Born-again JMB far more dangerous
Banned in 2005 and subsequently broken down, the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) took only nine years to reorganise. This time, the born-again militant outfit is far more radicalised and fearsome.
The Neo JMB, as called by law enforcers, is now inspired by the ideology of Islamic State, skilled in modern technology and equipped with sophisticated firearms.
It is capable of causing damage more than the old JMB which a decade ago carried out suicide bombing and synchronised blasts across the country.
The Neo JMB emerged in 2014 after IS burst onto the international scene. But it drew law enforcers' attention only after committing a grisly bank heist in Ashulia in April last year, leaving eight people dead, said police sources.
Investigators say the Neo JMB is responsible for the July 1 Gulshan café siege in which 20 hostages, including 17 foreigners, were killed.
The armed attack launched near the historic Sholakia Eidgah on the July 7 Eid day, leading to the death of two policemen, a housewife and a militant, is also an act of Neo JMB, officials add.
The old JMB on August 17, 2005 struck terror across the country almost simultaneously detonating 459 bombs in 63 out of the 64 districts.
The same year, the outfit carried suicide attacks including the one that killed two Jhalakathi judges in November.
After the synchronised attacks, a total of 160 cases were filed across the country. Police have completed probe into the cases.
They have submitted final reports in 17 cases and charge sheets in 143 cases. In the charge sheets, 1,157 JMB leaders and activists have been made accused, according to an estimate of the police headquarters.
Of the accused, law enforcers arrested 960 militants, said an official at the headquarters. He, however, could not say how many of them are now behind bars.
An official record shows between 2007 and 2014, 478 JMB men were tried in 177 cases. Of them, 51 top leaders of JMB were sentenced to death, 178 got life imprisonment and 245 were jailed for different terms.
The Neo JMB was spreading its network while the law enforcers were claiming that the spine of JMB had been ripped off through anti-militancy drives.
Apart from training its members in explosive-making and shooting, the Neo JMB has been providing radical motivation to fresh recruits predominantly using encrypted apps.
“While we were directing all our attention towards the mainstream JMB and other known militant outfits, the group [Neo JMB] silently gathered strength escaping our vigil,” a top police officer who has been dealing with militancy told The Daily Star recently.
The Neo JMB recruits from physicians, engineers, architects technologists and other educated people. Most of its members are comparatively affluent.
As it makes recruitment and communicates using encrypted apps and operates through sleeper cells, law enforcers had long struggled to get a clear picture of its network and leadership, they added.
“JMB operatives, who became inactive after Mawlana Saidur Rahman took over as the chief following Abdur Rahman's execution in 2007, formed the Neo JMB,” said chief of the counterterrorism unit of DMP Monirul Islam.
Stirred by the activities and more radical views of the Neo JMB, a good number of activists from the original JMB, who had become almost inactive after Saidur's arrest in May 2010, also joined the faction, he added.
Law enforcers came to know in details about the Neo JMB's network, strength, funding and weapons after the Gulshan and Sholakia attacks and a raid at its Kalyanpur den.
Law enforcers managed to glean vital information about the group from two militants -- one arrested in Sholakia and the other during the Kalyanpur raid in which nine other militants were killed in a gunfight.
The militant arrested in Sholakia was later killed in “crossfire”.
“The Neo JMB has a few hundred leaders and activists,” a top official, who deals with militancy, said yesterday.
DMP's counterterrorism unit chief Monirul Islam yesterday said that with several of its activists arrested and killed in Gulshan, Sholakia and in Kalyanpur, the Neo JMB has been weakened.
He said the DMP has deployed its full strength so that the group cannot carry out any further attack.
An official at the police headquarters wishing anonymity said that there is still fear of further attack by the new group. “If we remain vigilant, we will be able to thwart such attacks.”
While a Bangladeshi-Canadian named Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, who, according to IS propaganda magazine Dabiq, identifies himself as Shaykh Abu Ibrahim Al-Hanif, is leading the group as its operational commander.
Its spiritual leader, known by the group members as “Boro Hujur”, is from the northern region. His name could not be known.
The Neo JMB, in recent times carried out a number of targeted killings. Their targets include a wide-spectrum of people -- Hindu, Christian, Buddhist or Bahá'í leaders, spiritual leaders or pirs, members of Shia sect, university teachers, religious converts and foreigners, among others.
