Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bangladesh Perspective : Al - Qaeda's India Operations

The confession of Abdul Malek alias Golam Mohammad, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative from Pakistan, about his involvement in the August 21 , 2004 attack on the Bangladesh Awami League (AL) rally in Bangabandhu Avenue in Dhaka that left 200 injured and 19 dead, at the metropolitan magistrate court in Bangladesh on October 31 , this year shed new light on LeT’s rising influence, strong network and sheer number of operatives in the country. The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested Golam, along with Pakistani citizen Md Shafi alias Shamiullah alias Mostak, an alleged Hizbul Mujahideen operative, were arrested from the airport railway station in Dhaka on October 5. Golam was apprehended due to his alleged role in supplying grenades used during the attack on August 21. Previously Abu Yusuf Butt alias Abdul Majid Butt, another LeT operative had also confessed his involved in the grenade attack. Prior to Golam’s confession, on October 9 , Pakistani national and LeT explosives expert, Wazed Khan alias Zafar alias Salman and his local aide, Abu Bakkar Siddique, were apprehended by RAB from Uttara of Dhaka. The law enforcement agency reportedly recovered around 30 kilograms of explosive similar to TNT and six bottles of liquid chemical from the two. Wazed and Abu Bakkar were arrested following a tip off from another LeT operative, Maulana Mohammad Imran who himself was arrested by RAB from Siddirganj upazila of Narayanganj on September 29. RAB recovered considerable amount of counterfeit foreign currency, Jihadi books and other items from Imran, who was involved in the recruitment of new operatives and also arranged for their passports and visas. Wazed had travelled from Pakistan to Bangladesh on orders from top LeT leader, Abdul Kuddus alias Tunda, who is currently jailed in Pakistan. Earlier, Kuddus had visited Bangladesh to meet with Shaikh Abdur Rahman, the deceased chief of Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), the notorious militant organisation in Bangladesh. It was Imran who had received Wazed in Bangladesh and had introduced him to Bakkar.  Bakkar had arranged Wazed’s housing and had supplied him with the chemicals required to make explosives. According to RAB, once the explosives were complete, Wazed was to hand it over to Imran. Besides these operatives, arrests of militants over the last few months have made regular headlines in the dailies and television news of Bangladesh. Only in October this year, six militants were arrested by two separate law enforcing agencies. Despite the tell-tale signs of LeT and its related outfits planning some sort of an attack within country territories or outside, the law enforcement agency officials waived away such chances. ‘Bangladesh has nothing to fear as far as militancy in the present scenario is concerned,’ said Monirul Islam, Deputy Police Commissioner of the Detective Branch (DB) to local media, while being confident that DB and RAB are enough to crush any and all subversive plots devised by militant organisations. ‘Their structures are weak due to frequent drives and arrests,’ he added. Having said that, the top officials of both these Bangladeshi law agencies cannot deny that LeT is strongly connected to a number of militant groups in Bangladesh like JMB, Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B), Hizbul Mujahideen and others in Pakistan, India and other South Asian countries. The South Asia Terrorism Portal, a project by the New Delhi based Institute of Conflict Management, the LeT are also closely linked to the Inter-Services Intelligence, the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Ever since June 2009 , RAB and DB have arrested around 18 LeT members with Indian and Pakistani origins. Formed in 1990 in the Kunar province of Afghanistan and headed by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, LeT’s presence was felt in Jammu and Kashmir in 1993 when 12 Pakistani and Afghan operatives infiltrated across the Line of Control  in coordination with the then-active Islami Inquilabi Mahaz. While some law enforcement officials feel that the LeT is using Bangladesh as a safe haven where illegal foreign currency counterfeit rackets can flourish, the revenues from which can fuel their operations in India and in other countries, others inform that operatives trained in Pakistan are sent into the Indian part of Kashmir to be active in the unrests there via Bangladesh. The fact that LeT uses Bangladesh as a conduit is clearly realised through the findings of investigations immediately after the 26 /11 terror attack in Mumbai that left at least 173 people dead in 2008. Several Indian media had reported that immediately before the attack, Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) recorded a telephone conversation between LeT’s Muzammil and a number in Bangladesh where Muzammil talked about the need for five sim cards. LeT had considerable history in the incidents in Bangladesh as well. Local media in Bangladesh reported the direct and indirect involvement of LeT in some of the recent attacks in Bangladesh following the confessions of Mufti Sheikh Obaidullah to a Task Force Interrogation (TFI) cell last year. Obaidullah and Maulana Mohammad Mansur Ali alias Habibullah, two Indian nationals and LeT operatives arrested in July 2009 , used to teach in different Madrassahs   in Bangladesh. Law enforcement officials believe that in the process they also recruited members for the Jihadi groups. Obaidullah confessed his knowledge about the 2004 attack on the AL rally as he had discussed the issue with his comrade during the Afghan war and friend, Mufti Abdul Hannan. Hannan had formed HuJI-B after returning from the Afghan war in 1992 , reportedly with assistance from Osama bin Laden’s International Islamic Front.  Hannan acted as the Operations Commander for most of HuJI- B’s notorious incidents like several terrorist attacks in India and Bangladesh. After his arrest in October 2005 , Hannan confessed HuJI-B’s direct involvement in bomb blasts at the Udichi cultural programme in Jessore in 1999 , at Ramna Batamul on April 14 , 2001 , the attack on Anwar Choudhury, former British high commissioner to Bangladesh in May 2004 and on the AL rally in August, 2004. Hannan is also accused for attempting to assassinate the Prime Minister and AL chairperson Sheikh Hasina in July 2000. Besides discussing these attacks, Obaidullah and Hannan had also visited several parts of Bangladesh and finally established a LeT camp in Purashanda of Bangladesh in 2002. The confessions, recoveries and the arrests of LeT operatives in Bangladesh indicate LeT’s increasing strength, a veritable hindrance to peace in the South Asian nations.