Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
For some years, rights groups and one of the two main political parties in Bangladesh and their Islamist-jihadist cohorts are making frantic bids in drawing the attention of the international community to the fact of “forced disappearances”. While several international rights groups had already accepted this propaganda of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its political darling Jamaat-e-Islami (JeB), a team of investigative journalists have already unearthed the mystery of this disappearance propaganda of BNP and JeB.
In April 2012, BNP and JeB succeeded in drawing attention of the international community when a top-ranking leader of BNP went into hiding. M Ilias Ali, a well-known kingpin of the armed unit of the party is facing dozens of criminal cases in Bangladesh. While BNP blamed law enforcing agencies for “picking up” their leader from Dhaka’s Banani area, locals told Dhaka’s largest English newspaper The Daily Star during a spot visit that they did not see anyone picking up either Ilias or the driver. They just noticed an abandoned car with all its doors flung wide open.
According to several sources, M Ilias Ali might have fled Bangladesh and went to Pakistan via land route. Another source said, Ilias Ali is hiding in any of the north-eastern states in India. But, since he went fled the country, BNP has been repeatedly trying to brand this case of fleeing as a case of forced disappearance.
Such ill motivated propaganda of forced disappearances got exposed when another prominent leader of BNP, Salahuddin Ahmed went missing. Salahuddin, a member of the BNP’s policymaking body National Standing Committee, was spotted in India days after his wife Hasina Ahmed alleged at the time that a group of men identifying themselves as the “detective police” led him away from home. Ahmed was known for sending political statements from his hideaway for more than a month calling for BNP supporters to continue anti-government protests.
Sitting in India, Salahuddin Ahmed has been secretly funding radical Islamic militancy group named Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh, which is believed to be ideologically affiliated with ISIS. Salahuddin himself is a strong supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah.
The case of a militant kingpin:
Although rights group had earlier wrongly portrayed the case of fleeing of Maj (Sacked) Syed Mohammad Ziaul Hoque as a case of disappearance, later it was revealed that, Ziaul Hoque, one of the main plotters of the foiled 2011 coup d’état attempt in Bangladesh. He is currently a top military commander of the Al-Qaeda linked Ansar Al Islam, who has carried out a number of terror attacks in Bangladesh including murder of secular individuals, bloggers and LGBT activists.
The cases of Bangladeshis joining ISIS:
According to information available with various think tanks and counterterrorism experts, unknown number of Bangladeshis have secretly fled the country and joined ISIS in Syria.
Md. Ashekur Rahman Zilani aka Jandal aka Abu Jandal Al Bangali. His father is Col (Retd) Mohammad Mashiur Rahman. Zilani joined the ISIS and was killed in Syria in July 2015.
Sifat Haque Sujan, a Bangladeshi-born ISIS fighter traveled to Syria from United Kingdom via Bangladesh. He was killed on December 10, 2015 by US drone attack in Syria.
Ataul Hoque Sobuj was hiding at Merida, Spain since 2015 and was arrested by the CTIB and Spanish Police on September 22, 2017.
Saifullah Ojaki, a Bangladeshi born Japanese citizen had fled from Japan and has joined ISIS. Ojaki currently is in Syria.
Another ISIS member Rezwan Harun had established Lakehead Grammar School (LGS) in Bangladesh. This school was the breeding ground of jihadists. Several students of LGS were involved in the jihadist attack at the Holy Artisan Bakery in Dhaka in 2016. Rezwan Harun currently is absconding though his family members are falsely claiming Rezwan to have been “picked up” by the members of the law enforcing agencies.
Bangladeshi jihadists fleeing the country:
Quoting Western media, Bangladeshi newspaper Blitz has published a report titled ‘ISIS, HuJI and Middle Eastern terrorists among migrants in the caravan’, where the newspaper said, “Islamic State (ISIS), Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh and Taliban terrorists have hidden among migrants attempting to enter the United States illegally, a report confirmed.”
Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh or HUJI-B is an outlawed jihadist group comprising Afghanistan and Palestine repatriated Bangladeshi fighters. This group is involved in several terrorist activities including bomb attack on the Bangladeshi Prime Minister.
The case of North South University (NSU):
North South University is located in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh. For years, several students of NSU were arrested or identified as jihadists who have connections with banned outfits like Ansar Al Islam, Hizbut Tahrir, Hizbut Towheed, Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh, Jamaat e Islami etc. This private university is owned by one of the leaders of Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
Recently, one of the ex-students of NSU, Momena Shoma has been arrested in Australia on terror charges. Her younger sister Asmaul Husna (aka Sumona) too is a jihadist and both the sisters are connected to ISIS. Eminent scholar and counterterrorism expert Daniel Pipes has written a detailed article on the cases of Momena Shoma and her sister.
