Al Qaeda eyes on Bangladesh

by Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

(June 29, Dhaka, Sri Lanka Guardian) Notorious terror kingpin and Al Qaeda man Mullah Omar has signed a sermon endorsing Islamist Jihad in Bangladesh with the goal of seizing power from the democratically elected government thus transforming the moderate Muslim nation into an Islamic republic. According to various sources, a number of Islamist politicians and clergies in Bangladesh are having regular contact with Mullah Omar and other top ranking terrorists in Al Qaeda. It is already reported that, Jihadists are taking extensive preparations under the direct guidance of Al Qaeda kingpins to stage Islamic revolution in Bangladesh. With this goal, recruitment and training of Jihadists are continuing in more than 71,000 Madrassas throughout the country as well as hidden training camps within Chittagong Hill Tract area, Burmese Border and mountains in Nepal.

Being heavily combated by US forces in Afghanistan, several top ranking Al Qaeda kingpins moved to South Asian region. It was even reported few years back that, Osama Bin Laden also was shuttling in between his hidden bases in Afghanistan and Nepal’s mountainous areas.

Osama Bin Laden was reportedly not happy with the concept of Bengali nationalism among the Muslims of Bangladesh. Accordingly, after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989 he convened a meeting of some of his trusted Mujahideens from Bangladesh and advised them to organise the Muslim youths to transform their country into Dar-Ul-Islam. A number of Bangladeshi Jihadists were reportedly present in the meeting. In 1998, Osama Bin Laden formed International Islamic Front [IIB] for Jihad against Jews and Christians. This group was formed with Jihadists from Egypt, Pakistan, Iran and Bangladesh. On February 23, 1998 IIF issued a Fatwa with signature of Osama Bin Laden calling upon Muslims to attack on all Americans including civilians. With long-term strategy to replace the existing political structure of the word with Caliphate, Laden’s immediate priority was to destroy the USA and its allies.

In 2004 TIME magazine reported in an article that Bangladesh may become a dangerous new front in America's war against terror and militant Islamic groups may be using Bangladesh to hide arms and ammunition. It followed a similar story that appeared in Far Eastern Economic Review in April 2004. Earlier on October 14, 2002, journalist Alex Perry wrote another article titled ‘Deadly Cargo’ in TIME magazine described how arms and explosives were transported within Bangladeshi territory by a ship named MV Mecca. Though none of the Bangladeshi sources ever were even aware of this huge deadly cargo, Alex Perry’s investigative journalism brought a huge picture of great concern on spot light.

Port-workers that night said they saw five motor launches ferry in large groups of men from the boat wearing black turbans, long beards and traditional Islamic salwar kameez. Their towering height suggested these travelers were foreigners, and the boxes of ammunition and the AK-47s slung across their shoulders helped sketch a sinister picture. Then in July, a senior member of Bangladesh's largest terrorist group, the 2,000-strong al-Qaeda-allied Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami [HUJI], told TIME the 150 men who entered Bangladesh that night were Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan. Three senior Bangladeshi military sources also confirmed this was the case. And on Oct. 7 2002, Indian police arrested Burmese-born HUJI fighter and weapons courier Fazle Karim [alias Abu Fuzi] as he arrived in Kolkata [Indian state] by train from Kashmir. A veteran of al-Qaeda's camps in eastern Afghanistan who told his interrogators he had twice met Osama Bin Laden, Karim said he recognized two people he had trained with in Afghanistan while visiting HUJI hideouts in Bangladesh in August. The pair told him they were part of a group of "more than 100 Arabs and Afghans, belonging to al-Qaeda and the Taliban who had arrived by ship at Chittagong in winter [by MV Mecca]," Karim said, according to transcripts of his interview with Indian police.

Under the headline "Beware Bangladesh," the article warned that Bangladesh had become a "cocoon of terrorism".

On December 2005 journalist Chris Blackburn in an article titled ‘Bangladesh: Osama’s New Haven’ published in Front Page Magazine wrote, “In the present debate over terrorism threats, Bangladesh is generally not the first country that comes to mind as a hotspot of al-Qaeda activity. But perhaps it should. The second largest Muslim democracy, Bangladesh is today the site of al-Qaeda-run training camps financed by Middle Eastern charities and organisations, including backing from rogue elements within the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. Just as important, it is a laboratory for the disastrous consequences of Islamist participation in the democratic process.”

According to various sources, a number of Arab-funded charitable organizations having direct and indirect connections with Al Qaeda, HAMAS and similar terrorist outfits are actively involved in patronizing and funding terrorist activities inside Bangladesh. These are: Revival of Islamic Heritage Society [RIHS], Rabita Al-Alam Al-Islami, Society of Social Reforms, Qatar Charitable Society, Al-Muntada Al-Islami, International Islamic Relief Agency, Al-Forkan Foundation, International Relief Organization [IRO], Kuwait Joint Relief Committee and the Muslim Aid Bangladesh [UK], Organization of Repatriated Soldiers from Palestine, Al Markajul Islam etc.

