Friday, December 2, 2005

Bangladesh: Islamist threat escalates with suicide bombings.

Date: Friday 2 December 2005
Subj: Bangladesh: Islamist threat escalates with suicide bombings.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

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BANGLADESH: WAVE OF SUICIDE BOMBINGS
- new terror tactic increases risk to threatened Christian leaders, institutions and NGOs.
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More than 30 years ago, Bangladesh fought a Liberation War for the right to be independent of Pakistan, and secular. The war cost the Bangladeshis somewhere between 500,000 and three million lives. Today, Islamic militants with al Qaeda training and links are engaged in a violent and deadly campaign to force Bangladesh to submit to Sharia law.

Islamic zeal and radicalisation have skyrocketed in Bangladesh since October 2001 causing local persecution of Christians to escalate in frequency and severity. Now organised Islamic terror threatens to destabilise the nation and the wider region. Of course it will also seriously impact the Church. Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) is presently targeting Bangladesh's secular courts and judges, and threatening to continue until Sharia is implemented. But JMB has also declared that it will target NGOs and non-Muslim religious figures and institutions engaged in "anti-Islamic activities". It is reported that Bangladesh has some 172 terror training camps operating on its soil, and that JMB has a 2,000-strong suicide squad prepared for martyrdom operations.

The pro-Islamic Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), elected in October 2001 to rule in coalition with some very radical Islamist groups, has difficulty facing and dealing with these threats. It has used Western law and democracy for its own advantage, but now the popularist Islamist puppy it has fostered and nurtured has matured, is exerting its independence, and is starting to bite. Unless the government gets serious about replacing radical madrassas with real and positive education, closing terror training camps, and promoting secularism, tolerance and democracy, then Bangladesh will develop into a Islamic terror hub and jihad launching pad. Nothing grows, spreads and wreaks havoc like a disease that is not acknowledged and is left untreated.

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WAVE OF SUICIDE BOMBINGS

On Tuesday 29 November, suicide bombers from Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) – also known as Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JuM) – fatally struck law courts in two Bangladeshi cities, killing seven. Around 60 were wounded, 21 of them seriously. The death toll has since risen to ten. (Link 1)

The first bombing took place at 9:05am in Bangladesh's second largest city, the port city of Chittagong. In response to terror threats, police had been posted at the entrance of the court and were checking all visitors. Just before he was to be intercepted at the police checkpoint, the bomber took an explosive device out of his bag and threw it at the officers. He then detonated another explosive device strapped to his leg. The two policemen were killed.

The bomber, who survived but lost both his legs and his right hand, was identified as Abul Bashar (19). He reportedly told Agence France-Presse (AFP), "I attacked the Chittagong court by the order of Allah. I did not do any wrong in carrying out the suicidal attack." A report by the Bangladesh Independent online news said police had found a JMB leaflet in his pocket. According to Chittagong police official Mohammad Majedul Huq, it was handwritten and warned police, judges and lawyers "to stop upholding man-made laws which go against Islam". At least 16 others were injured; 13 of them were police. Abul Bashar has since died from his injuries in Chittagong Medical College Hospital.

The second bombing took place in Gazipur at 9:40am. The bomber donned a lawyer's black gown and walked right past police security into the bar library where he detonated his bomb. Three people in the library died immediately and four others died from their wounds soon after in hospital in Dhaka. The suicide bomber's body was found with wires and bomb parts still strapped to it.

At around 10am on Thursday 1 December, as lawyers were staging a demonstration in Gazipur, a bomb exploded near the police checkpoint outside the chief government administrator's office. Two were killed and 30 were injured, five critically. One of the dead was a policeman, the other is believed to be the suicide bomber. According to Kazi Fazle Rabbi, Gazipur district commissioner, "The suspected bomber ... disguised himself as a tea vendor. One of his flasks exploded when police stopped him for checking." (Link 2)

ESCALATION OF TERROR

On 17 August, JMB (JuM) orchestrated a nation-wide terror attack, setting off nearly 500 small improvised explosive devices (IEDs) virtually simultaneously in 63 of Bangladesh's 64 districts. While the devices did not contain shrapnel, they did result in three deaths and left more than 150 injured. Pamphlets found near many of the explosive devices demanded the expulsion of foreign NGOs "engaged in anti-Islamic activities in Muslim countries". (Stratfor Terrorism Brief, 23 November 2005)

The carnage from the August bombing campaign was minimal but the message was loud and clear. As noted by Stratfor, the August bombing campaign "demonstrates that JuM has a widespread presence, robust logistics and sophisticated command-and-control capabilities".

After this attack JMB (JuM) declared, "Everybody is the enemy of Islam who wants to launch democracy as an institutional form. Therefore we invite the ruling party and also the opposition to initiate the rule of Islam within a short time in Bangladesh."

