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Bangladesh: Avijit's Murder Heralds Ominous Signs, Bhaskar Roy

C3S Paper No. 0055/ 2015

The assassination of Avijit Roy on Dhaka university campus on February 26 is a message to the secular and free thinking society of Bangladesh that the forces of religious intolerant groups are rising at a pace that even the Jamaatul Mujahidin Bangladesh(JMB) could not attain during the BNP-JEI rule from 2001-2006.

During their government, the BNP-JEI combine had a certain accountability to the international community. Today, in the opposition, they have a free hand in creating havoc and raising a new state within the state in Bangladesh that aims to rule by terror. Their excuse, fresh elections to rectify a so-called “flawed” election in which the BNP and its 20-party alliance declined to take part.

Avijit Roy, a 42- year old American citizen of Bangladeshi origin was returning from the “Ekushey” book fair, held in commemoration of the “21 February 1952” language movement that sowed the seeds of East Pakistan’s (Now Bangladesh) separation from West Pakistan (now Pakistan) leading to the Liberation war of 1971. Roy’s wife, Rafida Ahmed Banna, was seriously injured in the incident.

Avijit Roy, who lived in Atalanta, USA, was in Dhaka to attend the “Ekushey” book fair, where two of his recent books were on sale. Of his several books “The Philosophy of Disbelief” and “The Virus of Faith” received critical appreciation across the world. He also ran a website “Mokto-Mona” (freedom of Thought). A prolific writer promoting freedom of thought, religious tolerance, humanism and secularism, Roy became a target of Islamist terrorist groups. He had received several threats to his life before he was killed.

Roy’s father, Dr. Ajoy Roy, a retired physics lecturer of Dhaka University, stood by his son’s belief and work. His life is also under terrorist threat.

A group called Ansar Bangla 7 claimed responsibility for Avijit’s murder. The Police are not yet sure about this group, or whether it is a faction of Ansarullah Bangla  Team (ABT), a known terrorist organization. ABT was involved in the 2013 assassination of Rajib Haider, another secularist and anti-Islamic activist. Another well known terrorist group, Ansar al Islam claimed responsibility for killing Prof. Shafiqul Islam of Rajshahi University in 2004.

A spokesman from the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) announced that a suspect, Farabi Shafiur Reheman was arrested on February 2. He is allegedly a member of the banned Islamist outfit Hizb-ut-Tehrir (HUT).

On taking over as Prime Minister in January 2009, Sk. Hasina promised to oust terrorism from the country. Very high priority was given to this task and significant success achieved initially.

The terrorists went underground at first, but have recently come out aggressively, almost without fear. How did this transition take place? This could not have happened without financial and institutional support, and indoctrination in its new form, which makes organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda attractive to young men and women who are being blinded and brain-washed to follow the dream of an Islamic caliphate in Bangladesh. The old theory that poverty leads to extremism is no longer valid.

A UK – based international NGO, Muslim Aid, was closed down last month in Bangladesh for funding Rohingya Muslims for questionable activities in Teknaf near the border with Myanmar. A former Chairman of Muslim Aid, Chaudhury Mueen-Uddin has been sentenced for his involvement in crimes again humanity during the liberation war of 1971. Another UK- based NGO, Blue Crescent was expelled from Bangladesh a few years ago.

The Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) is suspected to be the kingpin. Its association with the ISI is well known, and it has been debarred as a political party for its refusal to abide by the Election Commission laws and constitution of Bangladesh. The JEI itself is a conglomerate with business interests and social work institutions all over the country.

It is suspected that the JEI and its students’ wing, the Islamic Chhatra Shibir (ICS) are coordinating most of these terrorist groups. The JEI’s stated objective is to bring in Shariya rule in the country and form a confederation with Pakistan.

The international community especially the US, UK and EU have condemned the assassination of Avijit Roy. Bangladesh has accepted the US offer of assistance in the investigation.

A brief note on the background of the outburst of radical Islamism and terrorism in Bangladesh. Army Chief and President Zia-ur-Rehman lifted Bangladesh’s ban on the JEI and the ICS in 1978. Both these linked organizations were banned because of their cooperation with Pakistani forces and crimes against humanity. Several of their leaders are being tried for their crimes currently.