Increased operatives of Al Qaeda linked terror outfits in Bangladesh is even endorsed by the ruling Bangladesh Awami League. The party on its official website has published an article titled ‘A New Hub of Terrorism’ by Selig S. Harrison.

In contrary, Bangladeshi governments have been reacting fiercely to any suggestions that the country is becoming a haven for Islamic extremism. It banned the distribution of the Far Eastern Economic Review issue that carried Bartil Lintner's article in 2002. Newspaper offices have been raided and journalists taken into custody for investigating the al-Qaeda presence in the country. Even a case of sedition, treason and blasphemy is continuing in Dhaka court against me since 2004 [January] as I published investigative report on breeding of Jihadists inside Madrassas.

In the article, Bartil Lintner wrote, “Among the more than 60 video tapes that the American cable television network CNN obtained from the Al Qaeda's archives in Afghanistan in August this year, one is marked 'Burma' [Myanmar], and purports to show Muslim 'allies' training in that country. While the group shown, the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation [RSO], was founded by Rohingya Muslim's from Myanmar's Rakhine State and claims to be fighting for autonomy or independence for its people, the tape was, in fact, shot in Bangladesh. The RSO, and other Rohingya factions, have never had any camps inside Myanmar, only across the border in Bangladesh. The camp in the video is located near the town of Ukhia, southeast of Cox's Bazaar, and not all of the RSO's "fighters" are Rohingyas from Myanmar.

“In an interview with the CNN in December 2001, American 'Taliban' fighter, John Walker Lindh, relates that the Al-Qaeda-directed ansar [companions of the Prophet] brigades, to which he had belonged in Afghanistan, were divided along linguistic lines: "Bengali, Pakistani [Urdu] and Arabic," which suggests that the Bengali-speaking component - Bangladeshi and Rohingya - must have been significant. It is now also becoming clear that some militants fleeing the American strikes in Afghanistan in late 2001 have ended up in Bangladesh. With the heavy American presence in Pakistan, many militants who fled Afghanistan in October and November 2001 have found it safer to hide in third countries. In early 2002, a ship reportedly sailed from Karachi to Chittagong carrying assorted militants from Afghanistan.”

There is no doubt that Madrassas have become actively linked to terrorism and terrorist training camps. Many journalists and commentators have suggested that these madrassas teach Jihadist literature in their course of studies and that their entire curriculum is intended to produce holy warriors. It has also been suggested by many Western scholars that there is an inherent relationship between what is taught in the madrassas on the one hand and religious extremism, Talibanism, militancy, anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism and terrorism, on the other. Madrassa students, through their reading of religious texts, become soldiers of Allah [God] and engage in militant activities against those they consider enemies of Islam. Clergies and teachers in Madrassas teach the students to hate Jews and Christians and term them as enemies of Islam, thus giving instigations of Jihad, alluring heaven and 72-virgins, if anyone would become martyr.

In a number of madrassas in Bangladesh and Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden huge portrait is on display to project him as a ‘Hero of Islam’. Even such pictures are sold in the open market in most of the Muslim nations.

Al Qaeda’s Next Generation of Jihadists:

Experts speculate widely about the composition and tactics of the next generation of Jihadists. This speculation stems from the fact that trans-national groups are harder collection targets than nation-states. Such ambiguity and imprecision is likely to endure indefinitely, and is particularly worrisome concerning "next-generation" terrorism studies.

Osama bin Laden has been planning for the next generation of Jihadists since he began speaking publicly in the mid-1990s. Bin Laden has always described the "defensive jihad" against the United States as potentially a multi-generational struggle. After the 9/11 attacks, Bin Laden explained that, even as the anti-U.S. war intensified, the torch was being passed from his generation to the next. "We have been struggling right from our youth," bin Laden wrote in late 2001:

"We sacrificed our homes, families, and all the luxuries of this worldly life in the path of Allah. In our youth, we fought with and defeated the [former] Soviet Union, a world super power, and now we are fighting the USA. We have never let the Muslim Ummah down.

"Muslims are being humiliated, tortured and ruthlessly killed all over the world, and its time to fight these satanic forces with the utmost strength and power. Today the whole of the Muslim Ummah is depending upon the Muslim youth, hoping that they would never let them down."

The question arising is, of course, what threat will the next generation of al-Qaeda-inspired Jihadist pose? Based on the admittedly imprecise information available, the answer seems to lie in three discernible trends: [a] the next generation will be at least as devout but more professional and less operationally visible; [b] it will be larger, with more adherents and potential recruits; and [c] it will be better educated and more adept at using the tools of modernity, particularly communications and weapons.

The next Jihadist generation's piety will equal or exceed that of bin Laden's generation. The new Jihadist, having grown up in an internet and satellite television-dominated world, will be more aware of Muslim struggles around the world, more comfortable with a common Muslim identity, more certain that the U.S.-led West is "oppressing" Muslims, and more inspired by the example bin Laden has set—bin Laden's generation had no bin Laden. While leaders more pious than Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are hard to imagine, Western analysts tend to forget that many of Bin Laden's first-generation lieutenants did not mirror his intense religiosity.

