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Potency of the JMB threat to India’s Security

April 03, 2017

A report sent by the Bangladesh Government to India’s Ministry of Home Affairs noted that approximately 2,010 operatives of the Harkat ul Jihad al Islami – Bangladesh (HUJI-B) and Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) had entered India through the porous India-Bangladesh border. While nearly 720 men made a safe passage through the Bengal border, the remaining 1,290 are suspected to have entered through Assam and Tripura. The number of such infiltrations through the Indo-Bangladesh border in 2014 and 2015 stood at 800 and 659, respectively.1 Thus, 2016 witnessed a more than threefold increase over 2015 in infiltration by HUJI-B and JMB extremists into India. Incidentally, HUJI-B operatives have also been arrested earlier by law and enforcement agencies for allegedly hatching and executing terror plots against India.2

India has been used as a sanctuary by Bangladeshi terrorist groups for long. Porous borders along with the presence of large scale illegal migrants from Bangladesh in the border states have facilitated the easy entry of terrorists into India. Furthermore, the numerous madrasas and mosques that have come up in close vicinity of the international border provide a platform for indoctrination and radicalisation of Muslim youth, who are subsequently recruited into several terrorist groups. This has been established by the arrest of a JMB operative from Assam who revealed that the top JMB leaders had visited a madrassa in the Nalbari district of Assam to conduct motivational training for the youth to join the outfit and create terror modules in Assam and West Bengal.3

Investigations into the Burdwan blast of October 2014 revealed the use of improvised explosives. Documents seized at the site of the blast indicated the regular conduct of JMB terror training classes in West Bengal. It was also revealed that the JMB had established organisational bases at Nadia, Burdwan, Murshidabad and Birbhum districts of West Bengal. Moreover, several senior JMB leaders reportedly entered India illegally on fake Indian identity documents. They indoctrinated vulnerable Indian youth to be part of violent Jihad.4 The ease and flexibility with which terrorist groups, especially the JMB, are able to operate from both sides of the international border raises serious concerns for India’s internal security. All these incidents point not only towards the fact that JMB is using India as a safe sanctuary, but also to its ability to radicalise Indians living in communally sensitive regions.

Although established in 1998, the JMB came to prominence only in February 2005 after it was proscribed by the Khaleda Zia government under severe pressure from the Awami League (the opposition party at the time), owing to their radical ideology, arms training and mounting potential threat. However, even after banning the JMB, the then Bangladesh government did little to check the threat posed by the group, which is evidenced by the 500 near simultaneous explosions carried out by the group in 63 out of the 64 districts of Bangladesh on August 17, 2005.

It was only after this incident that the Bangladesh government came down heavily on the activities of the group. By March 2007, the entire top leadership (Majlis e Shura) of the JMB was arrested and executed. The Bangladesh government carried out numerous arrests of terrorists belonging to the JMB, HUJI-B, Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) etc. in the subsequent years, but it had to release almost 1,000 of them on bail as it did not have a case strong enough to detain them. The released terrorists carried out attacks across the country, such as the killing of blogger Washiqur Rahman on March 30, 2015 by Ariful Islam, a terror suspect out on bail since 2012.5

The Bangladesh government also created a counter terrorism unit in order to effectively counter the threat of radical Islamist terror. But, over time, it became complacent to the point of believing that the JMB has been successfully dealt with because its activities, popular support and full time cadres had gone down drastically. Maulana Saidur Rahman, the JMB leader in 2010, in his confession report claimed that the cadre strength of JMB, which was 10,000 full time cadres and 100,000 part time cadres in 2005, came down to merely 400 full time cadres in 2010.6

But, in reality, the group had gone underground in order to resurface later. While being underground, the JMB reportedly got divided into three factions.7 The first faction is that of the old JMB, which has no organisational existence and most of whose leaders have been hanged. The second faction came to the fore in 2013, when a section of the JMB reportedly allied with the ABT, a group that was inspired by Al Qaeda and was an ally of HUJI-B. This group is carrying out Al Qaeda operations, given the HUJI-B – Al Qaeda linkages, and poses a threat not only to Bangladesh but also to neighbouring countries, especially India. The infiltration that has been reported by the Bangladesh government is also of terrorists belonging to both the JMB and HUJI-B.

The third faction was led by Tamim Chowdhury and is called the Neo-JMB. Tamim Chowdhury masterminded the Gulshan Café attack and was killed in an encounter in August 2016, after which Sarwar alias Abdur Rahman has been leading the outfit. This faction is inspired by Islamic State (IS), if not directly in contact with it. It came to the limelight in February 2014 when a group of 15 to 20 armed terrorists ambushed a prison van carrying three alleged Neo JMB terrorists and killed one policeman and injured two others in order to help them escape. However, alarm bells rang only after the 2016 Gulshan Cafe attacks in Dhaka when 20 people, most of whom were foreigners, were killed. The IS propaganda magazine, Dabiq, had not only claimed responsibility for the attack but also named Tamim Chowdhury as the Amir of the IS’s Bangladesh chapter.8 Even though direct links between the Neo-JMB and IS are not conclusive, the inspiration cannot be overlooked.

While the activities of the two new factions are of a similar nature, i.e., targeting scholars, seculars, and mainly foreigners, unlike the old JMB, which targeted members of the police, judiciary, government and minorities within Bangladesh, the Neo-JMB, at least as of now, seems to have a domestic agenda of establishing an Islamic State in Bangladesh, and is seeking ideological support from the Da’esh. However, the JMB faction that has merged with the ABT and HUJI-B poses a more direct and potent threat to India because their goals may not be limited only to Bangladesh.

Even though the direct threat to India comes from the second faction of the JMB, because of its alleged support to the Rohingya Muslim Movement, which was manifested in the Bodhgaya Blasts of 2013 that killed two Buddhists, the Neo JMB, which uses India as a sanctuary, also poses a threat to India’s national security. The spread of the radical Islamic ideology propagated by Da’esh, to which this group adheres, creates room for similar radical groups to crop up in India’s border states.

Given the cross-border nature of the threat posed by the two factions of JMB, India and Bangladesh have been deepening cooperation in combatting transnational terrorism through intelligence sharing and cross border institutional interactions. The arrest of JMB cadres and its factional members time and again indicates the tough stand taken by the two governments to fight the spread of terror across their border. However, the existing counter terrorism mechanism leaves much to be desired. In India, there is a need for effective centre-state coordination in the management of borders to deny a conducive environment for these terrorist groups to settle and, with time, expand. As for bilateral cooperation, both India and Bangladesh need to formulate a cohesive counter terrorism strategy in order to eradicate the threat posed by the JMB and its factions.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.