the Name of God
the Bangladeshi-born British envoy, Anwar Chowdhury, the
forenoon of May 21 started without any clue of what was
in the offing. It was 1:35 and a huge crowd of people
greeted Anwar, as he was about to leave the Shrine of
Shahjalal after saying Friday prayers. But as the envoy,
only 18 days into his new job, reached the exit door of
the 700-year-old tomb, a bearded man in his early forties
halted the High Commissioner's way. "The man was
telling Anwar to give him some money," recalls Advocate
Abdul Hai Khan, Anwar Chowdhury's grandfather and a witness
to the mayhem that would follow.
was helping the envoy out of the melee and he smelled
a rat when the man did not get out of their way after
repeated requests. "I grew suspicious. I looked up
at him; the man was well built and was wearing a fashionable
Comillar fatua," he says. This man cannot be a beggar,
Khan thought; so when the High Commissioner told Khan
to give the "beggar" 100 Taka, he said, "Just
look at him Anwar, this person is not at all a beggar."
Don't be so rude nana, Anwar replied. Khan, in turn, obliged
his grandson; the Sylhet-based lawyer reached down for
his purse and handed the beggar a hundred-Taka note.
within seconds, a grenade was thrown at the British High
Commissioner; the bomb hit the parameter wall of the shrine
as he threw it up after it bumped on his lower abdomen.
"Anwar told me, 'Nana, save me; they have thrown
a bomb at us'," Khan recalls. "Within a few
seconds," he continues, "there was a huge bang;
we both fell on the pavement; and I saw blood rolling
on the ground from the High Commissioner's body."
no one has claimed responsibility for the attack; Advocate
Abdul Hai Khan believes it was not at all unexpected.
Only months ago, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) MP Delwar Hossain
Saiedi urged a gathering at the nearby Alyah Madrasah
field to resist what he called bedat (heretical
activities) in the shrine. Four days later, on January
12, a bomb was exploded at the shrine. The police arrested
24 people in connection to the blast; a probe body was
formed headed by the superintendent of the police. But
that committee's report has not yet seen the light of
the day despite repeated extensions of time. No progress
has also been made on nine other blasts that rocked the
north-eastern city since 1997 and have claimed 14 lives.
the last five years 140 have been killed and around 1,000
injured in several bomb blasts that ripped through different
public places across the country. Whoever the perpetrators
are, says security expert Brig-gen Shahedul Anam Khan,
the intention was to create panic and reap political dividend
of these blasts. Khan believes the subsequent governments'
failure to nab the culprits means, "either we are
not capable of doing it or the major political parties
do not want to see the culprits on the dock."
first such blast, in fact, took place in Jessore on March
6, 1999; the Awami League (AL), then at the helm, blamed
the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-backed religious
zealots for the incident. Within two years, terror struck
at the heart of the capital on March 6, 1999; seven Communist
Party members died in simultaneous blasts at the Paltan
Maidan in Dhaka. Two more incidents of blasts jolted the
AL rule that ended in 2001. Though during its five-year-term
the AL government had failed to nab anyone for the blasts,
it could not resist guessing who the culprits were.
BNP, on the other hand, after coming to power, has been
religiously following the path of its predecessor; only
the other way around. The party has been denying the presence
of religious extremists from the very first blast by describing
it as a ploy to damage the country's image abroad. "Sometimes
it sounds as if the BNP has made a policy decision to
deny the link of the zealots to the blasts," says
fact, the BNP-led government banned copies of Time magazine
and Far Eastern Economic Review for portraying Bangladesh
as a hotbed of religious extremism. The most publicised
case in this saga happened in 2002 when two British journalists
from Channel Four came to the country to make a documentary
on the presence of religious extremist outfits in the
country. Zaiba Naz Malik and Bruno Sorrentino were later
released after both of them, according to their lawyer
Ajmal Hossain, "Submitted statements expressing regret
for the situation arising since their arrival in Bangladesh."
