Terrorism: Islamic Terror Comes to Bangladesh


December 11, 2005: Over the past few years there have been a number of terrorist attacks in Bangladesh, but nothing to indicate a major problem. That is changing. The main suspects are a number of Islamic terrorist groups, Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HuJI), Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Islamic Shashantantra Andolon (ISA), Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), and Hikmatul Zihad, which may be an ultra-radical faction of one of the other groups. Some of these groups have ties to al Qaeda. Historically, mainstream Islam has been dominant in Bangladesh, and the although these groups attract some support, most Bangladeshis seem to lack interest in a radical view of Islam.

In addition to the Islamist radicals, there are some separatist groups; Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC), All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), Borok National Council of Tripura (BNCT), and National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT). Finally, the country has a small Marxist revolutionary movement, the Purba Bangla Communist Party (PBCP).

Despite this relatively large number of active terrorist groups, the actual number of violent incidents has been surprisingly low. Since in 2001, there have been only 97 incidents in the country, with fewer than 2,000 people injured, of whom 171 were killed. Moreover, suicide attacks were unknown in the country.

That all changed on November 29th. During the morning rush hour, suicide bombers struck, attacking court houses in Gazipur and in Chittagong, killing 13 and wounding over 40. Then, on 2 December there yet another suicide bombing in Gazipur, leaving two dead and 29 injured. On December 9th, another suicide bomb attack north of the capital left eight dead.

Although no group "claimed responsibility" for these attacks, literature left at the sites indicated that it was probably the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh ("Party of the Bangladeshi Mujahideen"). The JMB, which originated in the late-1990s, only emerged into public notice in 2002. Dedicated to establishing the rule of Islam under Sharia law in Bangladesh, the JMB had hitherto confined its activates to occasional bombings and frequent threatening letters to judges and government officials urging them to base their actions on Sharia.

Apparently under heavy pressure from Bangladeshi security forces, the JMB has decided to adopt suicide tactics, perhaps to strengthen its ability to recruit supporters. This may backfire. Since the November attacks, the Bangladeshi police and armed forces have rounded up literally hundreds of suspected JMB sympathizers. Though the group claims to have 2,000 volunteers ready for "martyrdom," the Bangladeshi authorities, who estimate that the JMB may have about 8,000 sympathizers, has been rounding them up by the hundreds, and estimates that the "hard core' of the organization may number only about 200-250. Whether this assessment is accurate or not remains to be seen - prior to the November attacks in Gazipur and in Chittagong, international security experts and even some Bangladeshi specialists in terrorism had been warning of the possible danger of suicide attacks in the country, warnings which the government had ignored.


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