and training programmes of the militants. It is evident from what has transpired so far that the JMB has a wide network spread over the districts. It is also clear that they introduce themselves as madrassah students to the local people. They are certainly exploiting the religious sentiments of people in their mission for lethal subversive activities.

Such threats of militancy have to be combated simultaneously on a few fronts. First, the law enforcers have to launch a direct assault on the JMB strongholds in the areas, many of which are not easily accessible. So the law enforcers have to enhance their ability to move swiftly into the places where the JMB men are active now. Secondly, it is imperative to ensure community involvement to neutralise the threats. People must be sensitised at the grassroots level regarding their nefarious activities in order to put up social resistance against them. Thirdly, the media, which has been playing a laudable role in highlighting issues of militancy should start a robust campaign against the scourge.

Finally, it might be a great blunder to think that the law enforcers are dealing with remnants or "left-overs" of what once looked like a threat of great magnitude. Isn't it only expected that the highly fanatical elements when pushed to the wall will make frantic efforts to stage a comeback? The law enforcers and society at large must remain awake to such dangers.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Cases Against ex-minister Aminul


Aminul Haque sued for extortion

Another case was filed against three people including ex-BNP post and telecommunications minister Barrister Aminul Haque for extorting Tk 1.5 lakh through cheating at Tanore police station early yesterday.


Other accused in the case are Rajshahi district BNP general secretary and Mundumala municipality chairman Shis Mohammad and Talora UP chairman Mofizuddin.


One Golam Mostafa of Belgharia village of Chanduria union filed the case at around 12am over an incident occurred in 2004.


He explained in the complainant, the filing of the case was delayed for he was in fear of life when they were in power.


The complainant alleged that Shis and Mofiz took Tk 1.5 lakh from him on September 29, 2004 for giving the money to the ex-minister to get him a job.


But, the accused did not assure a job for him and never returned the money, his allegation added.


With this a total six cases were filed against the ex-minister including two cases for abetting militants of Jama'atul Mujahidin, Bangladesh (JMB).


He has already faced charges of helping the militants commit brutalities in the northern districts in the two cases.


Of the accused, Aminul and Shis were hiding since the charges was made against them in militant patronising cases while Mofiz was arrested last month over several charges.

Aminul Haque sued again for extortion

One more extortion and land grabbing case was filed with Godagari Police Station on Monday night accusing 15 persons including former post and telecommunication minister barrister Aminul Haque.

The other accused include Kakonhat Municipal Chairman Abdul Majid Master, Tanore Municipal Chairman Mofiz Uddin, Rishikul Union Council Chairman Jahangir, former BNP lawmaker Nadim Mostafa's personal secretary Aminul Islam Jewel and BNP leader Sirajul Islam Chand.

Alauddin, a disabled freedom fighter of Palashi village, filed the case.

In the complaint, he said the accused illegally grabbed a land, which the government offered him earlier.

The accused also cut trees and started a project styled 'Palashi Agro Fishery' on the land, Alauddin alleged.

He also said the accused demanded Tk 50,000 as toll from him in the name of iftar party as he made a complaint to Aminul about the land grabbing.

The plaintiff said he could not dare to file any case at that time, as there was no congenial political atmosphere.


Top JMB leader confesses to involvement in Prof Yunus murder

Top JMB leader confesses to involvement in Prof Yunus murder

Operations commander of greater Rajshahi JMB Shahidullah Mahbub in a judicial statement yesterday confessed to his involvement in the murder of Rajshahi University Professor Mohammad Yunus.

Metropolitan Magistrate Jonendranath Sarkar recorded his statement on his return from Dhaka where he was interrogated at Taskforce Interrogation Cell under a seven-day remand.

Mahbub, also husband of Bangla Bhai's niece, was held from Bogra.

Earlier on April 13 in 2006, Shafiullah Tarek, grandson of another JMB commander and militant kingpin Asadullah Al Galib, admitted his involvement in the murder.

The JMB leader in his statement said JMB chief Shayakh Abdur Rahman, executed recently, ordered him over mobile phone to slay Yunus a month before the killing.