The myth of forced disappearance:
Although pro-radical Islam, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its political darling Jamaat e Islami Bangladesh are trying to portray each of the cases of the fleeing of local jihadists and criminals as forced disappearance, according to newspaper reports, this nexus in reality are conspiring of filling a false case with the International Criminal Court (ICC) against the Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government. This nexus even has hired lobbyists in exchange of huge sum of fees with the agenda of maligning the image of the ruling Awami League and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Support from the foreign media:
Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat e Islami jointly are planning to hold several press conferences, rallies and demonstrations in Bangladesh as well as foreign countries, including the head quarters of the United Nations and International Criminal Court demanding “international interference” into the “cases of forced disappearances” in Bangladesh.
This nexus has already attained sympathy of a number of international media including Al Jazeera, while pro-Pakistan media are enthusiastically extending full coverage in favour of wrong propaganda.
Rise of radical Islamic militancy in Bangladesh:
Bangladesh achieved independence in 1971 and established a secular democratic state, which is home to over 163,000,000 Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Ahmadiyas, Bahais, Ismailiyas, Jews and atheists. According to a recently place bi-partisan resolution (House Resolution 1156) in the United States Congress, “…..religious minorities were targeted by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Jamaat-e-Islami, and Islami Chhatra Shibir, during previous elections, as a result of which 495 Hindu homes were damaged, 585 shops were attacked or looted, and 169 temples were vandalized between November 2013 and January 2014,” Bangladesh is scheduled for another general election on December 30, 2018.
According to this resolution, while Jamaat-e-Islami activists have been involved in recent attacks on religious minorities in Bangladesh, another pro-Caliphate group (similar as ISIS) – -Hefazat-e-Islam is organizing a movement to fundamentally transform Bangladesh from a secular democracy into a totalitarian theocracy. It has threatened to carry out an armed jihad against the Government of Bangladesh if its demands are not met.
NATO Allied Land Command leader General John W. Nicholson has expressed growing concern regarding al-Qaida activities in Bangladesh. There is a growing trend of Islamic extremism in Bangladesh tied to pro-Islamic State of Iraq and Syria activity, with several arrests of Islamists linked with the terrorist group made in recent years.
Philadelphia-based think tank, the Middle East Forum (MEF) which is dedicated to defining American interests in the Middle East and protecting America from Islamist threats in a recent statement said, “Jamaat-e-Islami is an influential and dangerous Islamist group with a long history of violence. MEF’s research has revealed that its front-groups raise millions in the United States and employ lobbyists in the Capitol. Jamaat-e-Islami poses a great threat to the West,” said Sam Westrop, director of MEF’s Islamist Watch.
“Yet, unlike Al-Qaeda, ISIS, or the Muslim Brotherhood, very few people in America, even in Washington, have so much as heard of it,” it added.
On January 1, 2018, President Trump tweeted that Pakistan gives “safe haven to the terrorists.” The State Department subsequently suspended over a billion dollars of security assistance and military funding to the country. The suspension of this aid is both welcome and long overdue. For decades, elements within Pakistan’s government have openly supported America’s most virulent enemies, including funding and training the Afghani Taliban and sheltering Osama bin Laden. Today, the country continues to provide support and sanctuary for the perpetrators of terrorist attacks against the U.S. and its allies. But if the Trump administration is determined to cripple Pakistan’s support for Islamist terror, it cannot limit its focus to South Asia; it must also confront Pakistan’s Islamist proxies in the U.S.
One of the most important Islamist networks running America’s Muslim communities today is Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). Founded in British India in 1941 by the prominent Islamist theorist Abul Ala Maududi, JI maintains branches in dozens of countries across the globe. In 1971, JI terrorists helped Pakistani forces murder hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis fighting for freedom from Pakistani rule. In the decades since, Jamaat e Islami has been complicit in violence across the subcontinent. As a result, the U.S. government has designated the head of JI’s paramilitary wing in Pakistan and Kashmir, Syed Salahuddin, as a “global terrorist.”
According to research conducted by the Middle East Forum, despite JI’s violence, its front groups in America have flourished — enjoying partnerships with government, praise from politicians and journalists, and funding from prominent charitable foundations.
One of the most important American JI organizations is an international aid charity named Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD). Founded in 2005, HHRD was annually raising an astonishing $40 million by 2015.
HHRD is openly connected to terror. In December 2017, HHRD organized a conference at a government-run college in the Pakistani city of Timergara. Other organizations sponsoring the event included the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation and the Milli Muslim League, the charitable and political wings respectively of the notorious Pakistani terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba. In 2016, the U.S. government designated the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation as a terrorist organization. Today Hafiz Saeed, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba and the mastermind behind the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks, lives freely in Pakistan, despite a $10 million U.S. bounty.
When HHRD is not meeting with designated terrorist organizations, it can usually be found partnering with JI charities that are also closely linked to terrorism. Another sponsor of the HHRD conference in December was a Pakistani charity named Al-Khidmat, which is the main charitable wing of JI. According to the Indian BBC journalist Subir Bhaumik, Al-Khidmat “aids militancy and helps to support the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Jamaat’s armed wing and other groups.” In 2006, JI announced that Al-Khidmat sent 6 million rupees ($100,000) to Hamas for their “just Jihad.” HHRD is currently working with Al-Khidmat on a number of projects.
