- Abdur Rahman, Bangla Bhai arrested
- Their agenda: establish a Taliban-like state in Bangladesh
- Three other leaders too behind bars
- Danger not over yet: 2,000 suicide bombers prowling the country
- More than a lakh willing to support the Islamist cause
When Jamaatul Mujaheedin Bangladesh (JMB) supremo Shaekh Abdur Rahman surrendered to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) personnel who had surrounded his hideout on March 2 in Sylhet district, it was only a matter of time before his protege Bangla Bhai too got caught. Nobody in Bangladesh was surprised at his arrest on March 6 from a remote village in northwestern Mymensingh district, where he and his aide were hurt in a blast they had triggered to ward off the RAB personnel from nabbing them.
Once described by the Dhaka government as a mere "media creation", Abdur Rahman has revealed during interrogation that bombings in cinema halls, assassination bids, murders of progressive writers or teachers and attacks on NGOs were part of his and Bangla Bhai’s plan to turn Bangladesh into a Taliban-like Islamic country. Though Bangla Bhai operated under the banner of Jagroto Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), he was part of the JMB terror network—and also a member of its apex decision-making body, the Majlish-e-Shura. The purpose behind floating two separate outfits was to achieve operational smoothness and evade detection.
Their arrests could enable the security forces to break the backbone of militancy in Bangladesh. Before Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai, the security forces had nabbed three other Majlish-e-Shura members: Rahman’s younger brother Ataur Rahman, the supremo’s son-in-law Abdul Awal Sarker, and Rakib Hasan. The remaining two members—Salahuddin and Khaled Saifullah—are on the run. (Each controlled separate territories). Also, the JMB’s principal bomb-maker, Mollah Omar, was killed in a firefight in a police raid in Comilla district on March 13; his wife and two kids blew themselves up. Also arrested then was Abdur Rahman’s son, Nabil, who was severely hurt in a blast he and comrades had triggered.
During interrogation, Abdur Rahman confessed to have ordered serial bombings in 63 of the country’s 64 districts on August 17, 2005, as well as a slew of attacks on NGOs and progressive intellectuals. The last were singled out as the JMB saw them as the principal opponents to their Islamist agenda. RAB sources say JMB leaders haven’t yet confessed to their foreign links, and claim their principal sources of financing militant operations were dacoities and bank robberies.
The spurt of arrests came after immense international pressure, including a reported ultimatum by Washington that Bangladesh should either crack down on militants or run the risk of being listed as a terrorist-financing country. Bangladesh’s main opposition Awami League Party has demanded an international probe under the UN into all bombings.
RAB director-general M.A. Aziz Sarker told Outlook, "We are confident that the JMB network is shattered as we have netted five of their top leaders; their main bomb-maker is dead. Whether or not the JMB will regroup is something that depends on its actual strength and also on how powerful the next rung of leaders are. But we are alert to this danger and will not permit that to happen."
Security sources do not write off the possibility of more attacks as the JMB is reported to have trained some 2,000 suicide bombers. In addition, Rahman told his interrogators that there are 10,000 full-time activists, or Ehsar, under orders from higher echelons. The organisation reportedly spends Taka 7 lakh on them. Below this tier of workers were "Gayeri Ehsar", or part-time activists, totalling a whopping one lakh. The third tier consists of those indirectly cooperating with the militant groups. It’s moot whether this veritable army of Islamists could, in the absence of their leaders, pose a challenge to the Bangladeshi state.
Both the JMB and JMJB were Taliban-inspired, instead of having direct links with the Afghanistan-based group. Bangla Bhai told this writer in May 2004 as much, "We don’t have any direct links with the Taliban either. The Taliban wanted to establish the ideals of Allah. And they did their part with courage." He went on to add, "We don’t believe in the present political trends. We want to build a society based on the Islamic model laid out in Holy Quran-Hadith." For the moment, the plan seems to have been nixed.