Mahbub said he and Golam Mostafa, adherent of Galib's Ahle Hadith Jubo Sangha, used to follow Yunus' movement.

Ibrahim, lynched in 2005 by a mob, first hit on Yunus' head in the early hours on December 24, 2004 near Binodpur Ahle Hadith Mosque, according to the JMB leader.

Then Zayed alias Zahid, Abdul Matin alias Boma Matin, Abul Kashem Tufan stabbed Yunus till death, Mahbub said adding Shafiullah Tarek, Abu Isa Enamul and Golam Mostafa helped them.

Mostafa and Enamul earlier denied murder charges against them.

Mahbub also mentioned names of his two squad members-- Fazle Rabbi alias Sanaullah of Gaibandha and Abbas of Chapainawabganj. Both are absconding.

Yunus was an economics teacher and president of RU Bangabandhu Parishad.


JMB men regroup at chars in N region

JMB men regroup at chars in N region
Leaders and suicide squad members of banned Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) regrouped at remote chars on the Padma, Brahmaputra and Teesta are reportedly planning attacks across the northern region.

Sources in the intelligence agencies said that the far-flung chars (shoals) spread over Sirajganj, Jamalpur, Sherpur and Pabna districts have long been used as training camps by the JMB. Those are considered safe haven for the militants as it takes the law enforcers hours to reach there and thus allowing the JMB operatives enough time to flee a raid.

"We have kept our eyes on the northern region following the May 1 blasts at three railway stations and threats to blow up Hardinge Bridge," Director General of Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) Hasan Mahmood Khandkar told The Daily Star Monday.

He said the Rab is working to bust the militant remnants seeking to reform the fresh recruits into organised units. The elite force will soon go on an operation against them.

Recently, a JMB leader, under interrogation by Rangpur police, has admitted that Joyprotap Madrasa at a char on the Teesta under Pirgachha upazila functions as a militant training camp, reports our Rangpur correspondent.

Abdul Quddus Khan Salafi, an Afghan War veteran, and another militant leader Abul Kalam Azad had trained a huge number of recruits there. Of the two, Salafi has been detained while Azad is still at large.

Police sources said most of the recruits disguise themselves as madrasa students coming from the adjoining districts.

Superintendent of Police in Rangpur Hasif Aziz this week told The Daily Star, "We are pretty sure that Salafi is an Afghan War veteran. He used to train militants at the Teesta char. A huge number of JMB cadres had received training there."

Our staff correspondent from Bogra adds: Intelligence sources said about a week ago a group of 20 people have entered Bangladesh from across the border to help the JMB execute its plan to launch massive attacks targeting important installations in the north.

The intelligence men could not identify them but learnt that they have fanned out to different areas.

Speaking to the Bogra correspondent over cellphone, a JMB leader said that another group from a neighbouring country arrived in a northern district on Thursday night.

Wishing not to be named, he said that the visiting five-member team would meet the Majlish-e-Shura (top policy-making body) members to finalise a plot to carry out an attack in a bordering district.

The Shura was reconstituted following the arrest of top JMB leader Matin Mehedi in Kurigram in April.

The man on the phone claimed that the militants have planned to blow up all major bridges excepting the Jamuna Bridge. He added that the banned outfit has decided to reduce its dependency on foreign funds by generating income locally. It has already invested a lot of money in brick kilns in districts excepting Sylhet and Chittagong.

He said the JMB is working hand in glove with Harkatul Jihad and an Islami party overtly involved in politics. They plan to divert the attention of the law enforcers through blasts in a southern district and then set off a wave of attacks throughout the northern region.

Our Sirajganj correspondent adds: A top official of the Rab-12 told The Daily Star that they have been alerted to the activities of Islamist militants on outlying chars in the four districts.

Intelligence sources said they believe some of the JMB Shura members are now holed up in Jamalpur and Sirajganj. Some operatives from lower echelons are accompanying them.

Besides, military trainings are well underway at the chars on Brahmaputra near the Jamalpur town. Moinul Humayun Moin, a young Shura member hailing from Shariatpur district, is the main trainer there. He was a student of Jamiul Ulum Madrasa at the city's Mirpur-14.

