The multiple bombings throughout Bangladesh highlights the scope of the war, al Qaeda’s global reach and their reliance on local jihadi groups to extend their reach. Bangladesh has no troops in Iraq, is not an occupied country, nor does it have close ties to the West, yet Islamist terrorism exists all the same.
Bangladeshi security forces intensified a hunt on Thursday for militants who simultaneously set off hundreds of crude bombs across the country, killing two people and injuring about 100.
Roughly 200 homemade bombs exploded on the streets, at courts and near key government buildings in various places across the Islamic nation shortly after Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia left Dhaka on Wednesday on a five-day visit to China
The Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen leaflets were found at most of the blast sites. Besides calling for Islamic rule in Bangladesh, it also warned the United States and Britain against occupation of Muslim nations.
John Burgess reports the rash of explosions across Bangladesh were not Al-Qaeda sponsored, but instead a “plea by indigenous Islamic extremists for Al-Qaeda assistance in the future.” But Bangladeshi Islamists have a long pedigree of connections to al Qaeda and its International Islamic Front. Fazlur Rahman, the emir of the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh is a founding member of the International Islamic Front.
Dr. Sudha Ramachandran has a comprehensive primer on Islamists in Bangladesh, including information on the various alphabet-soup of Islamist jihadi organizations. He points out that Harakat ul-Jihad-I-Islami/Bangladesh (HUJI-B) was established by al Qaeda seed money and plays a critical role in training and providing manpower to the global jihad.
Bangladesh’s terror outfits are by no means insignificant. H.U.J.I.-B., for instance, is said to have thousands of fighters. Its original mission might have been to set up Islamic rule in Bangladesh but, over the years, its ambitions and the geographical spread of its role have grown substantially.
During the 1990s, it was involved in training Muslim Rohingya insurgents from Myanmar and it sent its cadres to fight in Afghanistan and against Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir. Post-9/11, its responsibilities in the global jihad have grown. It appears to have been made responsible for training jihadi fighters from southern Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and Brunei and it is sending its own fighters to Indonesia, the Philippines and Chechnya.
The scattering of al Qaeda after the loss of Afghanistan created an opportunity to Bangladeshi Islamists to further up their profile within al Qaeda.
The coming to power of a fundamentalist-friendly coalition in Bangladesh coincided with the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the loss of training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their bases were disrupted by counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan, so al Qaeda fighters were forced to look for new nests. Bangladesh emerged as an attractive sanctuary. In April 2002, Bertil Lintner wrote in the Far Eastern Economic Review that after the fall of Kandahar in Afghanistan in late 2001, hundreds of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters arrived by ship from Karachi to the Bangladesh port city of Chittagong. A few months later, Time magazine’s Alex Perry provided details on southern Bangladesh having become “a haven for hundreds of jihadis.” The Bangladeshi media too has reported extensively about the activities of the extremists, especially of the violence engineered by Bangla Bhai, leader of the J.M.J.B.
The Time article also includes the claim that Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s number two in command, entered Bangladesh at this time.
The rise of Islamist extremism is compounded by the problems of the government courting Islamists for political gain (much like the problem in Pakistan). Bangladesh’s government contains two Islamists ministers, and local police are reluctant to act against extremists for fear of government reprisals. Terrorist leaders such as Bangla Bhai remain on the loose despite their known affiliations with the jihadis. And, also like Pakistan, the madrassa remain an integral part of the support mechanism for Bangladeshi terrorists.
The war is indeed global, and spans all continents. The specific focus in many quarters on al Qaeda’s support structure from the golden days of Afghanistan is not only myopic, it is dangerous. The recent bombings in London and Sharm el-Sheikh demonstrate this.
al Qaeda has intentionally created its organizational structure of loosely tied regional or national Islamist groups to allow plausible deniability, and create confusion within the Western coalition. Nations less willing to act against groups not considered to be part of al Qaeda are given the excuse not to. Meanwhile, the jihadis grow their infrastructure while the international community looks away.
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