But HHRD is not just connected to JI through charitable partnerships and conferences. A look at HHRD’s American staff and officials reveals that they openly identify as JI operatives.
Mohsin Ansari, for example, is the chairman of HHRD. He is an alumnus of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami’s branch in Pakistan. Today he runs a “networking” group for its graduates in the United States.
Ansari frequently promotes JI on his Facebook account, attends JI rallies and events in America, Europe, and Pakistan, and has approvingly shared photos of Jamaat-e-Islami rallies in Pakistan at which the crowds wave placards reading: “Death to Israel. Death to America.”
Ansari also devotes dozens of Facebook posts to praising JI terrorist operatives convicted for their roles in the 1971 mass killings, claiming that the “Pakistani nation will remember these heroes for centuries to come.”
He even boasts of meeting with the son of a JI war criminal, Motiur Rahman Nizami, whom Bangladesh’s International War Crimes Tribunal convicted of genocide, rape, and torture, and who was subsequently executed for his crimes. But Ansari assured his Facebook followers that the war criminal Nizami had been a mujahid [holy warrior] and remains a shaheed [martyr].
Ansari’s social-media accounts are replete with extremist rhetoric and praise for other Islamist causes. He has frequently expressed support for Turkey’s Islamist president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, at one point exclaiming that Erdoğan’s party, the AKP, is in power despite the “power brokers of the world, the liberal anti Muslim media headed by Jews.”
HHRD’s CEO, Raza Farrukh, also openly affiliates with JI. While serving as the head of HHRD, he took pride in meeting with JI’s Pakistani deputy leader Khurshid Ahmad at a meeting in Pakistan organized by HHRD’s partner, Al-Khidmat. Ahmad has previously described the Taliban as “refulgent and splendid” and has written about the “implication of Europe’s being in the clasp of Jews.”
Despite its partnerships with terrorist organizations and its officials’ promotion of extremism, HHRD has long enjoyed non-Muslim support. HHRD reveals that its donors include the British government, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, and prominent American corporations such as Microsoft, Cisco, PepsiCo, and Dell.
In 2013, HHRD announced that it had been named one of the “top ten” charities in America. That same year, the U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management informed HHRD that it would be included on the government’s Combined Federal Campaign list, a workplace-giving program that enables federal-government employees to donate from their salaries to HHRD.
HHRD is not the sole JI organization operating in America. It is just one component of a powerful network of JI groups coordinated by an organization named the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA). ICNA has openly identified itself as a JI organization on a number of occasions. Other ICNA-run organizations include another aid organization named ICNA Relief (formerly run by HHRD chairman Mohsin Ansari) and a youth wing named Young Muslims.
Since ICNA’s founding in 1968, its leaders have included Ashrafuzzaman Khan, who during the 1971 Liberation War in Bangladesh served as commander-in-chief of a JI militia group. In 2013, Bangladesh’s International War Crimes Tribunal found Khan guilty of abducting and murdering 18 Bangladeshi intellectuals. Khan was sentenced to death in abstentia for his role in the genocide.
These ties to war criminals are enduring. In 2016, HHRD chairman and former ICNA Relief head Mohsin Ansari revealed that ICNA and its offshoots were asked to organize funeral prayers for the aforementioned JI war criminal, Motiur Rahman Nizami.
ICNA and its offshoots also promote extremism at home. Its annual symposium in Chicago is one of the largest conferences in the American Muslim calendar. The conference frequently features JI operatives and some of America’s most extreme and bigoted Muslim clerics. ICNA’s youth wing, Young Muslims, operates in mosques all across America and teaches extremist Islamist tracts to Muslim youth.
In spite of its extremist associations, in 2016 ICNA received a grant of over $1.3 million from the Department of Homeland Security. ICNA Relief is also included in the U.S. government’s workplace-giving program. Other JI front groups in Pakistan have secured another $2 million in U.S. government grants since 2013.
There is no doubt that HHRD, ICNA, and their various offshoots are proxies for Jamaat-e-Islami. The U.S. government’s designation of JI’s military wing as a terrorist organization also leaves no doubt that JI is a violent Islamist network. Its front groups in the subcontinent and the West are funding Hamas, working with designated terrorist groups, instilling Islamist ideas in young western Muslims, usurping the leadership of American Muslim communal institutions, and using charitable giving to sanitize JI’s reputation and further its pernicious agenda.
What the United States and Western policymakers should do?
United States, European Union, Britain, Australia and even Canada should in unison extend fullest support towards Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her party in continuing Bangladesh’s ongoing offensives against radical Islamic militancy. Unless Sheikh Hasina gets such crucial support forthwith, radical Islamic parties like Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Jamaat e Islami etc may come to power during the upcoming general election by cashing on the popular opinion in favour of radical Islam.
As an award-winning anti militancy journalist, I am making an appeal to the Western policymakers, particularly President Donald Trump and members of his administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser John Bolton, advisers to the President Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to take note of the Bangladesh case for the same of saving this country from going into the grips of radical Islam.