The sources added that this time a number of elderly men and women have also been inducted into the suicide squad.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Al- Qaeda outfit threatens to blow up Bangladesh bridge

Al- Qaeda outfit threatens to blow up Bangladesh bridge
Indo-Asian News Service
Dhaka, May 19, 2007

Gulf Times: Bangladesh Islamists preparing for car bomb attacks: TV


Bangladesh Islamists preparing for car bomb attacks: TV


Gulf Times: Published: Friday, 18 May, 2007, 01:17 PM Doha Time


DHAKA: Islamist militants in Bangladesh are preparing to launch car bomb attacks and carry out other deadly missions, one self-described militant commander said in a rare interview with a private television channel.
"After going somewhat slow following the execution of our top six leaders, we have regrouped, received funding from Saudi Arabia, acquired training and (are) now recruiting drivers to operate suicide vehicles," he told Ekushey television (ETV).
ETV aired the interview on Wednesday night, showing the militant hooded in a black robe from head to toe, and only revealing one eye.
"I cannot give my name for security reasons," he said, describing himself as the commander of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, an outlawed group seeking to introduce Shariah in mainly Muslim Bangladesh.
The Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen and another outlawed organisation, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh, are blamed for exploding some 500 small bombs in simultaneous attacks across Bangladesh on August 17, 2005, killing three people.
They are also alleged to have killed at least 30 more people and wounded 150 in attacks through the rest of that year.
The victims included judges, lawyers, policemen and others.
Six Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen leaders were hanged in March and many of its followers are on the run.
"The executions did not break our morale, rather inspired us to carry forward their mission," the militant said in the interview, conducted in an undisclosed jungle location.
"We have several thousand cadres ready, including many to operate suicide missions."
The militant said one funding means was "our people who work in Saudi Arabia", who send some of their own savings and collect from other sources.
"We are ready to strike again, soon," he added.
The Islamists faced some operational difficulties because of a state of emergency in Bangladesh now, but hoped to overcome those soon, the militant said.
"Now we have drafted young and old, and even women. They are all trained and equipped."
Asked what mission he wanted to achieve, the militant said "to establish Allah's rule in the soil of Allah."
"Anyone who accepts our demand is a friend, anyone who don't is an enemy. And we will finish them."
He denied any links with the Taliban or other violent groups outside Bangladesh.
Defence analyst retired major-general Shahedul Anam Khan told ETV the threat of car bombings could be real but it might take some time before there was an attack. – Reuters

Letters to DS Editor: Deaths at RMCH

Deaths at RMCH

I am absolutely appalled as to how the medical interns could deny care to the sick and dying patients at the RMCH. They have violated the Hippocratic Oath their actions were inhuman and unethical. They must be banned for life from practising medicine.

Their action is tantamount to premeditated murder.

They should be prosecuted and given the due punishment.

DS Editorial: Death in Rab operation; Such incident must never happen again


Death in Rab operation
Such incident must never happen again

The most recent incident of a young man in Rajshahi allegedly done to death by plain clothes Rab personnel who had gone to rescue a kidnapped person in the middle of the night has been very disquieting news. The official explanation of the incident given out by Rab raises more questions than it answers, even more so when reportedly the body had severe torture marks all over, which contradicts police remarks in the inquest report. And when the local police commissioner says that the incident was inhumane it must have been really so.

We would like to think that it was with good intentions that the elite force was set up. It was primarily to go after the hardened criminals and habitual offenders who had money, might and, sometimes political link, to avoid the course of justice. It was these people that the public wanted to see brought to book and incarcerated. And to start with Rab was seen to be doing very well and gained a degree of popular acceptance because of this. Indeed its potential for curbing crime has never been in question. But a number of 'crossfire' killings put a stain on them.

There are reasons to think that there have been transgressions on the part of the elite force, in this case in particular. We are certain that Rab operates under set rules of behaviour where the degree of force employed is proportionate to the resistance encountered. We are inclined to believe that transgressions are due to lack of proper command and oversight of the operations at the lower level of the organisation. And the higher echelons of the force command must address the issue without delay.

