Sunday, March 9, 2008




On March 6,2008, the US Government announced that the US Secretary of State, Ms. Condoleezza Rice, has designated the Harkat ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Bangladesh, also known as HUJI (B) as a ‘foreign terrorist organisation’ (FTO) and as a ’specially designated global terrorist’. The announcement added that HUJI (B) had signed the February 1998 fatwa of Osama bin Ladin that declared American civilians to be legitimate targets for attack.

2.The designation meant that it was illegal for persons in the United States or subject to US jurisdiction to provide material support to HUJI-B; required US financial institutions to freeze assets held by HUJI-B; froze all property and interests in property of HUJI-B that were in the United States, come within the United States, or within the control of U.S. persons; and enables the United States to deny visas to representatives of HUJI-B.

3.In April, 2007, the US State Department had issued an up-dated list of organisations which it had till then designated as FTOs and another list of organisations designated as "Groups of Concern", which were not subject to the same restrictions as the FTOs. Among the organisations which figured in the list of FTOs were Al Qaeda, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ).

4.Among the organisations designated as "Groups of Concern" were the HUJI of Pakistan, HUJI (B), the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen (JUM) of Bangladesh, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, which is the political wing of the LEJ, the Hizbul Mujahideen of Jammu & Kashmir, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA).

5. The LTTE and the HUM under its then name of Harkat-ul-Ansar were designated as FTOs in 1997 when this list was started. The decision to include the HUA in this list was taken since it was suspected to have carried out the kidnapping of some Western, including American tourists, in J&K under the name Al Faran in 1995. The LET, the JEM and the LEJ were so declared after 9/11 and the attack on the Indian Parliament in December, 2001, jointly made by the LET and the JEM.

6. Though the HUJI and HUJI (B) have been involved in many terrorist strikes in India and were associated with Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the terrorist organisations of the Central Asian Republics and Chechnya in Russia since 1998 when they joined bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF), the US State Department for reasons, which were never made clear, had refrained from designating them as FTOs. The evidence against them was as strong as the evidence against the HUM, the LET, the JEM and the LEJ.

7. Even now, the State Department has declared only HUJI (B) as an FTO, but not HUJI of Pakistan. No reasons have been given as to why it has not been considered necessary to designate HUJI of Pakistan too as an FTO.In the revised edition of her memoir titled "Recollections", published after her assassination on December 27, 2007, Benazir Bhutto had voiced her suspicion that Qari Saifullah Akhtar, former Amir of the HUJI of Pakistan, was involved in the unsuccessful attempt to kill her at Karachi on October 18,2007.

8.Following this, on February 26,2008, the Lahore Police announced the arrest of Qari Saifullah Akhtar and his three sons----Muhammad Asif Ali alias Hassan, Abdul Rehman alias Mani and Mureed Ahmad alias Abu Dajana--- from a mosque near Lahore. They also announced the arrest of Fahad Munir alias Mithtoo, a nephew of the late Riaz Basra, of the LEJ. Hamid Nawaz, the Pakistani Interior Minister, was quoted as telling the media that Qari Saifullah would be questioned by the police in connection with the investigation into the unsuccessful suicide attack on Benazir Bhutto at Karachi.

9. Surprisingly, on March 4,2008, the "Dawn" of Karachi reported as follows:" After claiming to have re-arrested one of the country’s most mysterious militants, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the Interior Ministry has started to backtrack on its earlier disclosure, with its spokesman now claiming that there existed no record of his arrest. According to international news agencies, the re-arrest of the militant leader from Lahore, along with his three sons, was confirmed on Feb 26 by Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz. He was also quoted as saying that the action had been taken in connection with the October 18 suicide attack in Karachi in the initial attempt to assassinate PPP Chairperson Benazir Bhutto. Quoting Interior Ministry and intelligence sources, Pakistani television channels had kept reporting his arrest almost the entire day, and it was reported by most of the newspapers on February 27, some quoting the Interior Minister. And some of the reports had said that he was being questioned for his alleged links with Al Qaeda and the plot to assassinate the former Prime Minister. During all this period there was no official contradiction from the Ministry of Interior, or any security agency. However, when recently contacted by Dawn, the official spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Brig (retd) Javed Cheema, said he had checked with all the concerned departments, and there was no record of Qari Akhtar’s arrest."

