Islamic militancy in Bangladesh shows new signs of life

Despite crackdowns, terrorist groups are showing a persistence and resilience that worries authorities.

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They are the usual signs of a ticking militancy time bomb: wanted regional terrorists absconding in a sprawling metropolis. Dozens of hidden arms caches seized by police. Underground cells that change names, regroup, and plan attacks.

It sounds like wartorn Afghanistan or Pakistan. Possibly even Indonesia or the Philippines. But these developments are unfolding off the well-scrutinized jihadi path – in Bangladesh.

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Militancy in Bangladesh is not of a scale or tone with Pakistan or Afghanistan. But it has shown a frightening persistence in recent years: in 2006, police and paramilitary forces systematically targeted and took down the top terrorist organization, Jamat'ul Mujahideen Bangladesh, or JMB. Seven of JMB's leaders were hung in 2007. It was hoped that would end the problem, but local media reported recently that the group has merely changed its name to Islam-O-Muslim. Disturbing links to militant groups in Pakistan and India, meanwhile, continue to emerge.

Animesh Roul, executive director of the Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict in New Delhi, India, fretted recently about Bangladesh's reemerging militancy in the Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Monitor:

"After a relatively long period of calm, Islamist militancy in Bangladesh is showing new signs of life, even in the face of continuous crackdowns on terrorist infrastructure and activity by counterterrorism forces in the country....
One estimate suggested there were about 12,000 cadres actively operating in the country, mostly madrassa (Islamic seminary) teachers, students and clerics of mosques.... In April of this year, Bangladesh intelligence agencies declared that the Islamist terrorist groups are reorganizing with the aim of making a deadly comeback.

Bangladesh's teeming cities and rugged countryside have proven an unlikely safe haven for some of the jihadi world's most hardened operatives. Recently, Bangladeshi police in Dhaka arrested an Afghan war veteran with ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the banned Pakistani terrorist organization held responsible for the Mumbai attacks last November, as The Daily Star, an English-language newspaper in Bangladesh, reports:

Indian national Mufti Obaidullah, who is one of the most wanted by the Indian law enforcement and intelligence agencies, has been placed on a seven-day remand for interrogation....
"He was arrested from the capital, and was taking preparations for a jihad by organising Bangladeshi mujahids with directives from Ameer Reza, a leader of Kashmir based Laskar-e-Taiyeba, who is an Indian national now staying in Pakistan," the [Dhaka Metropolitan Police] commissioner said.

What is alarming is not just that Mr. Obaidullah was caught in Bangladesh – but whom he was talking to before his arrest, according to The Times of India:

Mufti Obaidullah, a terrorist posing as a teacher since 1995, sent SMS messages ... to his Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) boss and spoke to him daily using six different cellphones, Bangladesh authorities say.
He knew "quite well", the chief of the Indian branch of the LeT, Ameer Reza, chief of Asif Reza Commando Force (ARCF).

The Christian Science Monitor reported in June that Bangladesh was becoming a hideout for South Asia's terrorists: Bangladeshi police in June uncovered a plot that used Bangladesh to funnel thousands of weapons to an Indian separatist group. The police also arrested an operative working for notorious South Asian terrorist Daud Ibrahim, who is alleged to have ties to Al Qaeeda. The operative disclosed that 150 of Mr. Ibrahim's operatives are stationed in Bangladesh.

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