Rise of Militancy: Part 2

Salafi ideology behind JMB’s rise

Tipu Sultan | Update:

A decade after Harkatul Jihad (HuJI-B) was founded, Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) came into being in 1998. Entering the second phase, this militant organisation gave rise to the extremist group of Salafi ideology in Bangladesh.

In four and a half years (September 2001-December 2005), JMB carried out 26 attacks in the country. A total of 73 persons were killed and about 800 injured in these incidents. With HuJI-B also carrying out several violent attacks at the time, the country faced tension and turmoil at the time.

HuJI and JMB were of different religious strains. HuJI was of the ‘hanafi’ creed, imbibed in the Deoband line of qawmi madrassa education. On the other hand, JMB members were mostly educated in madrasas under the madrasa board and of the Ahle Hadith line of madrasas. In fact, all JMB members were of the Ahle Hadith school of thought. One of the main leaders of JMB at its beginnings, Mohammed Faruk Hossain alias Khaled Saifullah, was a former HuJI member and of the ‘hanafi’ line, but turned to Ahle Hadith ideology before joining JMB.

Ahle Hadith was previously known as ‘wahabi’ and, in the other parts of the world including the Middle East, as ‘salafi’. Followers of this branch of Islam are a minority in Bangladesh, but the majority in the Middle East. Founder of JMB, the later Shaikh Abdur Rahman, was inspired to form the ‘jihadi’ organisation when he went to study at Madinah University in Saudi Arabia.

JMB’s objective was to take over state power. When they simultaneously exploded 500 bombs all over the country on 17 August 2005, they declared in their pamphlets their intention to establish Sharia law in Bangladesh.

Though JMB is known as a homegrown organisation, from the very outset its leader Shaikh Abdur Rahman aimed at building contacts with international militant organisations and, with their assistance, start an armed struggle in the country. He set up contact with several salafi-inspired organisations in Pakistan, India and the UK. He underwent training in arms and explosives at a militant camp in Pakistan. He gave details of all this to the law enforcement agencies after his arrest.

Early Activities:

Shaikh Abdur Rahman was from Charshi, Jamalpur. His father Maulana Abdul Ibne Fazal was a well-known alem and popular speaker among the Ahle Hadith followers.

Shaikh Rahman graduated with a Fazil degree from the Kamal Khan Hat Senior Madrasa of Jamalpur in 1978 and Kamil at the Sultanganj Islamia Madrasa in Rajshahi. In 1980 he went on a scholarship to study at the Madinah University from where he obtained his degree in Islamic fundamentals and preaching. He returned to the country in 1985.

After his arrest on 2 March 2006, Shaikh Rahman told the law enforcement agencies, “I had contact with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood when I was in Saudi Arabia. I expressed my interest in setting up Islamic rule in Bangladesh…Upon my return, I could not accept Jamaat-e-Islami’s method of democratic politics and so decided to set up a separate jihadi organisation to usher in Islamic rule.”

Shaikh Rahman then began teaching at the Mirza Kasem Senior Madrasa set up by his father-in-law in Jamalpur. He also set up a soap factory there. In 1986 he took up a job with the Saudi Embassy and worked there till 1991. After that he was involved in various enterprises including fertiliser business, import of lentils, running an Arabic translation service and so on. Behind the scene, he was preparing to form a jihadist organisation. He wrote several jihadist books which were later studied by JMB members.

Before setting up JMB, Shaikh Rahman held meetings with HuJI leaders in 1995. He told the law enforcers, “Initially I wanted to work together with Harkatul Jihad, but moved away to form my own organisation due to differences in ideological beliefs.”

In the early stages of forming JMB, Shaikh Rahman met Indian militant leader Abdul Karim Tunda. Rahman said that Tunda, leader of Pakistan’s terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba, set up an office in a mess next to the Ahle Hadith madrasa in Jatrabari. Towards the end of 1997, Tunda arranged for Shaikh Rahman to fly to Pakistan where he took him to the head office of Markaz ud-Dawa wal-Irshad (an Ahle Hadith institution in Pakistan and mother organisation of Lashkar-e-Taiba) in Lahore. He was then taken to Muzaffarabad where he underwent 20 days training in arms, explosives, war tactics, and secrecy. He then returned home.

Shaikh Rahman said that Abdur Rahman established JMB in April 1998. In 2002 he went to Pakistan again. There he met with Lashkar-e-Taiba acting amir Abdus Salam Bhatti at the organisation’s headquarters. Shaikh Rahman gave them a four-page Arabic translation of JMB’s manifesto, objectives and programmes. It mentioned why jihad was essential in Bangladesh. The reasons given were: 1. Islamic rule was absent in Bangladesh; 2. Indian hegemonic attitude; 3. Indian activities in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts; and 4. Anti-Islamic activities of western missionaries all over Bangladesh.

Shaikh Rahman became the amir of JMB when it was founded. The first shura committee was formed at rented premises in Khilgaon, Dhaka. The other members were Khaled Saifullah, Hafez Mahmud, Salahuddin, Nasrullah, Shahed bin Hafiz and Tangail’s Rana. Shahed bin Hafiz and Rana left the organisation later due to difference of opinion. In 2001, Faruk Hossain alias Khaled Saifullah, Asaduzzaman Hazari, Ataur Rahman Sani (Shaikh Rahman’s brother), Abdul Awal (his son-in-law) and Siddiqur Islam alias Bangla Bhai, joined the shura committee.

In 2002 Nasrullah died in a bomb explosion in Rangamati. In 2003 Asaduzzaman Hazari left the organisation due to ill health. Only Salahuddin remains living among the rest. In 2014 militants attacked a prison van in Trishul and made off with Salahuddin.

