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Bangladeshi Terrorist Commander Believed Captured in India

The nature of al-Qaeda and its International Islamic Front is a fount of confusion for most observers of the War on Terror. Often, al-Qaeda is seen as a small group of Arab terrorists confined to the Middle East, with the main base of operations in Afghanistan prior to the country’s invasion in the fall of 2001. But the fact is al-Qaeda is a global organization with extensive ties to regional Islamist groups in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. It is believed al-Qaeda has networks established in well over sixty nations. But their ties to the local terrorist groups are often obscured to provide cover for their actions and shield them from international scrutiny.

Bangladesh is one such nation where al-Qaeda has a extensive network of local supporters. The reported arrest of local al-Qaeda affiliate commander Abdur Rahman serves to remind us of the hooks the organization has throughout the world.

BangladeshIndia police are said to have arrested Abdur Rahman, the spiritual and ideological leader of terrorist groups Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB). The groups, which are often believed to be one of the same, espouse a radical Islamist ideology much like that of the Taliban of Afghanistan. They are believed to have launched the extensive bombing campaign in August of 2005, where it is said up to 400 bombs detonated across the nation. Hundreds of Bangladeshis were wounded in the attacks. JMB and JMJB are responsible for a host of attacks in Bangladesh over the past several years.

Rahman is not your run-of-the-mill local Islamist terrorist leader. Rahman is one of the select signatories to the 1998 fatwa that created the International Islamic Front, the umbrella group of Islamist terrorist groups that declared war on the West. The signatories include: Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri [amir of the Jihad Group in Egypt and second in command of al-Qaeda], Abu-Yasir Rifa’i Ahmad Taha [amir of the Egyptian Islamic Group] and Mir Hamzah [secretary of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan].

After the fall of the Taliban, al-Qaeda is believed to have shifted assets to Bangladesh, and it is believed al-Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as hundreds of al-Qaeda fighters took shelter in the county.

Al-Qaeda has had a vested interest in the troubled nation, and has provided “seed money” to Harakat ul-Jihad-I-Islami/Bangladesh (HUJI-B), a terrorist group that now plays a crucial role in training jihadists “from southern Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and Brunei” and providing manpower for al-Qaeda’s affiliates in “Jammu and Kashmir… Afghanistan… Indonesia, the Philippines and Chechnya.”

As we stated last year, the situation in Bangladesh is much like that in Pakistan; “The rise of Islamist extremism is compounded by the problems of the government courting Islamists for political gain (much like the problem in Pakistan). Bangladesh’s government contains two Islamists ministers, and local police are reluctant to act against extremists for fear of government reprisals. Terrorist leaders such as Bangla Bhai remain on the loose despite their known affiliations with the jihadis. And, also like Pakistan, the madrassa remain an integral part of the support mechanism for Bangladeshi terrorists.”

India, a secular democracy, sits in the heart of the subcontinent, nestled between Pakistan and Bangladesh, and is fighting its own War on Terror in the province of Jammu and Kashmir. The arrest of Abdur Rahman would be clear victory for the Indian government and yet another blow against al-Qaeda’s global leadership.

Feedback

If the capture is for real, it has the potential to cause a much bigger effect in Bangladesh than may be apparent. It's not just that the coalition government contains Islamist ministers (esp. Nizami, the industries minister and "emir" of the largest Islamic political party, Jamaat-e-Islami). It's that those ministers are accused of being directly involved in the terrorist attacks.

The main opposition is an alliance of leftist/socialist parties led by the Awami League. They have maintained since September that Nizami is the mastermind of the attacks. His involvement has also been suggested by captured JMB sympathizers at their trials.

None of that means it's true, of course. The AL aren't necessarily any more trustworthy than Jamaat-e-Islami. But J-e-I and Nizami's claim is that the "real" masterminds behind JMB are 1) Indian intelligence, and 2) Israeli intelligence.

No matter what JMB's leader reveals in his interrogation, his capture in India will feed J-e-I's conspiracy theories; and if he says anything that can bring blame onto J-e-I, it will feed the AL's conspiracy theories. The resulting conflagaration, where what political comity there was has been destroyed by the multiple bombings and these blame-asserting political games, could tear the state of Bangladesh apart.