On 17 August, more than 400 small bombs exploded almost simultaneously in 63 of Bangladesh's 64 districts. Whilst three people were killed and 150 were injured, the most devastating element of this attack is not the damage it caused, but the message it left. That message is that Islamic militants are willing and able to co-ordinate and perpetrate terror nationwide.
The group that has been blamed for the bombings, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, threatened to strike again unless Bangladesh introduces Islamic law. According to Pakistan's Daily Times, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen subsequently 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." (Link 1)
THE THREAT TO TARGET CHRISTIAN LEADERS
Five days later, on 22 August, Bangladesh's leading national Bengali daily newspaper, the "Daily Ittafaq", published on its front page the news that the Intelligence Department had informed the government that Islamic militants are planning to attack the largest non-Muslim religious centres in Dhaka – the Dhakashari Hindu Temple, the Tejgaon Catholic Church, and the Kamlapur Buddhist Monastery. According to the intelligence report, militants also plan to kill local and foreign non-Muslim leaders, missionaries, priests and humanitarian workers. Basically anyone who is preaching religion (especially Christianity) is to be targeted for violence or killing for the purpose of discrediting the government of Bangladesh in the West.
After a meeting with intelligence agencies the Home Ministry requested that police step up security around non-Muslims religious establishments and leaders.
Under the leadership of the National Christian Fellowship of Bangladesh, a coalition of leaders from Christian churches, institutions and NGOs wrote a memorandum to the Prime Minister which was printed in Bengali and English language national newspapers.
In "An Appeal to Her Excellency Begum Khaleda Zia" published in the Observer on 4 September, the Church leaders reiterated their desire to serve the nation through education, health-care, relief and rehabilitation, poverty alleviation, and the fostering of spiritual values. They then expressed their concern over both national security and the security of the threatened religious minorities, noting that preachers of Christianity have been singled out to be targeted on account of the effect this would have on Western governments.
The church leaders then humbly requested that the government take every possible step to remove the deep-rooted causes of terrorism. The memorandum was signed by Rev. Theotonius Gomes, the Secretary General of the Catholics Bishops' Conference of Bangldesh; the Rt. Rev. Nibaran Das, Bishop of the Methodist Church of Banglades; Rev. Asam Kain, Chairman of the Bangladesh Assemblies of God; Mr Subodh Adhikary, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Bangladesh; Rt. Rev. Michael Baroi, Moderator of the Church of Bangladesh; Rev. Robert Sarkar, the General Secretary of the Bangladesh Baptist Church Sangha; Mr Leor P. Sarkar, the General Secretary of the Bangladesh Baptist Church Fellowship; and Mr Dennis D. Datta, General Secretary of the National Christian Fellowship of Bangladesh.
LOCAL MILITANTS ARISE ON THE STRENGTH OF FOREIGN FUNDS
Islamic zeal erupted in Bangladesh in October 2001 objecting to the presence of American and allied military forces in Pakistan for the purpose of bombing Afghanistan. The feelings of Islamic rage, identification and solidarity were so strong that Bangladesh's October 2001 general elections yielded a huge swing away from the ruling secular Awami League Party in favour of pro-Pakistan, pro-Muslim and militant Islamist parties. This is especially tragic when we consider how much blood was shed for Bangladesh to win independence from Pakistan and the right to secular government based on Bengali rather than Islamic culture.
Since October 2001, local Islamic militant groups have grown in number, membership and organisation. Madrassas have proliferated across the country to the extent that there are now more than 64,000, up from 4,000 in 1986. Most have arisen in the last decade and are without any government oversight. Meanwhile, persecution of religious minorities has intensified.
Bangladeshi intelligence agencies have come to believe that not only are the militants well established and well co-ordinated, but they are also well funded courtesy of foreign Islamic NGOs that channel funds from the Middle East to local militant groups. Nearly a dozen foreign Islamic NGOs have now been placed on a watch list.
A 7 September article by David Montero for the Christian Science Monitor gives an excellent overview of "How extremism came to Bangladesh". (Link 2)
Montero writes, "In the aftermath of the [17 August bomb] attacks, Bangladesh is confronting a realization long suspected but consistently overlooked: Islamist militant groups have taken firm root here, demonstrating a widespread, highly coordinated, and well-funded network. The government, after consistently denying the threat, recently blamed Jama'atul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB) for the attack."
Montero notes that Jama'atul Mujahedin was banned in February after members confessed to bombing 'un-Islamic' targets, including theatre shows and the offices of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
According to Montero, the spiritual head of Jama'atul Mujahedin, Abdur Rahman, told the media last year that he admired the Taliban and had traveled to Afghanistan. "He claimed his organization had been operating underground since 1998, with the aim of founding an Islamic state. His network was active across the country, he said, with 10,000 trained full-time operatives, and 100,000 part-time activists, funded with a payroll of more than $10,000 a month, a huge sum by Bangladeshi standards."
Montero continues, "Another JMB leader, Muhammad Asadullah Al-Galib, who was arrested after the February crackdown, is alleged by intelligence agencies to have received large funding from the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS), a Kuwait-based organization. In 2002, the US State Department blacklisted some RIHS offices, citing their support of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. RIHS and Galib's organization have reportedly constructed over 1,000 mosques across Bangladesh and 10 madrassahs."
Writing from Dhaka for New Kerala (India), Farid Ahmed states, "The Kuwait-based Revival of the Islamic Heritage Society is on top of the list of suspect organisations and the government is going to ask it to close its offices in the country. The other organisations put under close watch include the Rabita Al Alam Al Islami, Society of Social Reforms, Qatar Charitable Society, Al Muntada Al Islami, Islamic Relief Agency, Al Forkan Foundation, International Relief Organisation, Kuwait Joint Relief Committee and the Muslim Aid Bangladesh. All these organisations are based in different Middle East countries and have been active in Bangladesh for years."
According to Ahmed, intelligence has revealed that more than 100 foreigners, who traveled from various Middle Eastern and African countries and entered with tourist visas, have been working in these Islamic NGOs illegally. (Link 3)
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