10. Previously also, for over two years, Saifullah was in the informal custody of the Police in the Karachi jail, but in response to a habeas corpus petition filed by his relatives before a court, the Interior Ministry kept denying that he was in their custody. It was saying that the security agencies had no information on his whereabouts. However, it allegedly admitted to the court off the record that it was informally keeping Saifullah off circulation to prevent his falling into the hands of the US' Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He was ultimately released from the Karachi jail in May,2007, and the Interior Ministry officially informed the court that he had been traced and send back to his relatives.

11.The "Post". a Pakistani daily, reported as follows on May 26,2007: "The counsel for Qari Saifullah Akhtar said he had been released afterdetention by the security agencies for two years and nine month. Prior to his release, the agencies told him that "if they would not arresthim, the FBI would do so." He said at the time of release, they again warned him to be careful otherwise the FBI would arrest him."

12. When the State Department updated the list of FTOs on April 30, 2007, it did not consider it necessary to include HUJI (B) in the list, but now, it has done so. One possible reason is the arrest of a number of terrorists of the LET and HUJI (B) in India and their claim that the LET and HUJI (B) were wanting to carry out terrorist strikes against American companies in Bangalore and against Israeli and Western tourists in Goa.

13. The Bangladesh branch of the HUJI came into existence in 1992 after the Afghan Mujahideen captured power in Kabul in April, 1992, after overthrowing the then Afghan President Najibullah. It was set up by a group of Bangladeshi nationals, who had fought against the forces of the Najibullah Government after having undergone jihadi training in Pakistan. The formation of the HUJI (B) was announced at a press conference in April 1992 by a group of Afghan war veterans. It was projected as a successor to a first Bangladeshi Mujahideen group that had been formed in 1984 by self-styled Commander Abdur Rahman, for fighting against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. He later reportedly died in the Afghan War in 1989.

14. Among the founding fathers of the HUJI (B) were Shaikhul Hadith, Allama Azizul Haq, who was also associated with the Islami Oikyo Jote (IOJ), a member of the former ruling coalition headed by Begum Khalida Zia, Muhammad Habibur Rahman of Sylhet, Ataur Rahman Khan of Kishoreganj, Sultan Jaok of Chittagong, Abdul Mannan of Faridpur and Habibullah of Noakhali. All of them were members of different Islamic organisations and madrasas. Ataur Rahman Khan was reportedly elected to the Parliament as a candidate of Begum Khalida Zia'sBangladesh National Party (BNP) in 1991.

15. All of them visited Afghanistan in 1988 before the withdrawal of the Soviet troops and met, amongst others, Osama bin Laden. An account of their travel to Afghanistan at the invitation of the HUJI of Pakistan was given by Habibur Rahman in an interview to an Islamic journal called "Islami Biplob" (Islamic Revolution), which was published by the journal on August 20,1998. Habibur Rahman was also the convenor of Sahaba Sainik Parishad and the founding principal of the Jameya Madania Islamia, a madrasa at Kazir Bazar, Sylhet.

