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No longer economic refugees but merchants of terror

No longer economic refugees but merchants of terror

Author: Wilson John
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: July 6, 2008

Sleeper cells of the ISI are thriving all over India using Bangladeshi infiltrators as local contact points. Result: The signature of HuJi on most bomb blasts in recent times

The two unstable Islamic countries flanking India have emerged as the Al Qaeda's staging posts. While Pakistan has been the epicentre of terrorism since the early 1980s, the emergence of Bangladesh as an extension of a global terror network pose serious challenges to the world, particularly India.

Though the terrorist groups targeting India (there is a hardly any difference between such groups and others with a global agenda) continue to be inspired by terrorist leaders based in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Bangladesh is where they meet, learn techniques of bomb making and collaborate for terrorist actions in India.

While the world is focussed on Pakistan's tribal areas and North-West Frontier Province as an Al Qaeda-Taliban Emirate, the Bangladesh terror network's emergence and growing power remains largely unnoticed.

This impression needs to be corrected without delay. Before September 11, 2001, no one really took seriously India's struggles to cope with an externally-aided and abetted terrorism. Pakistan, despite a huge evidence of its complicity in promoting terrorism, remained on the blind side of the Western nations, particularly the US, which, till recently, considered it as a 'strategic ally' in the war on terrorism.

Today, it is widely acknowledged that Pakistan has become global headquarters of terrorism. Similarly, Bangladesh is fast becoming a major centre of outsource for this grand coalition of terror groups which are facing intense heat in West Asia and Afghanistan.

Bangladesh has become host to various terrorist groups anxious to recruit and train young students coming out of these madarsas. One of the more prominent ones is Harkat-ul-jihad al-Islami (HuJI), widely regarded as the Al Qaeda's operating arm in South Asia. HuJI has been consolidating its position in Bangladesh where it boasts a membership of more than 15,000 activists, of whom at least 2,000 are "hardcore".

Led by Shawkat Osman (alias Sheikh Farid) in Chittagong, the group has at least six training camps in Bangladesh. According to one report, about 3,500 Bangladeshis had gone to Pakistan and Afghanistan to take part in jihad. Barring 34 who died, a large number of them returned home; of these, about 500 form the backbone of HuJI.

What should be of immediate concern to regional nations and the West (in particular the US) is, irrespective of the absence of sustained links between Islamic groups like HT, JeI and terrorist organisations, they essentially share the same ideology and anti-Western agenda. In Pakistan, the Al-Qaeda has been quite successful in co-opting various religious and sectarian groups to work for the larger "cause" of global terror. In Bangladesh such networking could be easier, making this small, impoverished country a potential sanctuary for Al Qaeda clones like HuJI.

For India, HuJI presents a clear and immediate danger. But even Indian authorities ignored the emerging evidence of HuJI's footprints. The group's activities in India were first noticed in August 1999 when four HuJI activists were detained in Guwahati -- two of them were from Pakistan, one from Kashmir and another from Muzzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh. Their interrogations revealed a cache of explosives -- 34 Kg of RDX -- hidden in a Bangladesh mosque and the recruitment of young immigrant Muslims in Assam. But it was the attack on the American Centre in Kolkata on January 22, 2002 that uncovered the growing linkages of HuJI-B within India.

Investigators found HuJI-B's links with a local group called Asif Reza Commando Force (ARCF) formed by illegal Bangladeshi migrants living in Assam and West Bengal with the help of HuJI-B and Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) activists.

Another clear evidence of HuJI's strength and alliances was revealed when a suicide bomber walked into Hyderabad's Special Task Force office on October 12, 2005, and detonated a pressure-activated bomb carried in a backpack. Investigations pointed to a joint operation by cadres of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, HuJI and LeT. Two months later, Delhi Police detained three HuJI-B militants involved in the Hyderabad attack who said they were trained at ISI-run camp in Balochistan and were sent to India to target Bangalore and Hyderabad.

The series of terrorist attacks, beginning with Varanasi (March 7, 2006), besides numerous arrests of terrorists, their supporters and seizure of weapons and explosives, exposed the contours of a grand merger of various extremist and terrorist groups and organisations within India. Of the two terrorists shot down within hours of the Varanasi explosions, one was a LeT commander in Lucknow, while the second a HuJI activist from Bangladesh living in Delhi.

This alliance could not have operated across the country without extensive local support provided often by SIMI and other small, less-known outfits. The terrorist coalition utilises the support base to plan and execute terrorist operations, besides planning a safe exit. This support base in many areas like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar rely on modules set up by ISI for gathering intelligence on Indian strategic assets.

Madarsas have also been used in providing the logistics in the past and continue to do so but more covertly than in the past. The groups seek out rooms to rent out in outlying colonies or in crowded areas where they could remain anonymous; in many cases they have set up small businesses to merge into the crowd. The objective of this coalition of terror is to create political upheaval in India.

The fast emerging linkages between LeT, SIMI and HuJI (and Jamaitul Mujahideen Bangladesh) depict the contours of a pan-Islamist network in Asia, linking groups operating in Iraq and Afghanistan to Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and several south Asian countries like Indonesia.


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