Expansion:

JMB divided the country into six administrative zones and began collecting members in Ahle Hadith populated areas. Outside 15 areas up north, Ahle Hadith followers also lived in areas of Jamalpur, Mymensingh, Kishoreganj, Tangail, Narayanganj and Satkhira. In the initial years the shura members, including Abdur Rahman, mostly came from these areas.

As time went on, the most members of the now banned organisation were gathered from Bogra, Gaibandha, Dinajpur, Thakurgaon, Jaipurhat, Chapainawabganj and Rangpur. Training centres were set up on these char (river island) areas.

Upon completion of three types of training, selected members were next trained in making bombs and using weapons. Then following a ‘cut out method’, they would form small groups for various operations.

They all had code names and Shaikh Abdur Rahman’s code name was Ahsan. They used coded messages for communication, using secrecy methods learnt from Lashkar-e-Taiba, according to Shaikh Abdur Rahman in his statement to the law enforcement agencies.

Towards the beginning, a group of them went to Rohingya camps in Naikhangchhari and trained in firearms. In exchange, they imparted IED training.

In the initial stages JMB would not use firearms so much, but relied more on explosives. They would bring explosive gel and other such items from India, including local handmade one-shooter guns. Bangla Bhai would use an SMG, snatched from extremists in Bagmara.

There is no accurate account of how many JMB members there were actually. During the caretaker government it was sometimes said JMB had 5,000 members, and sometimes said 250 members. However, certain reliable sources say the number stood around 5,000 in all. After the nationwide bomb blasts in 2005, over 700 were arrested.

In 2002, JMB’s 65th committee was formed in Malda, India. Arms and explosive were brought from India into the country through this committee. The presence of JMB in India came to the limelight after an explosion in 2014 in Bardhman.

JMB was hardly known before the 2005 bomb blasts in 63 districts and distribution of leaflets. However, they did come into the news in 2004 after Bangla Bhai’s operations against left-wing extremists in Bagmara of Rajshahi and two upazilas in two neighbouring districts. The name JMB hadn’t been made public then. They were called JMJB (Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh).

Prothom Alo investigations revealed that their sabotages actually began back in 2001. It was they who exploded bombs at Roxy cinema hall and the circus grounds in Satkhira on 28 September that year. Three died and about 100 were injured in these incidents. Then they carried out bomb blasts at the Kiron cinema hall in Gurudaspur, Natore on 1 May and four cinema halls in Mymensingh on 7 December. They carried out 18 such operations till 17 August 2005, though the BNP-Jamaat government remained inert about it. They maintained that these were figments of the media’s imagination and there were no terrorists in the country. In fact, the accused in the Mymensingh cinema hall bomb blast case were Shahriar Kabir, Muntasir Mamun, Saber Hossain Chowdhury and others.

In February 2005 JMB began looting BRAC and Grameen Banks up north. On 23 February 2005, the government banned JMB and JMJB.

Suicidal Attacks:

The JMB leaders claimed that their organisation didn’t have any separate suicide squad. However, after the 17 August 2005 bomb blasts, many of the members were inspired to take up suicidal missions.

JMB leaders felt that since splinters were not used in the bombs during the 17 August and there were not too many casualties, the government would not pay much heed. They were also boosted by previous cooperation from the police and ruling party MPs and ministers during the previous operations in Rajshahi.

But after the 17 August incident, RAB and the police were deployed against them. Even so, in November and December JMB carried out five suicidal attacks in Jhalkathi, Chittagong, Gazipur and Netrakona. These were the first suicidal attacks in the country. In four years JMB carried out 26 attacks in which 73 were killed and around 800 injured.

Foreign Connections:

It is alleged that JMB from the outset received assistance from Middle East-based NGOs. Prominent among these was the Kuwait-based Revival of Islamic Heritage Society. Prothom Alo published several investigative reports in this regard. Towards the end of 2005 the government prohibited the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society.

In his statement, Shaikh Abdur Rahman said, they also had contact with the UK-based organisation al-Muhajirun, headed by the Syrian-origin British national Omar Bakri. The organisation had requested JMB to train their members in Bangladesh. They even inspected JMB’s training programmes on the char land. After the 17 August incident, al-Muhajirun leaders reportedly called JMB leaders over the phone, advising them to attack various foreign diplomatic missions in Dhaka, and RAB, and also to abduct and assault important foreign persons.

Shaikh Rahman and his family were arrested in Sylhet on 2 March 2006. Bangla Bhai and almost all top JMB leaders had already been nabbed. Towards the end of the BNP-led alliance government in 2006, death sentence was passed on its top JMB leaders, including its head Shaikh Rahman and second top leader Siddiqur Rahman alias Bangla Bhai. They were hanged on 3 March 2007 when the caretaker government came to power. That was the end of the first phase of JMB. There was an attempt to revive the organisation when Maulana Saidur Rahman of Sylhet formed a new committee, but this was foiled when he and the others of the new leadership were caught.

After this, another organisation following al-Qaeda, Ansar-ul Islam, became active. It came to the limelight with the killing of blogger Rajiv in 2013. A new militant organisation also emerged from the ashes of JMB. They claim to be IS and are carrying out brutal acts of killing.

Executive director of the Colombo-based Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, Professor Imtiaz Ahmed, said “Salafism is at the root of the terrorism we see worldwide now. Bangladesh is not outside of this.” He told Prothom Alo that in the seventies, some wealthy persons in Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries invested in the spread of salafism. Then in the past three decades, alongside salafism, extremist ideology also spread extensively. Europe and America were not spared either.

Professor Imtiaz said, “We speak of Islam as the religion of peace. But that is just lip service. There is no initiative or investment to uphold moderate Islam as opposed to extremism. The state hasn’t paid any attention to this either.”

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