Radical Islam reared its head when some 40,000 Bangladeshi jihadists returned after fighting against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. The Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HUJI) was formed in Dhaka in 1998. Their slogan was “We are all Taliban, Bangladesh will be Afghanistan”.

The Jamatul Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB) was formed the same year. The Awami League which was in power then can be faulted for not taking decisive action against these outfits.

When the BNP-JEI combine with two other parties came to power in 2001, it was open season for the terrorists. Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and JEI Amir Matiur Reheman Nizami initially even denied the existence of the JMB. Terrorist groups were used as political weapons, much in the way Pakistan has been using terrorist organizations like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), Jaish-e-Mohammad and others as political and foreign policy assets.

According to eminent Bangladeshi scholar and researcher Prof. Abul Barkat (2006), of the 125 Islamic militant organizations or supporters of militancy, most belong to the Moududi School, the JEI and ICS, Islami Oikyo Jote (IOJ), the Quami Madrassa or to the Taliban School controlled by ISI.

According to former Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Shafi Sami (2005), Bangladeshi fundamentalists had trained around 50,000 cadres with financial and technical assistance from Al Qaeda. Sami identified groups like HUJI, JMB, Hizbut Touheed, Shadat-e-Hikma, Shadat-e-Nabuwat and ICS.

Available statistics between 1997 – 2005 record the following terrorist funding figures.

Al Harmain Foundation brought in approximately $ 34 million between 1997-2001. The Kuwaiti Revival of Islami Heritage Society (RIHS) brought in about $ 25 million annually till it was banned in 2005. The RIHS was closely associated with JMB, JMJB and Sadat-e-Hikma. Pakistani national Mohammad Sajid who was arrested in 1999 for an attempt on the life of poet Shamsur Rehman, confessed he had received some 200 crore Taka ((approx $ 34 million) from Osama Bin Laden affiliated organizations. The money was distributed among 421 Quami Madrassas to train HUJI terrorists.

It would be pertinent to mention that the former commander of HUJI, Mufti Hannan, confessed to planning the grenade attack on Sk. Hasina on August 21, 2004. He also named BNP minister Altaf Hossain Choudhury, Ruhul Quddus Talukdar Dulu and others as conspirators. Terrorist links go up to Begum Khaleda Zia’s elder son Tareque Reheman, and even to the Begum herself. Lutffozaman Babar, Khaleda Zia’s Minister for Home Affairs, is in jail for aiding and abetting terrorists, especially the JMB.

What make things more alarming is the fact that a diplomatic officer from the Pakistani High Commission was arrested in Dhaka recently for funding and tasking terrorist groups including the JEI. Following this, the head of Pakistani International Airlines (PIA) in Dhaka was deported by the authorities after his house was searched.

The agitation against the Awami League led government in Dhaka is nearing the brink. More than 100 people have died in arson since the prostests began on January 6. Hurling country made bombs including petrol bombs is no civil protest movement. It is terrorism. Several JEI and ICS cadre along with some BNP members have been arrested in this connection. Terrorist literature including videos of ISIS have been recovered.

A new entrant is the HUT, a banned organization, which attempted a military uprising or coup against Sk. Hasina. Very briefly, Bangladesh appears to be bursting at the seams. Given the directions  that the ISIS and Al Qaeda affiliates are taking, it is not only South Asia or India that is at grave risk. The west is too because some of these organizations, like the HUT and Muslim Aid have their roots and sympathizers in  the UK, Europe and the US.

The JMB had first established its branch in Murshidabad, India in 2004. Following the recent bomb blasts, bomb making units and indoctrination activities have been unearthed in different parts of India. The HUT showed its face in New Delhi during the Batla House incident on September 19, 2008 in New Delhi.  The HUT is particularly dangerous as it quietly works among the educated, officers in the government and the armed force.

What the west, especially the US, UK and EU can do is to try and out off terrorist funding in Bangladesh. These outfits including the JEI and ICS cannot be treated as moderate “Muslims” but organizations of terrorists and violent extremists. It for President Barack Obama to walk his talk to his recent counter-terrorism conference.

Note: The writer is a New Delhi based strategic analyst.  He can be reached at e-mail

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