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Opinion

Terrorists in Bangladesh?

Another Musharraf could emerge if the US doesn't act.

By Selig S. Harrison / July 8, 2008



While the CIA and the Pentagon search in vain for Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Pakistan, an Al Qaeda affiliate has been quietly building up terrorist bases in the jungles of Bangladesh under the protective aegis of a new military regime in Dhaka allied with Islamist forces.

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The founding leader of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami in Bangladesh, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, was one of the six signatories of Mr. bin Laden's first declaration of holy war against the United States, and a US State Department study reports that Harkat "maintains contact with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan."

Bush administration officials privately endorse mounting Indian evidence that Bangladeshi Harkat agents spearheaded a series of terrorist attacks in India. But the US has conspicuously failed to press Bangladesh's military ruler, Gen. Moeen U Ahmed, for a crackdown on Harkat and for the removal of highly placed intelligence officials with Islamist ties.

General Ahmed staged a bloodless coup in January 2007, forcing a figurehead president to give him emergency powers. He has pledged to hold elections in December and return power to a civilian government. The Bush administration, while formally urging him to hold the elections on schedule, has so far ignored his increasingly blatant efforts to rig them.

Ahmed is maneuvering to break up the two biggest secular political parties, the Awami League, which actively opposes Islamist influence, and the Bangladesh National Party. He barred political activity by their popular leaders and is organizing a new army-controlled political party to challenge them. Invoking his emergency powers, he is rounding up grass-roots leaders of the two parties and muzzling the media. Harkat, Jamaat-i-Islami Bangladesh and other Islamist groups that support the military regime are operating unhindered.