In two significant break-throughs in their counter-terrorism operations, the Bangladesh authorities have managed to arrest Shaikh Abdur Rahman, the Amir of the banned Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), and his No. 2 Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai.
Abdur Rahman surrendered to the authorities along with three of his associates on March 1, 2006, after a house in Sylhet where he was staying with his family was surrounded by the authorities for more than 30 hours and the supply of food and water to him was cut off. Abdur Rahman, who initially threatened to commit suicide by blowing up a bomb if the food and water supply was not restored and if a meeting with Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia was not arranged, ultimately succumbed to the psychological pressure mounted by the security forces and surrendered. According to the local media, at the time of his surrender, he looked like a cornered mouse.
His meek surrender without committing suicide as threatened by him has caused considerable embarrassment to the international jihadi terrorist movement since he had motivated many cadres of his organisation last year to volunteer themselves for suicide missions. The fact that a jihadi terrorist leader, who used to send others on suicide missions by promising them a life in heaven in the company of 70 virgins if they "martyred" themselves for the Islamic cause, himself did not have the courage to commit suicide and preferred a life in jail to a blissful life in heaven, must have been (hopefully) an eye-opener for the jihadis. It remains to be seen what impact this has on the future recruitment of volunteers by the JMB for suicide missions. His followers are now saying that he could not commit suicide because the bomb which he had failed to explode. His wife and children had surrendered before him.
The security forces, who had been searching for him ever since August 17, 2005, when the JMB carried out over 450 blasts all over Bangladesh, ultimately traced him in Sylhet on the basis of information provided by Hafez Mahmud, a member of the Majlis-e-Shura of the JMB, who had been arrested on February 28, 2006, from a mosque where he had taken shelter.
Abdur Rahman, aged about 50, was born in village Charshi Khalifapara of Tangail district. Maulana Abdullah Ibn-Fazle, his father, had migrated to Bangla Desh (then East Pakistan) from Delhi, where he was educated. After migrating to Bangladesh, he was associated with the Ahle Hadith movement. After studying in the madrasas of Bangladesh, Abdur Rahman went to Saudi Arabia and studied in the Madina University. Before returning home, he lived for some years in Egypt, where he was allegedly associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
He returned to Bangladesh from Egypt and worked as a clerk in the Saudi Embassy in Dhaka for five years. Abdur Rahman, who, as a student, was an active member of the Islami Chhatra Shibir, the students' wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI), left his job in the Saudi Embassy around 1990 and set up a mosque and a madrasa called the Al Madina Cadet Madrasa at Jamalpur funded by the Rabita-e-Islam of Saudi Arabia and the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society of Kuwait. He went to Afghanistan for some years and received training in the use of arms and ammunition and explosives. He operated in Afghanistan as a member of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), a Pakistani terrorist organisation, which is a member of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF), formed in 1998. He also came into contact with the Taliban and was strongly influenced by its ideology. On his return to Bangladesh, he joined the HUJI in Bangladesh (HUJI-B). He later left the HUJI (B) and formed his own Islamic party.
According to reliable sources, Abdur Rahman, who is presently under interrogation, is reported to have admitted his responsibility for the over 450 blasts organised by the JMB on August 17, 2005. He has refused to talk about the organisation's network in Bangladesh, its external contacts and its sources of funding. Nor has he said anything about how the blasts of August 17, 2005, were funded.
Towards the end of last year, the authorities had arrested Rahman's son-in-law Abdul Awal Sarker alias Ashiq alias Adil alias Arafat, and his younger brother Ataur Rahman alias Sunny alias Sajid, both members of the Shura of the JMB. They were more talkative during their interrogation and in their confessional statements before a Dhaka Magistrate.
They had mentioned that the Shura consisted of seven members including Rahman himself and their responsibilities were distributed as follows:
Abdur Rahman---Over-all in charge for the whole country.
Ataur Rahman---In charge of the Dhaka region.
Abdul Awal Sarker---In charge of the Rajshahi region.
Bangla Bhai---In Charge of the Chittagong region.
Hafez Mahmud----In Charge of the Khulna region.
Salahuddin alias Salehin---In charge of the Sylhet region.
- Faruq Hossain alias Khaled Saifullah alias Shaikh Tariq---In charge of the Rangpur-Dinajpur region.
Ataur Rahman also told the Police interrogators that the decision to organise the blasts of August 17, 2005, was taken at a meeting of the Shura held in March last year at Rajshahi. Abdur Rahman himself and Khaled Saifullah trained those who participated in the bomb blasts on how to assemble an improvised explosive device (IED). He also said that Saifullah had fought in Afghanistan as a member of the HUJI of Pakistan.
While Ataur Rahman, like his elder brother now, refused to divulge details of the source of funding of the JMB, he admitted in a confessional statement to a Dhaka court that the blasts of August 17, 2005, were carried out with the help of a sum of Pound Sterling 10,000 received from two supporters of the JMB in the UK. Nothing further about them is known.
According to some sources in Bangladesh, the JMB headed by Abdur Rahman and the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) headed by Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai are one and the same organisation, but the Bangladesh authorities treated them as two different organisations and banned them on February 23, 2005, in the face of a threat from the European Union to suspend economic assistance if action was not taken against them. The JMJB had carried out a spate of killings in Rajshahi, Natore and Naogaon in early 2003 and 2004.
