Bangladesh Cracks Down on Terror

The breakup of a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist cell in Dhaka two weeks ago has reinforced is the latest manifestation of the growing counter-terror cooperation between India and Bangladesh and confirms what was earlier only alleged – that Pakistan-based terror groups have been using Bangladeshi territory to launch terror operations against India.

After years of suspicion between the two nations, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed has been steadily reducing tensions. She visited New Delhi on a maiden three-day visit late December in what India called a "historic opportunity" to build "a new and forward-looking relationship" amid hoped that security concerns would be addressed.

Bangladesh also recently pushed the United Liberation Front of Assam top brass, including its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, across the Indian border from where they had sheltered for more than a decade. Last year, Bangladesh also broke up a Lashkar-e-Taiba cell which included members from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The close counterterror cooperation between Indian and Bangladesh has also led to other arrests. On Jan. 18, Hyderabad police in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh arrested an alleged terror operative belonging to Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami and the outfit’s chief of operations in south India.

The arrested terrorist, Shaikh Abdul Khawja alias Amjad, was said to be planning attacks in south India during Republic Day celebrations. According to Hyderabad Police, Khwaja was working “under the guidance of the Inter Services Intelligence of Pakistan to destabilize the Indian economy and devastate internal security of the nation.” Police also said they had established Khawaja’s links with Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Jaish-e-Mohammed, founded by Maulana Masood Azhar, was launched in 2000 in Karachi after he and two other top militants were released by India as part of a deal to secure the release of Indian hostages in Kandahar. The terror group was subsequently responsible for the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament House in New Delhi which killed six policemen, five Jaish members and a bystander. After the parliament attack, Pakistan government banned the organization and the US State Department listed it as a terrorist outfit.

The most recent arrest of the five members of the cell was by Bangladesh’s Rapid Action battalion on Feb. 28 in a busy area in Dhaka. One of those arrested was a Pakistani national while four others were locals. According to officials the Pakistani, Rezwan Ahmed, had been coordinating operations in Bangladesh and recruiting local Bangladeshis for training in Pakistan to launch operations against India and had been freely moving between India and Bangladesh. The rapid action force also recovered the passport of another Pakistani who is suspected of having have fled to India.

Two of the locals are sons of Mohiuddin Mian, the president of the Hajiganj union Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in Chandpur, who had earlier been involved in the activities of Jamaat-e-Islami. The Rapid Action Battalion claims that Mohiuddin and Salahuddin sheltered the militants in both Dhaka and their village home in Hajiganj in Chandpur.

After the arrest of the five, Mohiuddin and his brother Salahuddin disappeared. Both were in Pakistan till 2005, Salahuddin working at a garment factory in Karachi for around five years, Mohiuddin visiting Pakistan and India on business. The Bangladesh police say they evidence suggests Rezwan was trying to conduct operations in Bangladesh as well as India.

The interrogation of Nannu Mian, alias Belal Mandol alias Billal, a member of the Jaish cell, turned up evidence that he had helped 12-13 militants to enter India from Bangladesh. The arrest of these operatives also indicates that the extremists groups either of Pakistani or Bangladesh origin are trying to regroup despite suffering losses due to the determined joint offensive by India and Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh the jihadi network has been growing over the years. In recent times, the two prominent local groups have been Harkat ul-Jihad-e-Islami Bangladesh and the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh. Though there has been a crackdown on JMB and its top leaders were hanged during the regime of the caretaker government headed by Fakharuddin Ahmed, the outfit’s links to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish remain quite strong.

Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh was founded in 1998 by Saudi Arabia-educated Sheikh Abdur Rahman, who had met the top leadership of the Lashkar in Pakistan, including its chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed. Rahman was trained at Lashkar camps in Pakistan, before he returned home to found the JMB in 1998. The political patronage received by the outfit it access to substantial resources. The outfit also managed funds from various western and gulf charities.

It is now believed that Billal was raising funds by running weapons between the Malda district of India and Bangladesh, which led to his arrest. Many members of the JMB’s current shura, or leadership council are now thought to be working closely with the Lashkar and Jaish.

Khwaja Amjad of Harkat ul-Jihad-e-Islami Bangladesh was believed to be a close associate of Shahed Bilal, the former South India commander of Harkat, allegedly recruiting Hyderabad and Bangladesh youth for training in Pakistan. In 2005 Khwaja underwent training in Lashkar camps in Pakistan and organized a terror cell of Harkat After the killing of Bilal and his elder brother Samad in a shootout in Karachi in 2007, Khawja was put in charge of the Shahed Bilal group and started acting as a recruiting agent for several terrorist organizations in addition to conducting operations.

In 2005, Khwaja was involved in a bomb blast at Police Commissioner’s Task Force office in Hyderabad which killed one policeman when a Bangladesh national blew himself up inside the Task Force office. Khawja allegedly had close links with those who were involved in Hyderabad in 2007 as well as blasts in other Indian cities. Khawja was also involved in the supply of arms and ammunition to various terror cells operating in India through Bangladesh.

The expanding terror network of Pakistan based Jihadi groups in Bangladesh is a cause for concern. Though the modules of Jaish-e-Mohammed and Laskhar-e-Taiba have been busted in Bangladesh, it is possible that other Pakistani groups could also be active and have not yet been detected. Clearly, now there is a need for closer cooperation between security agencies of south Asia as terror groups have expanded their network in many countries.

Rezwan, the Pakistani national, for instance managed to work freely from Bangladesh for many years. His delayed arrest also underlines the need for improvement in working of intelligence agencies in the region. Finally, the governments of South Asian countries will also have to work to dismantle the local support structure of the extremists so that they do not get shelter. Only a multi-pronged and concerted action will help to eliminate them.