BosNewsLife – Dozens of suspected Islamic militants were in detention Monday, December 5, after police in Bangladesh arrested them over the weekend amid pressure on the government to improve democracy and religious rights for minority Christians.
Up to 70 militants were arrested in police raids in the northern district of Tangail during a gun battle with police, officials said, but there were no reports of injuries. The other detentions, carried out in areas across the country, took the number of suspects, including many students, held in the week to Sunday to at least 200, police said.
Bangladesh has been rocked by a wave of bombings since August 17, blamed on Islamic militants seeking to turn the mainly Muslim nation into a sharia-based Islamic state. Religious rights groups, including Christian Freedom International, have said the government is not doing enough to end the growing influence of Islamic radicals.
However the ruling pro-Islamic Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), elected in October 2001, has suggested it has difficulties facing and dealing with these threats.
In a development that has added to concern among Christians and former Muslims, Bangladesh ‘s leading national Bengali daily newspaper reported recently that the Intelligence Department had informed the government that Islamic militants are planning to attack the largest non-Muslim religious centres in Dhaka .
They were also threatening to kill local and foreign non-Muslim leaders, missionaries, priests, and humanitarian workers and anyone else preaching religion other than Islam. Christianity was to be particularly targeted for the purpose of discrediting the government of Bangladesh in the West, the newspaper reported.
Islamic radicalisation skyrocketed in Bangladesh since October 2001 causing local persecution of Christians and impacting the church, analysts say. The Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) group is also targeting Bangladesh ‘s secular courts and judges, and threatening to continue until Sharia is implemented.
But the JMB warned it would target non-governmental organizations and non-Muslim religious figures and institutions engaged in “anti-Islamic activities”. Bangladesh has reportedly some 172 terror training camps operating on its soil, and JMB has an estimated 2,000-strong suicide squad prepared for operations, BosNewsLife monitored.
In the latest attack last week, Thursday, December 1, a bomb exploded in the town of Gazipur as lawyers were demonstrating near a police checkpoint outside the chief government administrator’s office. Two were killed and 30 were injured, five critically. One of the dead was a policeman; the other is believed to be the suicide bomber. According to Kazi Fazle Rabbi, Gazipur district commissioner, “The suspected bomber … disguised himself as a tea vendor. One of his flasks exploded when police stopped him for checking.”
Earlier on Tuesday November 29, JMB suicide bombers fatally struck law courts in two Bangladeshi cities, killing seven. Around 60 were wounded, 21 of them seriously. The death toll has since risen to ten, news reports said.
The first bombing reportedly took place at 9:05am in Bangladesh ‘s second largest city, the port city of Chittagong . In response to terror threats, police had apparently been posted at the entrance of the court and were checking all visitors. Just before he was to be intercepted at the police checkpoint, the bomber was seen taking an explosive device out of his bag and throwing it at the officers. He then detonated another explosive device strapped to his leg, according to eyewitness accounts. The two policemen were killed and 16 others, including 13 police officers, were injured.
The bomber, who initially survived but later died after losing both his legs and right hand, was identified as 19-year old Abul Bashar. “I attacked the Chittagong court by the order of Allah. I did not do any wrong in carrying out the suicidal attack,” the Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted him as saying. The Bangladesh Independent online news service said police had found a JMB leaflet in his pocket. Chittagong police official Mohammad Majedul Huq said it was handwritten and warned police, judges and lawyers “to stop upholding man-made laws which go against Islam”.
The second bombing rocked Gazipur at 9:40am. The bomber donned a lawyer’s black gown and walked right past police security into the bar library where he detonated his bomb. Three people in the library died immediately and four others died from their wounds soon after in hospital in Dhaka . The suicide bomber’s body was found with wires and bomb parts still strapped to it.
The latest attacks are seen as an escalation of a JBM campaign launched August 17 when it orchestrated a nation-wide terror attack, setting off nearly 500 small improvised explosive devices virtually simultaneously in 63 of Bangladesh ‘s 64 districts. While the devices did not contain shrapnel, they did result in three deaths and left more than 150 injured. Pamphlets found near many of the explosive devices demanded the expulsion of foreign NGOs “engaged in anti-Islamic activities in Muslim countries”.
Intelligence officials say Islamic militants “have reportedly received training from al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and allegedly maintain links with that group.” The British High Commission’s First Secretary in Dhaka, Mike Stevenson, said in a statement seen by BosNewsLife that Manik Hossain, a Muslim extremist identifying himself as a member of “al-Qaeda in South Asia”, has threatened to blow up the UK mission, along with other Western embassies.
The threatening message was sent to the UK Embassy by fax on Sunday November 27, and signed by Manik Hossain of Faridganj 220 kilometers, (140 miles), southeast of Dhaka . Security has now been increased around diplomatic offices in the Bangladeshi
The situation is closely monitored in nearby nations. India’s Border Security Force (BSF) Director General R S Mooshahary told reporters that “the unabated mushrooming of terror camps” in Bangladesh is a sign that the country is becoming “a hub of infiltrators and fundamentalist forces” threatening to destabilise the whole region. “In the long run,”
warned Gen. Mooshahary, ” Bangladesh could be a greater problem than Pakistan going by the shifting of population, massive infiltration bids and mushrooming of terror camps… it has become a hub of drug dealers and smugglers.”
Mooshahary claimed to have recently given Bangladesh a list of 172 terror-training camps. “But their reply is the same every time,” he complained, ” …that no such camps exists on their soil.”