According to other sources, the JMJB came into existence in 1998 under the leadership of Abdur Rahman and it was renamed as the JMB in August 2003 following the discovery by the police of a secret jihadi training camp run by it at Joypurhat.
On a tip-off from one of the arrested associates of Abdur Rahman, the authorities arrested Amanullah Rimon, a 19-year-old cadre of the JMB, on March 5 from a house in Sylhet. The information provided by him enabled the authorities to arrest the next day Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai, who was captured wounded in the village of Rampur in the Muktagachha area of Mymensingh after an exchange of fire with the Rapid Action Battalion. He was mostly active in Northern Bangladesh. He was flown by helicopter to Dhaka and admitted in a Bangladesh Rifles hospital there. He is reported to be out of danger.
Abdur Rahman was reported to have told the police that his arrest and that of Bangla Bai would not stop the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Bangladesh. Bangla Bhai used to visit Muktagachha frequently, training his men at different mosques and sugarcane fields in the area. He was also running a training camp at Ghoradhap in Jamalpur, 5 km off Muktagachha.
The counter-terrorism policy of the Begum Khalida Zia Government has passed through three stages. Before February, 2005, she was denying the existence of any jihadi terrorist groups in Bangladesh territory. She, her Ministers and her Islamic fundamentalist coalition partners described reports of jihadi terrorism as propaganda spread by Sheikh Hasina, former Prime Minister, and her Awami League for discrediting her Government. They even denied the very existence of anyone by the name Bangla Bhai.
Only on February 23, 2005, under the threat of aid-cut-off by the EU, she admitted the existence of the JMB and the JMJB and banned them and ordered the arrests of their leaders and cadres. But she did not take any action against the HUJI (B). Her orders for arrests were not implemented. The blasts of August 17, 2005, which directly targeted her Government and the subsequent resort of the JMB to suicide terrorism gave her a severe jolt. Only thereafter, her Government banned the HUJI and arrested its leader Mufti Hannan in October, 2005. It also arrested the son and son-in-law of Abdur Rahman and finally arrested Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai. According to the local security agencies, with the arrest of five of the seven members of the Shura, only two were still evading arrest--namely, Salahuddin alias Salehin, and Faruq Hossain alias Khaled Saifullah.
In a televised address to her people after the arrest of Abdur Rahman, Begum Khalida Zia claimed to have put an end to jihadi terrorism in the country. While her party and the Islamic fundamentalist parties, who are members of her coalition, have hailed the arrests as a major victory against terrorism, the opposition parties led by the Awami League have expressed their skepticism as to whether the Government and the security agencies really wanted to end jihadi terrorism, which they were using, to intimidate the opposition. It remains to be seen what impact the arrest of these two undoubtedly important leaders and that of Mufti Hannan earlier would have on the morale, motivation and command and control of the HUJI, the JMB and the JMJB. Even before the arrests of the leaders, the Government had already rounded up a large number of their cadres and prosecuted them for their alleged involvement in the August 17 blasts before rapid action courts. Some of them have already been sentenced to death, but the sentences have not yet been carried out. Even before their arrest, Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai had been sentenced in absentia to 40 years' rigorous imprisonment on February 9, 2006, in a bomb blast case in which a suicide bomber killed two judges on November 14, 2005.
Mr. Morshed Khan, the Foreign Minister, briefed a select group of foreign diplomats and heads of missions on March 7, 2006, on the successes scored by the security agencies in their counter-terrorism operations. He reportedly said that the arrests of Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai should leave no doubt in anyone's mind that extremism and hatred had no connection to Islam and no place in Bangladesh. He added: "The Government has fulfilled its pledges to the people to combat terrorism in Bangladesh by putting the JMB and its supporters on the run and bringing the leaders to the book. The actions against the terrorists have not ended here. There will be no letup until the last terrorist is held and their network is totally routed. "He attacked Sheikh Hasina, the Leader of the Opposition, and other opposition leaders for carrying on a campaign to discredit the Government abroad on the ground that it was not acting against the terrorists.
Mr. Lutfozzaman Babar, the Home Minister, who also participated in the briefing, assured the diplomats that the counter-terrorism operations had not ended with the captures of Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai. He assured the diplomats that the Government would go into the root of terrorism and crush the entire network. According to him, 229 cases had been registered in connection with the August 17, 2005, bomb blasts--52 of them against Abdur Rahman, 48 against Bangla Bhai and 28 against Ataur Rahman Sunny. So far, 642 militants have been arrested and 22 have already been convicted and sentenced to death by rapid action tribunals.
While welcoming the action taken by the Government and congratulating it on its successes, the Western diplomats said that the capture of the two terrorist leaders marked only the beginning of the successful counter-terrorism operations and urged that the operations should continue till the entire jihadi terrorist network operating from the Bangladesh territory was neutralised. They also pointed out that while many successes had been scored by the security forces against those involved in the terrorist strikes of August 17, 2005, no progress had been made in the investigation of the acts of terrorism committed before August 17, 2005, against Sheikh Hasina and other leaders of the opposition and against Mr. Anwar Chodhury, the British High Commissioner. Those responsible for those terrorist strikes had not so far been identified, arrested and prosecuted.