Although the original JMB carried out terrorist activities to establish Shariah law, the Neo JMB believed in establishment of a "caliphate" -- a state governed in accordance with Islamic law by a “caliph”.
About the funding of Neo JMB, an official dealing with militancy said that apart from bank heist, robbery, mugging and snatching, donations from expatriates are its source of money. Non-resident Bangladeshis provide the money sometimes without knowing its exact purpose.
The old JMB mostly used explosives like bombs and grenades in attacks. It had explosives experts like Abdur Rahman's brother Ataur Rahman Sunny, Mollah Omar and after Omar's death Zahidul Islam alias Boma Mizan. The JMB members seldom used firearms.
But, the new JMB is using firearms, including sophisticated ones, alongside grenades. In the July 1 siege at Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan, the militants used eight arms, including three semi-automatic AK 22 rifles. A semi-automatic sniper rifle was also recovered from a den in Chittagong.
The new JMB has several of its activists trained in making explosives and operating firearms, he said.
Of them, “Boma” Shakil is the man JMB found as the most talented explosive expert after “Boma” Mizan, who was arrested in 2009. Police suspect Shakil might have got killed in internal feud.
Fellow militants freed Mizan and two other top militants in an armed ambush on February 23 in 2014. Police suspect Mizan and the two others have been hiding abroad.
BORN WITH FOREIGN LINKS
Shaykh Abdur Rahman established JMB in April 1998.
The group started underground activities that year to establish Taliban-like rule through jihad, but it grabbed the limelight in April 2004 when it started vigilante operations against underground communist outlaws, popularly known as Sarbaharas, in Rajshahi, Natore, Naogaon and Bogra.
In the early stage of JMB, Rahman communicated with Syed Abdul Karim alias Tunda, who was accused of masterminding over 40 bombings in India.
Rahman had confessed that Tunda, allegedly a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist, was in Dhaka and stayed in Jatrabari area in 1990s.
Under Tunda's arrangement, Rahman visited Pakistan in 1997 along with Tunda. In Lahore, he met leaders of Markaz-ud-Dawa-wal-Irshad, mother organisation of LeT. He was then taken to Muzaffarabad where he underwent 20 days training in arms, explosives, war tactics, and secrecy.
After being arrested by Rab in 2006, Rahman told law enforcers, “I had contact with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood when I was in Saudi Arabia. I expressed my interest in setting up Islamic rule in Bangladesh…Upon my return …through setting up a separate jihadi organisation to usher in Islamic rule.”
In 2002, he went to Pakistan again. There he met LeT acting chief Abdus Salam Bhatti at the organisation's headquarters.
In his statement, Rahman said they also had contact with the UK-based organisation al-Muhajirun, headed by the Syrian-origin British national Omar Bakri. The organisation had requested JMB to train its members in Bangladesh.
Al-Muhajirun leaders even visited JMB's programmes on char land. After the August 17 blasts, they reportedly phoned JMB leaders, advising them to attack various foreign diplomatic missions in Dhaka, and the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) and also to abduct and assault important foreign persons.
REIGN OF TERROR
JMB was hardly known before the 2005 bomb blasts in 63 districts.
However, already in 2004, Rahman's deputy Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai's started operations against communist extremists. The group was then called JMJB (Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh).
But after the August 17 blasts, law enforcers went all out against JMB. Still, in November and December, JMB carried out five suicide attacks in Jhalakathi, Chittagong, Gazipur and Netrakona. These were the first suicide attacks in the country.
Between September 2001 and December 2005, JMB had carried out 26 attacks in which 73 were killed and around 800 injured.
Bangla Bhai started his activities openly with direct patronage from local administration, police and BNP-Jamaat government's lawmakers and ministers.
He went into hiding on May 23, 2004, a week after the government ordered his arrest. But he continued to lead his militant organisation from hideouts.
END OF KINGPINS
Shaykh Rahman and his family were arrested in Sylhet on March 2, 2006 and Bangla Bhai on March 6 from Mymensingh.
Towards the end of the BNP-led alliance government in 2006, death sentence was awarded to six top JMB leaders, including Rahman and Bangla Bhai.
They were hanged on March 29, 2007 during the caretaker government's rule. That was the end of the first phase of JMB.