The government, however, did not release Selim Samad and
Priscila Raj, who had been assisting them as translators.
men, women and children run for cover (top) after the
huge explosion at the Ramna Batamul during Bangla New
Year celebrations that left nine killed and at least 20
others injured. After the gory incident, while law enforcement
and intelligence agencies collected remainder of the bomb
and other clues to the explosion (left), an army team
had to diffuse another bomb near the Baishakhi gate.
unwavering stand got a jolt within months when several
powerful bombs went off in four movie theatres in Mymensingh.
Within hours of the blasts, the prime minister, alluding
to the AL chief Sheikh Hasina, blamed those "Who
are making anti-Bangladesh campaign at home and abroad."
The PM's comment was followed by the arrest of three Bangladesh
Chatra League members; but the police was yet to arrest
anyone for the blasts.
whole situation is really chaotic," says Brig-Gen
Shahedul Anam. "BNP denies the presence of religious
extremists on our soil because it needs the help of JI
and other religious parties to win elections. The AL,
on the other hand, are using the blasts as a pretext to
label the government as an adobe of religious bigotry,"
he continues. The situation can turn from sad to tragic
within months, he warns; "There is not any place
for religious bigotry and intolerance in the country;
but our failure to curb extremism may give birth to a
looming disaster," the retired army-man warns.
contribution to religious extremism dates back to the
era of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. During the mid
and late eighties, hundreds of Bangladeshis went to the
country to fight for the Mujahidins against what they
considered the communist invasion of an Islamic country'.
Abdur Rauf, leader of Jamiatul Islamia, who was arrested
in Faridpur on September 19 last year with 17 accomplices,
told the police that, like him, about 500 Bangladeshis
went to Afghanistan to fight for the Jihadis, of them
33 died. Many have returned and with them have brought
extremism to a country, which has always prided itself
on its Sufi past.
fact, Jane's Intelligence Review (JIR) in its May 2002
issue says, "Osama bin Laden's February 23, 1998,
fatwa urging jihad against the US was co-signed by two
Egyptian clerics, an unidentified Pakistani and one named
Fazlur Rahman, leader of the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh
(JMB)." The JMB is not believed to be a separate
organisation, the JIR report continues, but a common name
for several groups in Bangladesh, of which Harkat ul Jihad
Islami Bangladesh (HJIB) is considered the biggest and
came under spotlight when the group was charged with planting
two bombs at a meeting that was to be attended by the
then prime minister Sheikh Hasina. "The mission of
HJIB is to establish Islamic rule in Bangladesh,"
a US State Department report says. The group has an estimated
cadre strength of more than several thousand members,
and it operates and trains in at least six camps (in Bangladesh),
says the State Department, which has already listed the
HJIB as a terrorist organisation.
Abdur Rauf who was arrested on September 19 last year
along with 17 accomplices told the police that about 500
Bangladeshis went to Afghanistan, of them 33 died.
has been known about the group and its commander Shauqat
Osman, who is also known as Sheikh Farid. "Originally
the HJIB consisted of Bangladeshis who had fought as volunteers
in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan," the
JIR report says.
government remains conspicuously inactive when different
self-styled vigilante groups have been butchering innocent
people in the name of Islam across the country. The police
have yet to nab any of the members of the so-called Jagrata
Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), which have unleashed
a reign of terror in the southern districts.
the prime minister has ordered the arrest of Bangla Bhai,
the so-called operations commander of the militant outfit,
newspaper reports suggest otherwise. "Two police
officers tipped off Bangla bhai who holed up in an outlying
village in Raninagar (in Naogaon district) where he set
up a vigilante camp to launch 'anti-outlaw drives',"
a Daily Star report says.
government is yet to ban the group even after local dailies
have run stories linking the JMJB with Osama bin Laden's
Al-Qaeda. This indifference, coupled with sheer arrogance
and political myopia, leading the country to an impending