On 22 August, Bangladesh's leading national Bengali daily newspaper reported that the Intelligence Department had informed the government that Islamic militants are planning to attack the largest non-Muslim religious centres in Dhaka. They were also threatening to kill local and foreign non-Muslim leaders, missionaries, priests, humanitarian workers and anyone else preaching religion other than Islam. Christianity was to be particularly targeted for the purpose of discrediting the government of Bangladesh in the West. (See WEA RLC report: link 3)

On 3 October, larger bombs exploded in three district courts outside Dhaka, killing two people and wounding more than a dozen. Then on 14 November two senior Assistant Judges of Jhalakathi District Judges Court were assassinated on their way to work. Their microbus stopped outside the government staff quarters to pick up another judge. The assassin, identified as Mamun, a JMB militant, approached the microbus with the pretext of showing papers to the judges. He then shoved a package into the microbus which immediately exploded. The assassin, who survived with serious leg wounds, was immediately arrested. He was found to have some 24 JMB leaflets, and a live bomb fastened to his body. Presumably the assassin intended to escape, with the body-bomb to be used only in the case of capture. His injuries however probably prevented him detonating the body-bomb before his arrest. His willingness to explode himself and thus become a "martyr" was evidence of a shocking new tactic and ideological shift.

In their 23 November Terrorism Brief, Stratfor Intelligence reported, "According to a Nov. 22 report in the Bangladeshi English-language Daily Star newspaper, the JuM's (JMBs) policymaking body -- Majlis-e-Shura -- recently ordered its bomb and suicide squad members to fight their opposition to the death and to continue striking government offices and courts." Stratfor notes, "JuM (JMB) appears to have no problem obtaining explosives, and apparently is actively constructing devices – an activity normally conducted at the end of the attack planning cycle." And Stratfor adds, "JuM members reportedly received training from al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and allegedly maintain links with that group."

According to Reuters, Bangladeshi police report that the explosives used in the 29 November suicide bombings are the most powerful and highly destructive explosives used by the militants so far. Reuters also reports, "The State Minister for Home Affairs Lutufuzzaman Babar said earlier this month [Nov] that there were reports that the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen had set up a 2,000-strong suicide squad." (Link 4)

THREAT TO EMBASSIES

The British High Commission's First Secretary in Dhaka, Mike Stevenson, reports that Manik Hossain, a Muslim extremist identifying himself as a member of "al-Qaeda in South Asia", has threatened to blow up the UK mission, along with other Western missions. The threatening message was sent to the UK Embassy by fax on Sunday 27 November, and signed by Manik Hossain of Faridganj" (220km, or around 140 miles, southeast of Dhaka). Security has now been increased around diplomatic offices in Dhaka. (Link 5)

BANGLADESH: TERROR HUB

Webindia reports that on 29 November, India's Border Security Force (BSF) Director General R S Mooshahary told a press conference "the unabated mushrooming of terror camps" in Bangladesh, and the fact that Bangladesh is becoming "a hub of infiltrators and fundamentalist forces" threatens to destabilise the whole region. "In the long run," warned Gen. Mooshahary, "Bangladesh could be a greater problem than Pakistan going by the shifting of population, massive infiltration bids and mushrooming of terror camps... it has become a hub of drug dealers and smugglers."

Mooshahary claimed to have recently given Bangladesh a list of 172 terror training camps. "But their reply is the same every time," he complains, " ...that no such camps exists on their soil." (Link 6)

Elizabeth Kendal


Links

1) BANGLADESH BOMBING TOLL RISES
30 November 2005. SBS
http://www9.sbs.com.au/theworldnews/region.php?id=126032&region=2
Seven killed, many injured in Bangladesh blasts
http://www.newkerala.com/news.php?action=fullnews&id=58404
Nine die in Bangladesh bombings
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4480408.stm
Bangladesh's escalating extremism. 29 November 2005
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4482320.stm

2) Two dead in court attack. 2 December 2005
http://www.news.com.au/story/0,10117,17435239-23109,00.html

3) WEA Religious Liberty News & Analysis
Militants Move to Islamise Bangladesh
By Elizabeth Kendal, 16 September 2005
http://www.worldevangelicalalliance.org/news/view.htm?id=151

4) Bangladesh explosives most powerful yet -- police
30 Nov 2005. Reuters
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/DHA129923.htm
Bombs target Bangladesh lawyers. 29 November 2005
http://edition.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/11/29/bangladesh.blasts.reut/index.html

5) Man threatens UK, US missions in Bangladesh – police
28 Nov 2005. Reuters
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/DHA97711.htm

6) Bangladesh a hub of infiltrators and fundamentalists: BSF DG
New Delhi, 29 November 2005
http://news.webindia123.com/news/showdetails.asp?id=176465&cat=India