Counterterrorism officials have arrested the alleged spiritual leader of “Neo JMB”, who they think approved the Gulshan café attack plot last year.
Sixty-year-old Maulana Abul Kashem, also known as “Shaykh” and “Boro Hujur” among his followers, was detained from the capital's Senpara Parbata area around 11:00pm on Thursday.
He was trying to withdraw Tk 15,000 from a bKash account at that time, Monirul Islam, chief of Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said at a press conference at the DMP Media Centre yesterday.
However, while being taken to a Dhaka court yesterday morning, Kashem shouted before some photojournalists that he had been detained 10 months ago.
Replying to a reporter's query about Kashem's claim, Monirul said the accused don't tell the truth, and that they give misleading information.
Kashem was the chief of banned militant outfit Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) for a certain period. He later formed “Neo JMB” after holding a meeting with Bangladeshi-Canadian Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury and several others at an unknown place in Rajshahi in 2013, said the CTTC unit chief.
Tamim came to Bangladesh on October 5, 2013 and tried to form a militant outfit.
At the end of that year, Tamim joined hands with Kashem and some other JMB men, and they together formed “Neo JMB”, an offshoot of the mainstream JMB, he mentioned.
Law enforcers have been claiming that “Neo JMB” is responsible for the recent spate of targeted and terrorist attacks, including the July 1 Gulshan café attack and the Sholakia attack last year, and the Hossaini Dalan attack in October 2015.
“Though intelligence agencies of some countries provided us with information on Tamim's meeting with a 'Hujur' at the beginning of 2014, we came to know about Neo JMB and Tamim following the attack at Hossaini Dalan,” said Monirul.
Two persons were killed and scores injured in the bomb attack on a Shia congregation at Hossaini Dalan in October 2015. Global terror outfit Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the bomb attack, but the government has all along denied existence of IS in Bangladesh.
Kashem, former principal of a madrasa in Dinajpur, was one of the eight members of Neo JMB's Majlis-e-Shura, and he used to visit various militant dens. He motivated “Neo JMB” recruits in waging jihad and killing foreigners by giving wrong interpretation of the Holy Quran and Hadith, the CTTC unit chief said.
Monirul further said they started getting information on Kashem after the arrests of a number of “Neo JMB” leaders and activists at the end of 2015.
Kashem was involved with the mainstream JMB since its inception in 1998, and led the outfit for some time after its chief Maulana Saidur Rahman was arrested in 2010. He used to meet Saidur whenever the latter was taken to court for hearing at the initial days of his trial, said the official.
The JMB, banned in 2005, later got split into two factions due to leadership and ideological crises following Saidur's arrest.
Kashem, who has good knowledge of Arabic, has written three books -- “Dawlar Asal Roop”, “Jihad Keno Korben” and “Islami Basanta” -- under the name Shaykh Abu Mohammad Aiyman Hafizullah. It was mandatory for “Neo JMB” recruits to read those books.
Kashem gave wrong interpretation of Islam in those books that advocate religious extremism, said Monirul.
A number of top “Neo JMB” leaders, including Tamim, Nurul Islam Marjan, Sohel Mahfuz and Rajib Gandhi, were Kashem's followers.
Asked whether Kashem is the same person known as Shaykh Abu Ibrahim Al-Hanif, Monirul said, “We are now trying to know whether he has used any other name or identity.”
In its 14th issue, IS propaganda magazine Dabiq claimed that Al-Hanif was the chief of the “Khilafah's soldiers in Bengal”.
Monirul pointed out that they had been looking for Kashem for the last one and a half years. And they got the addresses of his Kurigram house and his workplace in Dinajpur after the arrest of Jahangir Alam alias Rajib Gandhi on January 14. But they didn't find him in those two places.
Later, CTTC unit officials got more information on Kashem after Boro Mizan's arrest on March 1.
In October last year, a number of CTTC unit officials said Kashem had been under their surveillance.
Yesterday, a Dhaka Court placed Kashem on a seven-day remand after Inspector Jahangir Alam of the CTTC unit produced him before the court with a 10-day remand prayer.
Kashem was shown arrested in a case filed with Mirpur Police Station over the raid on Kalyanpur militant hideout in July last year.
WHO IS KASHEM?
Kashem moved to Astimer Char of Kurigram's Kodal Kathi union around one and a half years back after he lost his home to river erosion in Vatiar Chor village, said Humayun Kabir, chairman of Kodal Kathi union.
Around 11 months back, Kashem's family members told Humayun that Kashem, who started working at a madrasa in Dinajpur in 2015, went missing in the capital where he came to do a task given by the madrasa.
Humayun also mentioned that Kashem, father of seven sons and three daughters, had gone into hiding after police started searching for him in 2007 during the tenure of the last caretaker government.
Talking to The Daily Star over the phone, Abdul Hamid, founder of Okrabari Hamidia Islamia Orphanage and Madrasa in Dinajpur's Chirir Bandar, said Kashem was appointed madrasa principal in 2015 but he suddenly disappeared at the end of February last year.
Hamid said he came to know Kashem through the latter's three sons, who studied at the madrasa set up in 2012.
He said Kashem was initially given a salary of Tk 8,000, which was later raised to Tk 9,000.
Replying to a query, Hamid said he didn't find anything suspicious in Kashem, and he knew nothing about the ex-principal's alleged militancy links.
He also mentioned that Kashem used to deliver sermon at a local mosque every Friday, and that he didn't use a mobile phone.