Extra judicial killings have no place in our society, and no matter what the gravity of guilt of the alleged offender that the Rab is after, his death in 'crossfire' does very little for the cause of justice and the judicial system that a civilised society should be proud of, not to speak of the loss of credibility of the government. Transgressions of the law by whatever agency of the state must come under the legal purview of the land.

DS Point-Counterpoint: Deaths in Rajshahi hospital

Deaths in Rajshahi hospital

Many patients were seen leaving the hospital yesterday morning after failing to receive any care as four patients had died without any medical care earlier between 12:00 am and 6:30 am. Sima died at around 6:20am"

I write this note with a heavy heart. So forgive me if I sound emotional. In fact, I write about a news report which I could not read till the end. I cannot believe that for one distressed person's mistakenly taken move (I do not want to know what it is, after all this person's wife was seriously ill), interns who would soon be doctors, can refuse their professional responsibility of saving lives.

I simply cannot believe that others, including support staffs in this Rajshahi hospital could actually support such a move. I cannot simply believe my eyes that I am reading this news, looking at this picture of the family The Daily Star has courageously printed.

What was Shahabul's fault, after all? Does that require a lot of explanation? He must have asked for more care or more attention for his wife. He must have tried to convince the doctors that his wife was very ill. He must have been a worried man. What else could have happened there?

Shahabul, the prison guard, whom I assume have very little financial abilities, must have pleaded for all this. What else could he do? He did not have the money and support to get his wife admitted in a private hospital. He came to the state-run hospital for treatment. This is what millions of people would do in Bangladesh.

But, instead of treatment for his wife, he was physically assaulted. It's a shame. The fact that for his behaviour the interns have physically assaulted him is unthinkable and unacceptable. But it is as if that was not enough! These interns actually waited for the controversial Rab officials to come over and do the rest.

What a fine solidarity! Then why blame Rab all the time? It look like we have so many Rab allies in our society. And Rab with a fine demonstration of power, lives up to their expectation: "Rab members knocked Shahabul to the ground and beat him up mercilessly," (according to eye-witnesses) says the report.

This happens in the afternoon in RMCH. By next morning four patients, including Sima, Shahabul's wife, dies. Four lives are gone -- just gone. So simple? So easy? How could these interns let this happen? I really want to see the names of these doctors. Who are they? Where do they belong? What are they made of?

I want their pictures in the newspapers. What do they look like? Really, I cannot hold myself today. My questions are simple: This must not go unnoticed by the government if that term at all means anything. Immediate inquirers should be made and these should look into the following questions: Who are the instigators of this "strike" against the patients? What are their motives? Where were the higher authorities of the hospital during that time? What were they doing at the moment when this alleged spat between Shahabul and the interns was taking place?

I have no words for Shahabul and his children. I don't know who is going to take responsibility for these deaths which took place under the negligence of a government-run hospital. Here, in UK, which I have made my temporary home, I get this impression that, despite there being huge economic divides (i.e. rich being far more rich and poor being far more poor in recent decades) there are a certain services which are state run and a lot of effort is being made to make it perfect.

Ones such service is the NHS, the National Health Service, which provides healthcare throughout UK. I have seen repeatedly on television how ordinary citizens would even reprimand the prime minister (in this case it is the outgoing Tony Blair) as a way of complaint about the NHS service and how the media would air these footages repeatedly. This makes the politicians very focused on these sensitive issues.

The incoming prime minister, Gordon Brown, has NHS as one of his biggest priorities. I know that it may not be very smart to make a comparison at this moment but I cannot help looking at the situation of our hospitals in Bangladesh.

I am just hoping against hope that this "high-powered" government will make a note of it and do the needful for a proper inquiry into the matter, including Rab's role in it. For the moment, I expect, and am waiting to see, the advisors comment on this. I also wait to see when an elected government makes healthcare issues a priority. Finally, I wait to for the media to take a pro-people stand.

Postscript: Another five people have died before this piece was submitted.

Mahmudul Sumon teaches anthropology in JU, Bangladesh. He is currently doing Ph.D. at University of Kent, UK.