An audiovisual message purported to be from al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has urged the Muslims in Bangladesh to wage an intifada (popular uprising) to confront the “crusader onslaught against Islam”.
Posted in Jihadology.net, the message alleged thousands of people were being killed in the streets of Bangladesh for protesting the “collusion of the anti-Islam secular government with a bunch of transgressing secularists”.
"I invite you to lead the masses in a vast and inclusive popular uprising (intifada) whose tide dose not recede, nor its dynamism subsides, until the Shariah of Islam governs the land of Islam, instead of being governed over,” it went on.
Titled “Bangladesh: A Massacre behind a Wall of Silence”, the message was released on January 14, but it surfaced in the media only yesterday.
In it, the voice of an unseen narrator is placed over still images including Zawahiri's and video clips along with English subtitle. Not a single shot does show the al-Qaeda chief speaking on camera.
Jihadology, which describes itself as a clearinghouse for Jihadi source materials, said this was a new message of Zawahiri and it was presented by As-Saḥab, known as the media house of al-Qaeda.
The Daily Star could not independently verify the authenticity of the message.
The government was communicating with counterterrorism partners like the US and the UK to verify whether the voice was indeed of Zawahiri, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam told this newspaper yesterday.
Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician, took the helm of the much-feared global militant organisation after US Navy SEALS killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.
The audiovisual material starts with photographs from the May 5, 2013 Hefajat-e Islam rally in Dhaka and the subsequent crackdown by law enforcers on it.
"A massacre of Muslims is being carried out these days, and the Muslim world is totally oblivious to it. The western media is colluding with the killers to belittle its significance and hide the facts," the message said.
“Hundreds of callers to the religion and scholars are also facing hardships, manhunts, imprisonment, trials, death sentences and life imprisonments without any guilt,” it said.
"My Muslim brothers in Bangladesh, I invite you to confront this crusader onslaught against Islam, which is being orchestrated by the leading criminals in the subcontinent and the West…
The release went on, "Bangladesh is the victim of the conspiracy in which the agents of India, the corrupt leadership of the Pakistan army, and treacherous power hungry politicians of Bangladesh and Pakistan, who are always prepared to sacrifice everything for the sake of fulfilling their ambitions and desires, were all equal participants."
Turning to the Liberation War, 1971, the message said, "Their purpose was not independence from Pakistan, stopping the aggression against the people of Bangladesh, or getting rid of military rule in Pakistan." The real purpose was weakening the Muslim Ummah in the subcontinent, the release claimed.
Bangladesh is being turned into "a subjugated surrogate of India", it also said.
"Those who massacred the Muslims in Bangladesh only yesterday are the same people who are massacring the Muslims in Pakistan today. Similarly, those who allied with India against Pakistan by claiming that they sought to defend the honour and sanctities of Bengalis are the same people who are attacking the sanctities, beliefs, honour, lives and properties of Bengalis today."
While accusing the media for downplaying the alleged attacks, he also criticised the West for remaining "unmoved".
The events in Bangladesh enjoy the blessings of both India and America, "since their interests in fighting Islam overlap, and this is why their bilateral relations are becoming stronger day by day".
When people of Afghanistan, Mali, and Somalia "decide to implement” Shariah", "they are then met with a full-fledged military onslaught, in which the leading international criminals and their local surrogates take part".
"But when Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasrin and Ali Rajib Haider insult Islam, the Prophet of Islam (pbuh), and the beliefs of Islam, they are treated as heroes who must be defended, honoured, and given awards," said the al-Qaeda chief.
Comparing the situation in Bangladesh with the attacks on Muslims in Myanmar, he said, "The events in Bangladesh and Burma are not too distant from the oppression and killings of Muslims in Kashmir or the racial cleansing in Assam, Gujarat and Ahmadabad either."
'GOVT NOT FRIGHTENED'
Bangladesh has worked with different countries to combat terrorism and gradually built its capacity to deal with the issue in the last five years, State Minister Shahriar told The Daily Star.
"Our efforts and successes in the arena of counterterrorism have been praised by many countries and international platforms. I hope that our partners will continue cooperating with us in this regard."
He alleged the BNP-Jamaat alliance was making political efforts to belittle Bangladesh and it has been instigating international terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda by its irresponsible comments and activities.
The opposition alliance has chosen the path of terrorism as it failed to do anything democratically, Shahriar said. "They carried out terrorist activities before the parliamentary election and now they are issuing threats through the international terror groups like al-Qaeda."
BNP leaders in Brussels urged the European Union to suspend Bangladesh's trade privileges in the market but their effort went futile, said the state minister.
The recent filing of a complaint against Bangladesh with the International Criminal Court (ICC) was also not by coincidence, he added.
British lawyer Toby Cadman, who represented the Jamaat-e-Islami, filed the complaint on February 14, urging the ICC to conduct an investigation into "the persecution of political foes by the government".
The complaint was filed 10 days after BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia in a press briefing cited imaginary figures of unnatural deaths. "The complaint quoted those imaginary figures," Shahriar said.
Asked about the government's next course of action regarding the complaint, he said, "We have learnt about it unofficially and are preparing to respond to it. We will prove that the accusation is false once the ICC informs us of it formally."
Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury said the government was neither taking the so-called al-Qaeda threat lightly nor giving it too much importance. "The government is not frightened by the threat."
Meanwhile, State Minister for Home Asaduzzaman Khan told the BBC Bangla service that he had not heard of the audio message but "I would say regarding this that we are always alert to the matter and that we will never allow the rise of terrorism in our country."
Asked about the post, Senior Home Secretary CQK Mustaq Ahmed said they are looking into it.
Also, Director General of the Rapid Action Battalion Mokhlesur Rahman said the al-Qaeda chief's so-called statement did not go with the real picture in Bangladesh. “The situations in Bangladesh and Afghanistan are not the same."
The law enforcement agencies are always ready to deal with such threats, the official added.