August 21 Attack: Huji men used as mercenaries
12:00 AM, August 22, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:30 AM, August 22, 2016

Huji men used as mercenaries

It was a mercenary job for them.

After completion of the job, they would be provided safety and allowed to continue their activities unhindered. On such assurance they had agreed to carry out the horrific mission: assassinating Sheikh Hasina and other top leaders of her party.

They had finalised the plot in collusion with some influential leaders of past BNP-led government. Accordingly, Huji-B militants carried out the grenade attack on Hasina's rally on August 21, 2004, reveals the supplementary charge sheet of the grenade attack case.

Awami League chief Hasina narrowly escaped with her life from the attack that day that claimed the lives of 24 leaders and workers of her party.

It was the biggest ever attack HuJi carried out in Bangladesh since it was officially launched in 1992. The militant outfit carried out at least 13 bomb and grenade attacks including that of August 21 killing more than 100 people.

The August 21 attack was an outcome of collaboration between Huji and influential leaders of the BNP and Jamaat and some officials of the then home ministry, police, Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, National Security Intelligence and the Prime Minister's office, according to the case charge sheet.

Those who had engaged the militants for the killing mission were true to their promises. They had started delivering on their assurance to protect Huji leader Mufti Abdul Hannan and other militants from any legal action. They had cooked up a story of Joj Mia, a petty criminal who was implicated as the attacker. 

Meanwhile, Hannan stayed safe in Dhaka for a year.

His idyll was short-lived. After the banned Islamist outfit JMB carried out countrywide serial bomb blast on August 17, 2005, the government came under pressure to crack down on militants.

The law enforcers finally arrested Hannan in early October, 2005. A few days into his capture, the BNP-led government also banned Huji-B, branding it as a “self-proclaimed terrorist organisation”.

An indignant Hannan, in a statement to the press and the court a few days after his arrest, claimed the law enforcers were not supposed to arrest him since some influential ministers of the BNP-led government had assured him that he would be exempted from the August 21 grenade attack case.

He had enjoyed the BNP government's blessing for around four years from 2001. Proceedings in some cases including Ramna Batamul blast against him were stalled as the BNP government was reluctant to bring the case to a close.

Hannan, who according to police, had undergone training in a Huji camp in Peshawar of Pakistan, is now in jail facing several cases including that of the August 21 grenade attack.

END OF THE DAYS?

When Awami League came to power in January 2009, almost all the top leaders of all three Huji factions were arrested. It looked like the government's efforts have become successful to bring an end to Huji that had emerged as the first generation militant organisation in the country.

Some Huji men tried to resume their activities but they could not really make a comeback because of vigilant police work.

“Huji is almost dismantled. It is not under a unified command,” Monirul Islam, Chief of Counter Terrorism unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police told The Daily Star on Thursday.

The DMP additional commissioner also said, “Dividing into some small groups, Huji members tried to reemerge but we have foiled their efforts.”

On October 25 of 2014, four Huji-B men were arrested and placed on remand to squeeze information out from them.

Police then claimed that members of the banned outfits were receiving special military training from Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) as it was closely linked to LeT, one of the most dangerous and well-resourced militancy groups in the world over the last two decades.

Some followers of the imprisoned Huji leader Maulana Abu Sayeed alias Abu Jafar tried to make a comeback under a new name but were caught by police in October and November last year.

According to police, Huji-B was not in discussion for carrying out any terror attack in recent years. The JMB, banned in 2005, emerged as Neo JMB. This group, along with some other militant outfits including Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), are carrying out militant activities.

ABT later took the name of Ansar al Islam which is said to be the Bangladesh chapter of al-Qaeda in the Indian sub-continent.

"There is no significant activity of Huji-B in last few years. This indicates the militant outfit has become dysfunctional," a senior investigation officer in police department told The Daily Star on Wednesday.

The Police Headquarters recently made a database of militants that shows 260 people belong to Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Bangladesh (Huji-B). However, most of its top leaders are now behind bars.

REIGN OF TERROR

With a mission to introduce Sharia laws, Huji-B has so far carried out 13 bomb and grenade attacks in six years since 1999 to annihilate what they said “enemy of Islam.” At least 109 people were killed and more than 700 were injured, according to media reports.

Its first attack came with the bomb blast at an Udichi programme in Jessore on 6 March 1999. At least 10 people were killed and over a hundred injured.

On October 8, 1999, it blasted a bomb at the Ahmediya mosque in Khulna, killing eight people.

It was Huji-B men who were behind bomb blasts at the Ramna Park in Dhaka on April 14, 2001.

In 2004, Huji emerged with terrible determination. On May 21, 2004, it carried out a grenade attack on the British High Commissioner Anwar Chowdhury at the Hazrat Shahjalal shrine in Sylhet.

The biggest and most destructive attack carried out by Huji was on August 21, 2004 on Hasina's rally.

