While Bangladesh government spokesmen dismiss the notion of the presence of international Islamist militants in the country, and intelligence agents attempt to identify the local sources of a New York Times article in January that depicted ripe conditions for the “next Islamist revolution”, events in the country are working against them.
On February 20 a series of arrests nationwide, in response to a spate of bomb attacks, netted 12 suspected extremists. According to the Bangladeshi Daily Star, six of these were caught roaming at midnight with bomb-making formulas, masks and documents fingering the Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) (www.thedailystar.net). This group, and the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) were subsequently banned, in an attempt to forestall charges of foot-dragging in combating the growing influence of extremist groups and their apparent immunity from prosecution.
Dr. Muhammad Asadullah al-Galib, university lecturer in Arabic and leader of the JMB, was arrested on February 23. Galib has been implicated, according to www.bangladesh.net, in five cases related to explosives, bombings and murders. Meanwhile the leader of the JMB, Siddiqul Islam, also known as ‘Bangla Bhai’, who is notorious for his violent vigilantism, has so far eluded arrest. What makes the banning stand out is the evidence to date of at least passive collusion by local police organizations. Following his arrest, Dr. Galib was allowed, to government embarrassment, to give a televised interview while in court custody. Bangla Bhai, the country’s top most wanted criminal, was actually photographed leaving a police station after a meeting with the superintendent. The foot-dragging may be passively conditioned by some political realities. Although a secular state, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s governing coalition relies on support from two Islamic parties, Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Oikya Jote, both of which promote the establishment of Islamic law. Opposition parties are demanding that the first move against Islamic militancy should be the banning of the Ruling BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami alliance (www.bangladesh.net).
So far the government has sought to write off the arrests as evidence of “local goons” working in the name of religion. But media reports highlight Dr. Galib’s frequent trips to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, using fake legal documents, and his hosting of Arab and Kashmir mujahideen at the madrasa where he taught.