16. He said in the interview: "An invitation from Harkat-ul Jihad- Al- Islami made it possible for me to make the fortunate trip to Afghanistan... Those of us who visited the Afghan war-fields during that trip were Shaikhul Hadith, Ataur Rahman Khan, Sultan Jaok, Abdul Mannan, Habibullah and myself. In Pakistan, leaders of the local chapter of the HUJI greeted us and took us to the HUJI Karachi office. HUJI Pakistan chief Saifullah Akhtar and a Bangladeshi Mujahideen Abdur Rahman Shahid drove us to an Afghan Mohajir ( refugee) camp on the Pakistan-Afghan border. We stayed at the camp and visited some injured Mujahideens and an Islamic cadet college, where the cadets received us with a guard of honour. Abdur Rahman then drove us to the residence of top Mujahideen leader Rasul Siaaf. The house was defended like a fort with anti-aircraft cannons and armed guards. While still in Pakistan and on our way to Afghanistan, we visited a special Mujahideen training camp and met about a dozen Bangladeshi young Mujahideens led by one Abdul Quddus. We watched youths from different countries taking military training on a mountainous terrain. The arms they were being trained to operate included rocket launchers. That night, I shared a meal of dry cold bread with a handsome young Arab. When I inquired after his identity, I was told he was Osama bin Laden, a son of one of the richest Saudi families. The next day, we entered Afghanistan and arrived at a Mujahideen cantonment on a mountain top. We visited an armoury inside a tunnel. We were informed that some Russian forces were in position nearby and that every one must prepare to fight. All of us were given Kalashnikov (AK-47) rifles. We stayed the night at the camp, while a Mujahideen team advanced towards the enemy position and engaged in a skirmish. The following day we started our return journey."

17. The HUJI (B) subsequently appointed as its leader Shawkat Osman alias Sheikh Farid. Imtiaz Quddus was appointed its General Secretary. He is probably identical with Abdul Quddus mentioned above. It has its main operational base in the coastal area stretching from the port city of Chittagong south through Cox's Bazar to the Myanmar border. In addition to acts of terrorism, it has been involved in piracy, smuggling and gun-running . It reportedly maintains six training camps in the hilly areas of Chittagong and six more near Cox's Bazar. There are varying reports of its total strength, going up to 15,000, but my own estimate on the basis of available intelligence is that it has a hard-core strength of about 700, consisting of native Bangladeshis, Rohingya Muslims from the Arakan area of Myanmar and Pattani Muslims from Southern Thailand. According to some reports, the Rohingya Muslims constitute the largest single group in the organisation.

18. According to Bangladesh Police sources, a key suspect in the plot to assassinate the then Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, in July 2000, Mufti Abdul Hannan, was trained in a HUJI camp in Peshawar in Pakistan. A diary recovered by the Police from Hannan's brother Matiur Rehman, who was also involved in the assassination plot, reportedly indicated he was in touch with the Pakistani High Commission in Dhaka.These sources say that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence uses the HUJI (B) for running training camps in Bangladesh territory for the insurgent groups in India's North-East, for Indian Muslims and for selected members of the Bangladeshi illegal migrants to India. These training camps are reportedly located in the Kurigram and Rangpur areas of Bangladesh, near the border of Coochbihar in West Bengal. The presence of similar training camps for training recruits from India were also reported in the past in Rangmari, Sundermari and Masaldanga.

19. Instructors from the HUJI (B) are also attached to the training camps of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) near the Tirupura border. It was suspected that the attack on the security guards outside the US Consulate at Kolkata in January, 2002, was orchestrated by HUJI (B), in collaboration with the JEM and the Lashkar-e-Toiba, under the name the Asif Reza Commando Force (ARCF). Aftab Ansari alias Aftab Ahmed alias Farhan Malik, the prime accused in the attack, was in touch not only with the office-bearers of these organisations in Pakistan, but also with Omar Sheikh, who had masterminded the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl. Omar Sheikh claimed during his interrogation by the Karachi Police in 2002 that it was he who had asked Aftab Ansari to carry out the attack.

20. The HUJI (B) reportedly receives financial assistance from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan through Muslim Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) of Bangladesh such as the Adarsa Kutir, Al Faruk Islamic Foundation and Hataddin as well as from the ISI through its station chief in the Pakistani High Commission in Dhaka. Amomg the terrorist incidents in Bangladesh in which it was suspected were: the murder of journalist Shamsur Rahman, on July 16, 2000, in Jessore, a plot to assassinate Sheikh Hasina on July 23, 2000, plots to assassinate 28 prominent intellectuals of Bangladesh , including National Professor Kabir Choudhury, writer Taslima Nasreen and the Director General of the Islamic Foundation, Maulana Abdul Awal, an explosion at a Bengali New Year's Day function in Dhaka on April 14, 2001, which killed eight people, an explosion in a Roman Catholic church at Baniachang in Gopalganj on June 3, 2001, killing 10 worshippers, and an attempt to kill Dr.Humayun Azad, a Bangla Professor and famous writer, on February 27, 2004.