The rising Jihadists are less likely to follow the example of some notorious first-generation fighters, and more likely to model themselves on the smiling, pious, and proficient Mohammed Atef, al-Qaeda's military commander, killed in late 2001 and, to this day, al-Qaeda's most severe individual loss. A former Egyptian security officer, Atef was efficient, intelligent, patient, ruthless—and nearly invisible. He was a combination of warrior, thinker, and bureaucrat, pursuing his leaders' plans with no hint of ego. Atef's successor as military commander, the Egyptian Sayf al-Adl, is cut from the same cloth. Four years after succeeding Atef, for example, Western analysts cannot determine his identity—whether he is in fact a former Egyptian Special Forces colonel named Makkawi—or his location—whether he in South Asia, Iraq, or under arrest in Iran. Similarly, the Saudis' frequent publication of lengthening lists of "most wanted" al-Qaeda fighters—many unknown in the West—suggests the semi-invisible Atef-model is also used by Gulf state Islamists. Finally, the U.K.-born and -raised suicide bombers of July 7, 2005 foreshadow the next Jihadist generation who will operate below the radar of local security services.

At the basic level, the steady pace of Islamist insurgencies around the world—Iraq, Chechnya and the northern Caucasus, southern Thailand, Mindanao, Kashmir and Afghanistan—and the incremental "Talibanization" of places like Bangladesh, Pakistan, and northern Nigeria, ensure a bountiful new Jihadist generation. Less-tangible factors will also contribute to this bounty.

Osama Bin Laden remains the un-rivaled hero and leader of Muslim youths aspiring to join the Jihadist. His efforts to inspire young Muslims to jihad against the U.S.-led West seem to be proving fruitful.

Easily accessible satellite television and Internet streaming video will broaden Muslim youths' perception that the West is anti-Islamic. U.S. public diplomacy cannot negate the impressions formed by real-time video from Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan that shows Muslims battling "aggressive" Western forces and validating bin Laden’s claim that the West intends to destroy Islam.

The ongoing "fundamentalization" of the two great, evangelizing monotheist religions will enhance an environment already conducive to Islamism. The growth of Protestant evangelicalism in Latin America, and the aggressive, "church militant" form of Roman Catholicism in Africa, has and will revitalize the millennium-old Islam-vs.-Christianity confrontation, creating a sense of threat and defensiveness on each side. Compounding the threat posed by the next, larger generation is the possibility that analysts underestimated the first generation's size. Western leaders have consistently claimed large al-Qaeda-related casualties; currently, totals range from 5,000-7,000 fighters and two-thirds of al-Qaeda's leadership. If the claims are accurate, we should ponder whether the West has ever fought a "terrorist group" that can lose 5,000-7,000 fighters, dozens of leaders, and still be assessed militarily potent and perhaps WMD-capable? The multiple captures of al-Qaeda's "third-in-command"—most recently Abu Ashraf al-Libi—and the remarkable totals of "second- and third-in-commands" from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's organization suggests the West's accounting of Islamist manpower—at the foot soldier and leadership levels—is, at best, tenuous.

Recent scholarship suggests al-Qaeda and its allies draw support primarily from Muslim middle- and upper-middle classes. This helps explain why bin Laden places supreme importance on exploiting the internet for security, intelligence, paramilitary training, communications, propaganda, religious instruction, and news programs. It also points to the West's frequent failure to distinguish between the Islamists' hatred for Westernization—women's rights and secularism, for example—and their openness to modernity's tools, especially communications and weaponry.

Tricks of Al Qaeda:

As part of its tactic of motivating Muslims in becoming haters of Unites States and the West, Al Qaeda and Bin Laden are putting highest emphasis on the fact of continuing anti Semitic sentiments in the minds of the Muslim population, as well as leave an impression that, Palestinians are being oppressed and killed by ‘occupation’ forces under direct patronization of United States and the Western nations. Bin Laden continues to achieve success in molding minds of leaders in a number of Muslim nations in treating Israel as an enemy nation thus openly opposing the existence of this only Jewish democratic state in the Middle East. There are a number of Muslim nations in the world, which already have established diplomatic or trade relations with Israel, while some nations are yet to recognize Israel. But in the entire Muslim world, Bangladesh is the only country, which continues complete ban on Israel. For example, Bangladesh authorities do not allow trade, telecommunication, postal services and any means of communications with Israel. Some of the influential figures in the government in Bangladesh continue to believe that establishing any contacts with Israel is sedition. In 2008, the then Bangladeshi foreign advisor in the military backed interim government; Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury officially pronounced elimination of Israel from the global map and termed United States as the ‘main culprit’ for patronization Israel. Such theory of Dr. Iftekhar was the echo of Iranian, Palestinian and other extremist nations. It was even reported in international media that, Dr. Iftekhar was inclined in having closer ties with terror patron nations like Iran.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is the editor of Weekly Blitz, the only anti-Jihadist newspaper published in Bangladesh