Pakistani militants expand abroad, starting in Bangladesh
Bangladesh has arrested suspected members of Lashkar-e-Taiba. The Pakistani militant group was blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks -- and some fear it could target India again and provoke regional tensions.
One morning last November, police investigators scrambled up a hilltop in Chittagong, a sprawling port city in Bangladesh’s south. They had come to the redoubt of one of Chittagong’s most notorious madrasas. When the team informed local police it would be launching a raid, the local police refused to join in.Skip to next paragraph
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Bangladesh, the world’s third-largest Muslim nation, is familiar with militancy. Since 2005, police have battled a home-grown group called Jamatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) in its violent quest to impose Islamic law.
But this raid was different. The police say they’d learned that three men inside the stronghold were in contact with suspected militants in Pakistan and were planning to bomb the American, Indian, and British embassies in Dhaka. Working quickly, the team found the three men, along with two others, and pulled them out.
Only during interrogation did they discover just how international the group was – and how expansive its aims.
All of the men confessed to being operatives of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Pakistan-based group blamed for the devastating 2008 Mumbai (Bombay) attacks and believed by American intelligence officials to be eying targets in the West. Two were Indian nationals. One, T. Nazeer, was Lashkar’s chief of South Asian operations.
Even more disturbing, says the officer who led the raid and spoke on the condition of anonymity, the detainees said they had planned to attack targets in India and had received support from Pakistan’s intelligence establishment. After the raid, police arrested several more LeT members and other Pakistani militants throughout the country.
The arrests opened a troubling new chapter in Bangladesh’s battle with extremism. They exposed the growing reach of Pakistani militants into this largely peaceful country – and their alleged intent to launch attacks on India that could inflame regional troubles.
Since taking power in 2009 Bangladesh’s new government has moved to clamp down on militancy – an effort that led to the LeT arrests. But it faces an ambitious enemy with potentially powerful supporters and at the same time must battle political infighting.
“Unfortunately, Bangladesh has become the junction point of people who are interested in militancy. It is not likely to be eradicated very soon. The two major political parties have never been able to come to a common approach to the problem,” says retired Maj. Gen. Syed Muhammed Ibrahim, a security analyst in Dhaka.
A staging ground to attack India
Since its independence in 1971, Bangladesh has become a victim of its geography – tucked under India’s northeastern flank, sharing with it 1,500 miles of poorly guarded border. Communists, Kashmiri insurgents, and Assam separatists have poured across its flatlands for decades, trafficking arms, drugs, and mercenaries in and out of the region for their fight with India.
Pakistani extremist groups are the latest to join that stream, say Bangladeshi security officials, US military officials, and Western terrorism experts who follow LeT’s movements.
“Right now our concern is the movement of Lashkar-e-Taiba … and specifically their positioning in Bangladesh and Nepal, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka,” Adm. Robert Willard, head of the US Navy’s Pacific Command, told a recent Senate hearing.