21. In February, 2005, under pressure from the European Union, Begum Khalida Zia, the then Bangladesh Prime Minister, who till then was denying the presence of any jihadi terrorist organisation in Bangladesh territory, admitted for the first time the presence of the Jamiatul Mujahideen Bangladesh and the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh and banned them. But her Government continued to deny the existence of HUJI(B) and the ban order did not cover it.

22. Commenting on this in an editorial on February 27, 2005, the usually reliable "Daily Times" of Lahore wrote as follows: "The disease of ‘Islamist terrorism’ was incubated in Karachi and Khost and then passed on to Dhaka. A glance at the looking glass in Dhaka will discover Pakistani-jihadi footsteps all over the place. The Harkatul Mujahideen (Jihad) al-Islami (the one called HUJI in Bangladesh) is the outfit whose leader was a graduate of the Banuri Mosque seminary in Karachi and whose activists tried to kill our Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz recently. HUJI is the international face of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. As for the “pseudo-Islamic” nature of what is happening in Bangladesh, let us accept that that is the way of ‘Islamic revolution’ these days. This is what the Uzbek Islamist Tahir Yuldashev did in Osh before he came down to Afghanistan and then to Pakistan’s Tribal Areas. The Hizb al-Tahrir, which Pakistan banned only after Yuldashev’s discovery, worked in tandem with him in Central Asia and is now clearly working in tandem with HUJI in Bangladesh. As in Pakistan, seminaries also flourish in Bangladesh with foreign funding because of poverty and — and this few observers mention — profits to the organising clergy. Had the clergy been devoted to a higher cause they would have used the money to promote local Islam and not the hardline Wahhabi-Saudi one now associated with the Taliban. An increasing number of Bangladesh’s madrassas are now following the pattern of study of the madrassas in Pakistan and have become Deobandi in their world view. The Hindus have been targeted, aided by the widespread belief that they should be expelled from the country. The jihad in Afghanistan brought in Al Qaeda money, and the training camps in Bangladesh have since begun to turn out warriors for the Taliban and Al Qaeda."

23. The paper added: "The phase Bangladesh is passing through can be taken in two parts. An aspect of it belongs to the early 1990s when the “Islamist” outfits in Pakistan did not offend the conservative Muslim League but were seen as a threat by a liberal PPP (Pakistan People's Party). These days the ruling BNP in Bangladesh is most reluctant to take action against the Islamists as they continue to attack Awami League cadres and communists; but when phase two opens up, the BNP will be equally threatened. The “purifying” dynamic of the Islamists will demand that the BNP bend to the kind of shariah the warriors favour in light of their training in Afghanistan and their “salafi” contact with Al Qaeda. A day will come soon enough when the state of Bangladesh will come under threat from the Islamic warriors it is nowempowering through denial."

24. As predicted by the paper, that day came on August 17,2005, when the two organisations banned in February, 2005, but whose leaders and activists were not arrested, carried out 450 simultaneous explosions all over Bangladesh and thereafter introduced suicide terrorism. Acting in panic, Begum Khalida Zia ordered a round-up of the leaders and activists of these two organisations and their prosecution. She also banned the HUJI (B) in October, 2005, but none of the leaders of HUJI (B) except Mufti Abdul Mannan, who was involved in the attempt to kill Sheikh Hasina, was arrested. Its cadres, many of them trained in Pakistan, remained untouched and no action has been taken against its training infrastructure in Bangladesh territory, which continues to train jihadi terrorist recruits from India, Myanmarand southern Thailand, even by the present military-orchestrated Government.

25. The HUJI of Pakistan is a member of bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF) for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People formed in 1998 and through its branch in Bangladesh, it has been trying to arabise and wahabise the Muslims of Bangladesh, who are in their overwhelming majority descendents of converts from Hinduism, and use them for carrying out its pan-Islamic agenda in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and southern Thailand.

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )