By: Our Correspondent

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.