It was their second attempt to assassinate Hasina. Earlier, Huji in 2000 planted a 76kg bomb at a rally venue of Hasina at Kotalipara of Gopalganj.

Huji-B is considered as an affiliate to Huji in Pakistan.

In Pakistan Huji was one of the two major militant outfits which were behind most of the terrorist attacks carried out in Pakistan, mainly between 2002 and 2006. These attacks included assassination attempts on President Gen Parvez Musharraf and his government's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

BORN IN AFGHAN WAR FIELD 

The origin of Huji can be traced back to the Soviet-Afghan war. 

Qari Saifullah Akhtar, who is now considered one of the founders of jihad in Pakistan, was among the first batch of Pakistani mujahideen who went to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. During the war, Saifullah along with some of his associates formed Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islam (Huji) sometime in 1984.

A group of Bangladeshi Mujahid also crossed the border to join the war against Soviet forces.

Maulana Abdur Rahman Faruki of Jessore's Manirampur was one of them.

Inspired by Pakistanis, Faruki along with other Bangladeshi Mujahids established Huji-B when they were still in the battlefield in 1989. Faruki died the same year while defusing a mine in Khost, Afghanistan.

The Afghan war ended.

Huji became a Pakistan-based notorious terrorist group. It kept carrying out subversive activities in the soil of Pakistan.

Saifullah maintained close link with the Afghan Taliban. He left Pakistan and became an advisor of Taliban chief Mullah Omar-led cabinet in Afghanistan and escaped Afghanistan with Omar after the US-led Allied Forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001.

In Bangladesh, HuJi-B was later officially launched on April 30, 1992 at a press conference in Dhaka at the National Press Club. They jubilantly celebrated the Afghan Mujahideen's capture of power in Kabul in April after overthrowing President Najibullah.

Most of the Afghan returnee Mujahids joined the organisation. They demanded that Bangladesh government acknowledge their fallen Mujahideen compatriots as shaheeds (martyrs). The next day, they brought out a huge procession.

Among the founding fathers of the Huji-B were Shaikhul Hadith, Allama Azizul Haq, who is also associated with Islami Oikyo Jote (IOJ), a member of the former ruling coalition headed by Khaleda Zia, Muhammad Habibur Rahman of Sylhet, Ataur Rahman Khan of Kishoreganj, Sultan Jaok of Chittagong, Abdul Mannan of Faridpur and Habibullah of Noakhali. All of them were members of different Islamic organisations and madrasas.

Huji-B grew in strength between 1992 and 1998. During this period, two armed groups of Rohingyas-- Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) and the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO)-were organised and active around the Myanmar border. Huji-B and the Rohingya rebels worked hand in hand.

The BDR and the RAB recovered huge caches of arms and ammunition from Naikhangchhari jungles in 2003, 2004 and 2005.  It is assumed these were of the Rohingya militant groups.

Inner conflict over funds and other issues broke out within the Arakan-based organisations around 1998. Huji then moved away from Arakan and upped its activities within Bangladesh. Huge funds came through NGOs from the Middle East in the name of aid for Rohingya refugees, according to reports published in media in different times.

PAKISTANI CONNECTION

"The disease of 'Islamist terrorism' was incubated in Karachi and Khost and then passed on to Dhaka," commented Daily Times of Lahore in an editorial on February 27, 2005.

Huji had always maintained close link to HuJi in Pakistan and LeT. Huji-B's founding fathers have met leaders of Huji in Pakistan.

In an interview a few years back, Habibur Rahman, one of the founders of Huji-B, disclosed the names of those he had travelled with to Afghanistan and Pakistan in 1988, visited some Taliban militant camps and also met al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

"An invitation from Harkat-ul Jihad Al Islami made it possible for me to make the fortunate trip to Afghanistan..," said Habibur in his interview published in an Islamic journal called "Islami Biplob" on August 20, 1998.

"Those of us who visited the Afghan war-fields during that trip are Shaikhul Hadith, Ataur Rahman Khan, Sultan Jaok, Abdul Mannan, Habibullah, myself and three others," he said.

In Pakistan, he said, leaders of the local chapter of Huji greeted the nine members of the Bangladeshi team and took them to the Huji's Karachi office.

On their way to Afghanistan from Pakistan, he said, the Bangladesh team visited a special Mujahideen training camp and met about a dozen Bangladeshi young Mujahideens. That night they met Osama bin Laden, who later emerged as the chief of al Qaeda, global terror outfit.

Habibur, also the convener of Sahaba Sainik Parishad and founding principal of Jameya Madania Islamia, a madrasa at Kazir Bazar, Sylhet, in his interview said: "Only the establishment of a Khilafat (pan-Islamic movement)-based state following the Taliban ideology can change the lot of the nation."

He later joined Hefajat-e-Islam and was one of the key organisers of Hefajat-e Islam's Dhaka long march and the subsequent rally in May 2013. Habibur was a speaker at the rally of Hefajat.

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