The arrests of three Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) operatives on March 14 in Rangpur and their subsequent interrogations revealed the organization’s plan to conduct new terrorist attacks in Bangladesh. The attacks were timed to take place before the executions of six JMB kingpins—including Abdur Rahman and Siddiqul Islam—who were sentenced to death for their role in the November 2005 suicide attack on two judges in Jhalakathi. Bangladeshi President Iajuddin Ahmed rejected the mercy petition of the six on March 4, clearing the last remaining obstacles before the actual execution takes place on April 13 (Weekly Blitz, March 22).
The Rangpur arrests have partially exposed JMB’s modus operandi and have highlighted a dangerous ideological undercurrent holding Bangladeshi Islamists united and on the rise. The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the country’s elite counter-terrorism unit, seized 13 books on Islamic revolution—authored by Asadullah al-Galib and Sakwat Hossain—from the militants’ possession that provide intellectual motivation for fresh recruits and disgruntled youth in Bangladesh (The Daily Star, March 15). One of the authors, al-Galib, a professor in the Arabic department at Rajshahi University and the chief of Ahle Hadith Andolon Bangladesh, had been detained in the past for inciting and preaching students to establish Islamic rule in Bangladesh (The New Nation, March 5, 2005). Al-Galib is considered to be the spiritual motivator of Islamists in Bangladesh and faces charges on a number of issues. His teachings, along with the texts of other Islamist leaders, are holding JMB together ideologically despite government arrests and weapons seizures. For example, a top ranking military commander of JMB, identified as Mostafizur Rahman Shahin, who was arrested on March 14 at Pabna, has confessed during interrogation that about 5,000 cadres on monthly salary are still operating across the country (The Daily Star, March 21).
Following the Supreme Court’s rejection of the militants’ mercy petitions last November, what were considered high profile executions that were supposed to put the nail in JMB’s coffin may actually incite a resurgent JMB geared to perpetrate fresh attacks on jails, government infrastructure and political leadership. JMB appears to be regrouping and restructuring under the nose of the RAB and police, in spite of the continued crackdown on the Islamist elements. With alleged Saudi funding channels and fresh recruitment drives (for both full-time and volunteer cadres), the outfit has been replenishing its lost blood (Jai Jai Din, March 3). While the top leadership is holed up behind bars, a new six-member central committee has taken shape with Moulana Sayedur Rahman Jaffar as the acting chief of the outfit. The other five members were identified by intelligence agencies as Assaduallah Arif, Tasleem, Faruq, Syed and Mahfuz (Jai Jai Din, March 3).
Nevertheless, the RAB, in tandem with intelligence agencies, has been restricting JMB’s ability to maneuver with impunity and has managed to neutralize several militant hideouts since December 2005. It has seized huge stockpiles of explosive material, broken-up numerous terrorist cells and apprehended nearly a thousand JMB cadres, including members of its policy-making body, the Majlish-e-Sura (the Supreme Council). During the last three weeks, security agencies apprehended more than 45 JMB cadres, including a couple of close associates to the outfit’s second-in-command, Siddiqul Islam, during raids in Pabna, Naldanga, Naogaon, Bagmara, Gaibandha and Bogra.
Furthermore, the December 29, 2006 arrests of two militants, Mohammad Fahad and Mohammad Saiful, near Pabna bypass in the Tangail district has helped to stifle many of JMB’s future plans. Subsequent interrogations revealed that JMB had been planning high-profile attacks on the leadership of the main political parties, including former Prime Ministers Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina. The outfit also listed second rung leaders of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Awami League as their targets (The New Nation, March 12). On the basis of the information received from those arrested, security forces unleashed country-wide raids and recovered huge quantities of power gel and grenade- and bomb-making equipment from Narayanganj, Tangail, Badda, Savar and Rangpur localities. A huge arms haul took place on January 9, when RAB personnel neutralized a hideout in the Badda locality of Dhaka. The seizure included 34 kilograms of power-gel in 68 packets, 40 improvised iron casings for making grenades and four kilograms of ammonium nitrate in eight packets (The Daily Star, January 11). Most recently, on March 23, RAB personnel seized around 13.5 kg of power gel, a large number of grenade cases and more than 100 Islamic books on jihad from several JMB hideouts at Charaildar village in Melandaha (The New Nation, March 24).
The arrests and seizures in these localities bear witness to JMB’s widespread reach and presence in Bangladesh and also dangerously reflect the resurgence of JMB in rural as well as urban areas, such as in the capital, Dhaka. Notwithstanding these recent setbacks—seizures, arrests and awaited executions—the proscribed JMB has shown extreme resilience, appearing again in an otherwise politically turbulent Bangladesh.