Al Qaeda pall under microscope in Bangladesh
The government took the initiatives following an order passed by High Court bench comprising Justice AHM Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik and Justice Gobinda Chandra Thakur, who directed the government to form a high-powered committee immediately to investigate allegations of Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini's involvement in militancy and links to Al Qaeda, Taliban and other jihadist networks.
The High Court bench also gave historic directives to the government to ensure hoisting of national flag in the madrassas run by Mufti Amini as well as performance of national anthem. It may be mentioned here that, Koranic madrassas in Bangladesh refrain from hoisting national flags as well as singing the national songs everyday prior to beginning classes.
Mufti Amini, who preaches imposition of Sharia law in Bangladesh and gives instigation to his followers in "waging Jihad against anti-Islamic elements", has been maintaining closer ties with several international terror outfits, including Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah. He also has closer links with religious fanatics in Iran.
Son-in-law of radical clergy late Moulana Mohammed Ullah aka Hafezzi Huzur, Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini has been actively involved in recruitment of Bangladeshi youths, who later had been sent to Indian held Kashmir as well as Palestinian territory for participating in jihad. Amini's Lalbagh Madrassa and his father-in-law Madrassa-e-Jamia Nuria are the two under-cover training centers of Jihadists for years. It is learnt from numerous sources that, both the madrassas were receiving undeclared funds from various dubious sources.
Islamic Law Enforcement Committee chief Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini, also Chairman Islami Oikya Jote advocates theocratic religious universalism and the creation of an Islamic state.
Meanwhile, in another development, Rapid Action Battalion [RAB] arrested the acting chief of banned Islamist terror outfit named Harkatul Jihad Al Islami [HUJI] along with his two aides.
Moulana Yahya  was acting as the chief of HUJI since July 2011. Earlier in December in 2005, police arrested Yahiya in Chittagong as a suspected leader of Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh [JMB]. He later disappeared after he came out of jail on bail.
Yahya, who hailed from Chhalimpur village in Sitakunda upazila in Chittagong district, had fought in Afghanistan and also in Myanmar for the Arakan Muslims. He studied at Kazi Bazar Kowmi Madrasa in Sylhet for seven years and for one year at Hathajari Madrasa. In 1986, he joined Lalkhan Bazar Madrasa as a teacher and took part in the Afghan war in 1988. After the Afghan war, Moulana Yahya returned to Bangladesh in 1992.
RAB sources told reporters in Dhaka that, currently 20-25 thousand HUJI jihadists are active in Bangladesh. HUJI along with a number of jihadist outfits in Bangladesh have been receiving funding from a number of sources, including Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The former Palestinian ambassador in Bangladesh, Shahta Zarab, who had been operating numerous illegal activities, including trafficking in drugs and arms was spending millions every year behind such jihadist outfits, especially those, which were recruiting locals for participating in anti-Israel. Shahta Zarab stayed in Bangladesh for more than two decades. He is alleged to be patronized by Bangladeshi former military dictator Hussain Muhammed Ershad. It is even alleged that, Shahta Zarab was operating illegal activities and trades under the active patronization of General Ershad.
The rise of such forces that advocate theocratic religious universalism and the creation of an Islamic state did not happen overnight, of course. The interplay between religion and politics in Bangladesh has a long history, and religion has always been susceptible to politicization. The trend is not just pushed along by organized radical groups such as the Hizbut Tahrir, Hizbut Towhid and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami, Bangladesh [HuJI-B], which aim to replace the parliamentary democracy with an Islamic Sharia state. The leading political parties, many foreign-linked charities and non-governmental organizations, and the external environment are all playing a significant role in promoting religious radicalism.
The two dominant political parties, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party [BNP] and the Bangladesh Awami League [AL], have both emphasized a religious identity at various points. Though the opposition AL has repeatedly accused BNP government, led by Begum Khaleda Zia, of forging an unholy alliance with radical Islamic groups, even the AL, which once took pride in its secular identity, has accepted the importance of religion in Bangladesh. AL even formed alliance with Islamists during the general election in 1996, and even in the current government, it has formed alliance with Jatiyo Party, which is headed by former military dictator General Hussain Muhammed Ershad, whose political vision is very similar to those Islamist parties and fronts.
The current ruling party, Bangladesh Awami League has readily adopted religious trappings and symbols for its political purposes. Its leaders, despite her strong secular legacy, have begun to carry prayer beads and wear a headscarf of Islamic cap. Public meetings have included Islamic religious proclamations to woo an electorate that is becoming increasingly comfortable with its Islamic identity.
On the other hand, the BNP has always been drawn toward right-wing forces. During 2001-2006, the BNP government have witnessed increasing militant activities, including alleged targeted killings of opposition leaders, violence against religious minorities, and terrorist attacks against the personalities and institutions that oppose the creation of an Islamic state.
Bangladesh also serves as a logistical hub for transnational extremist groups such as the Arakan Rohingya National Organization [ARNO] and the Rohingya Solidarity Organization [RSO]. These are Myanmar Muslims who claim to be fighting for an autonomous Muslim region in Myanmar's Arakan state. Terrorist groups based in Pakistan and parts of Kashmir, such as the HuJI and the Lashkar-e-Toiba, also managed to set up operational bases in Bangladesh, and a number of Jihadist terrorists entered India via Bangladesh. Attacks in Delhi, Bangalore and Varanasi have all revealed Bangladesh as an important link in the Islamic terrorist network of South Asia.
The political parties and terrorist groups are aided by funds received from charities in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait in their bid to spread the message of radical Islam to the masses. Despite an embargo on releasing its funds because of alleged terror links, the Kuwait-based Revival of Islamic Heritage Society [RIHS] was said to be using bank accounts to run official work without the Bangladeshi government's knowledge. The RIHS provided funds to several terrorist outfits.
On the other hand, a huge segment of terror fund to Islamists is channelized through madrassas [Koranic schools]. Since madrassas are educational institutions within the country, they are under the purview of the country's educational ministry. While almost all funding for these institutions comes from private donors in Saudi Arabia, there is no statute against their regulation by proper national authorities.
Bangladesh has been a secular Muslim state since its independence from Pakistan and founding by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1971. While its short history has been full of military coup d'états, it has always returned to its roots as a secular democratic state. There are, however, troubling new signs of a shift towards a growing Islamism that could jeopardize the sanctity of secularism in the country.