UNMASKING TERRORISTS IN BANGLADESH
Jamaat-e-Islami disguises its violent extremism with political legitimacy
The dreaded Islamic State has redrawn sovereign borders in the sands of the Middle East and North Africa, and the threat it and other terrorist organizations pose around the world is serious and growing. To confront and defeat these international terrorists, top U.S. lawmakers and executive branch officials have been working overtime to find new allies and strategies.
One Muslim nation, Bangladesh, can be relied on to stand tall against homegrown and foreign-produced terrorists. As a proud ally of the United States, Bangladesh is widely viewed as a secular, democratic model for all of South Asia and a stalwart in the war against the scourge of terror. A primary perpetrator of terrorism in Bangladesh is the radical Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami.
Police in Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka recently raided a second-floor apartment and discovered 20 crudely assembled explosive devices, 25 bamboo bludgeons and extremist literature linked to Jamaat-e-Islami. Police described the bombs as “very powerful,” and that, sadly, was typical. Such homemade explosives have long been a hallmark of Jamaat-e-Islami’s terror attacks.
According to authorities, the devices were specifically designed to inflict severe injury on innocent citizens who work for humble wages in the ready-made garment industry. The timing of the attack, police said, was, ironically, the Islamic holiday Eid-ul-Azha, the Festival of Sacrifice.
Targeting peaceful civilian populations is nothing new for Jamaat-e-Islami, which has frequently and ruthlessly engendered violence against leaders of opposing political parties, Hindu minorities and security forces ever since Bangladesh’s War of Independence in 1971. During that bloody conflict, members of Jamaat collaborated with Pakistani soldiers to slaughter an estimated 3 million people, rape 200,000 women and force the exodus of tens of millions.
The recently foiled terror plot follows a wave of extremist violence that has rankled Bangladesh in recent years. The hacking deaths of four secular bloggers made international headlines and many close observers of Bangladesh were not surprised to learn that most the slain bloggers had written in favor of capital punishment for Jamaat-e-Islami leaders convicted of war crimes by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT). In recent years, Jamaat-e-Islami has ramped up its terror activities in response to the ICT’s rulings, setting off hundreds of bombs across the country. Children as well as adults have been killed as a result.
Thirteen Jamaat leaders have been detained in connection with the recently found explosives, including two former high-ranking members of Parliament. Local media have reported that the former MPs were, in effect, running the party at the time. If true, the incident provides additional evidence that Bangladesh is grappling with a resurgent, radical, terrorist organization that is masquerading as a legitimate political party.
This upswing in extremist violence is all the more troubling because it coincides with the expansion of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. Last September, in a 55-minute video circulated on the Internet, the nominal head of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, called on Bangladeshis to “raise the flag of jihad” across South Asia. The government of Bangladesh is trying to make sure this doesn’t happen.
Jamaat’s leadership makes no attempt to mask its organization’s aims. It and its partners have enticed young “student” recruits and seek to establish an Islamic theocratic state in Bangladesh. Like al Qaeda, with which it continues to collaborate, Jamaat has proven that it will do so by any means available.
The United States and other western nations need a stable, terror-free South Asia. Bangladesh stands as a beacon for the region in this regard — peaceful and democratic, governed by secular laws. A strong, thriving Bangladesh should be central to U.S. foreign policy in the region because it enhances national security and economic interests. As a result, the United States should not hesitate to call Jamaat-e-Islami what it is — a foreign terrorist organization.
Sajeeb Wazed is chief information technology adviser to the Bangladesh government and the son of the prime minister.
SEPTEMBER 15, 2015