One of the main extremist groups in Bangladesh, Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) has suffered major setbacks in the last couple of months as a number of its top leaders have been arrested by the law enforcement agencies in that country. More importantly, these arrests have also proved beyond doubt that a close relationship exists between Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh and the other extremist groups, who vow to turn Bangladesh into an Islamic state.
JMB came into the limelight after it carried out near simultaneous blasts in 63 out of 64 districts of Bangladesh on 17 August 2005. Although only two persons were killed in the explosions, it amply demonstrated the outfit’s reach within the country. However, in subsequent years, JMB killed scores of people in a number of bomb blasts, including two judges who started a campaign against the outfit.
The outfit suffered a major blow when six of its top leaders were executed in 2007. Among those executed were its founder chief Shaikh Abdur Rahman and second in command Siddiqul Islam Bangla Bhai. Since then the outfit has been trying to regroup. But not much is known about the group despite the arrests of its cadres at regular interval. The current chief, Saidur Rahman, was arrested in Dhaka on 26 May 2010 after a pursuit of three years. Saidur had taken over the leadership of the organisation following the execution of its founder Shaikh Abdur Rahman.
The recent arrests have brought to fore the close relationship between Jamaat and the extremist outfit. Maulana Saidur Rahman is a former Habiganj Jamaat-e-Islami ameer (chief). He was involved in the Islami Chhatra Shibir (a student organization with close ties to Jamaat-e-Islami) from 1977 and was the president of the Moulvibazar unit of the Shibir between 1978 and 1980. In 1981, Saidur was given the charge of both Habiganj and Moulvibazar districts. In 1983, he became the ameer of Habiganj unit of the Jamaat. He also became a member of the highest policy making body of the Jamaat, the majlish-e-sura. According to Saidur, he took the helm of JMB as per the directive of Jamaat Chief Matiur Rahman Nizami.
The JMB chief disclosed that the groups still has around 400 full-time members and 50,000 supporters across the country. It has a strong military wing capable of launching devastating attacks. JMB has stored huge amounts of explosives, homemade bombs and grenades at different hideouts, which could be used by the hardliners in the outfit for destructive purposes.
Another JMB operative, Abu Bakkar Siddique alias Shiblu, who was also arrested with Saidur Rahman, revealed that the group had recently trained some of its female operatives in the use of grenades, and who have been preparing to carry out a series of grenade attacks in Dhaka on a limited scale. The aim of these planned attacks was to signal the group’s re-emergence so that new recruits could be attracted to the outfit.
The operational capability of JMB is not limited only to Bangladesh. The outfit has a significant presence on the Indian side of the border as well. According to the arrested JMB chief, the outfit has been active in three bordering districts of West Bengal. One of the top leaders of the outfit, Sohel Mahfuz, who is the member of the JMB's highest policy making Shura, has gone underground in India. JMB has established three cells in Malda, Nadia and Murshidabad districts of West Bengal with 100 fulltime operatives. These cells are being used to smuggle explosives and weapons into Bangladesh. Rahman also disclosed that JMB was running seven madrassas in these districts and has 10,000 sympathisers.
The link between the Jamaat and JMB was further established when law enforcement agencies managed to arrest the JMB’s acting chief Anwar Alam Khoka alias Bhagne Shahid alias Nazmul from Bogra district. The JMB high command appointed Shahid to the top post after the arrest of Saidur Rahman. According to Bangladesh police, Nazmul was a member of the Islami Chhatra Shibir until he joined JMB in 1998. In 2001, he got the post of Esher (full-time) member. He also became a member of the JMB’s Majlish-e-Shura when it was reconstituted following the arrest of Shaekh Abdur Rahman. He took over as Ameer (chief) of the banned outfit after the arrest of Maulana Saidur Rahman in Dhaka in May.
The interrogation of acting JMB chief Anwar Alam has revealed that the outfit has a hit list of 12 top political figures, most belonging to the ruling Awami League. These arrests have also given important information about the involvement of Jamaat leaders in war crimes. Saidur Rahman has informed that Jamaat Secretary General Mojahid boasted of leading the killings of pro-liberation intellectuals in 1971.
JMB and other extremist groups were having a free run in Bangladesh during the regime of the four-party alliance of which Jamaat also was a part. At that time, law enforcement agencies were considered very weak because they were not able to produce any result. But as the same agencies make arrest after arrest of extremist leaders, it is very clear that earlier these agencies could not perform their task due to political pressure. Clearly, the change in the political dispensation has done the trick and brought out the real character of Jamaat, which is closely linked to the extremist groups. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that most of these groups are offshoots of Jamaat, and act at its instance.