The Rapid Action Battalion yesterday arrested a youth in Tangail for “spreading” online the audiovisual message purportedly from al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri calling upon Muslims in Bangladesh to wage intifada (popular uprising).
The arrestee, Rasel Bin Sattar Khan, 21, is a seventh-semester student of Tangail Textile Institute. He was picked up in a raid on a private mess in the town's Majhipara around 2:00am.
The elite crime busters claimed the message was first uploaded on November 30 last year in dawahilallah.wordpress.com, a blog operated by the Pakistan-based Balakot Media.
Though little is known about Balakot Media, The Daily Star has found many jihadi posts presented in the name of the organisation.
“6 April 5 May 6 May and realisation of Bangladesh”, an audio clip posted in mujahideenmedia.wordpress.com, is one of such items. It slams the Shahbagh movement, Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League government and brands them as enemies of Islam. It also claims at least 3,000 Muslims were killed during the crackdown on Hefajat-e Islam activists in Motijheel in the early hours of May 6, 2013.
Interestingly, the audiovisual message said to be Zawahiri's starts with photographs from a rally of Hefajat-e Islam, a Qawmi madrasa-based radical organisation.
The Hefajat, however, denies links with the post.
During a press briefing at the Rab headquarters in the afternoon, Rasel admitted he circulated the clip through his Facebook page and blogs.
“I have shared the dawahilallah link of the Zawahiri clip in amardeshvabna.blogpost.com and my Facebook page. I admit I am partly responsible for publicising the link in Bangladesh,” he said.
“I have long been following dawahilallah.wordpress.com. So, I receive email from its admin whenever anything is posted or uploaded in the blog.”
He received an email notification to his ID firstname.lastname@example.org from the Pakistani blog about the so-called Zawahiri message.
Rab officials said the clip was once again uploaded in dawahilallah.wordpress.com on February 4, this time with the title “Bangladesh: Genocide behind a Wall of Silence”.
On February 8 this year, Rasel uploaded this message under the title “Silent Genocide in Bangladesh” in his blog islameralo.wordpress.com.
In the meantime, Jihadology, which describes itself as a clearinghouse for Jihadi source materials, released the item on January 14, saying this was a new message of Zawahiri and it was presented by As-Saḥab, known as the media house of al-Qaeda.
This time the title was “Bangladesh: A Massacre behind a Wall of Silence”. However, it surfaced in the mainstream media not until February 15.
On May 7 last year, Rab said, a message from email@example.com was sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, an e-mail ID of the then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Its title was “Mass killing on protesters in Dhaka at night by armed Joint Forces at least killed thousand.”
Rasel claimed he removed some IDs from the admin panels of his blogs for their jihadi write-ups. He, however, admitted many of his Facebook friends write posts in favour of Jamaat-e-Islam and militancy.
At the briefing, Rab Media Wing Director Habibur Rahamn said Rasel spread the audiovisual message through several Facebook IDs and page basherkella2 and blogs.
“He is an IT expert and very active with Facebook and blogs -- amardeshvabna.blogpost.com, islameralo.wordpress.com and amardeshvabna.wordpress.com. He was very active to have the message widely circulated.”
Through spreading the message, Rasel had tarnished the country's image and violated the ICT Act, the Rab official added.
During yesterday's raid, the Rab seized three cell phones and many jihadi books from his possession.
Two hours later, in a separate raid at his village home in Kaliganj upazila of Gazipur, the elite force seized two laptops and some Islamic books, said Rasel's relative Bilkis Begum over the phone. She added that Rasel's family members who were present during the raid went into hiding afterwards.
The Rab said it had found documents on militancy in the laptops.
Rasel used to live an isolated life, mess owner Mizanur Rahman told The Daily Star.
Rasel rented a room at the mess in January 2011. “The Rab members came to my house around 1:45am and picked him up from his room. The law enforcers also seized three mobile phone sets and some religious books,” Mizanur said.
“Rasel used to remain absent from his room, and his parents never came to the mess to see their son in the last three years,” he said.
Seven more students -- two second-year students and five first-year students -- of Tangail Textile Institute live in the other three rooms of the mess.
The government has yet to confirm whether the message was indeed from the al-Qaeda chief. Additional home secretary Kamal Uddin Ahmed said the authorities were still working to verify its authenticity.
But ruling Awami League Publicity Secretary and ex-minister Hasan Mahmud, who was dropped from Sheikh Hasina's new cabinet, believes the clip was Zawahiri's.
“So far as I know the clip was released from Arizona in the US. I think it was Zawahiri's on behalf of al-Qaeda,” Hasan told reporters at the AL president's political office in Dhanmondi yesterday afternoon.
However, talking to The Daily Star, State Minister for Home Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said, “We just can't deny we failed to notice the clip when it first surfaced online. There may have been some weaknesses in our monitoring system.”
He said a cell would soon be set up at the home ministry only to monitor writings about Bangladesh on the internet.
“We are going to hold a meeting of the cabinet committee on law and order on Thursday. The audiovisual message will be one of the topics there. We will also discuss the formation of the cell at the meeting.”
He also said all government agencies had been put on alert.