By Sanchita Bhattacharya
Research Associate; Institute for Conflict Management
June 17, 2013
On June 10, 2013, at least 15 people were injured and many vehicles vandalised in Dhaka city during the nationwide hartal (general strike) enforced by Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS). JeI-ICS had called the strike in protest against the punishment meted out to three of its leaders in the War Crimes trials - absconding JeI lawmaker Hamidur Rahman Azad; JeI Acting Secretary General Rafiqul Islam Khan; and Assistant Secretary General Selim Uddin - by the International Crimes Tribunal-2 (ICT-2) on June 9, 2013, for contempt of court, after they spoke in disparaging terms of the trial process.
Earlier, on June 9, 2013, unidentified assailants hurled crude bombs at the house of Information Minister Hasanul Haque Inu in the Darus Salam area of Mirpur in Dhaka city. The house suffered "heavy damage" in the explosion, but no one was injured. The Minister, while speaking on different private television channels, blamed JeI-ICS for the attack.
Bangladesh has a long history of intermittent street violence and public vandalism. The current round of such unrest commenced after the constitution of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), on March 25, 2010, for the prosecution of those involved in crimes committed during the Liberation War of 1971. The ongoing turmoil is led by the JeI- ICS, and is supported by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and other radical groups. Indeed, on March 28, 2010, JeI General Secretary Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid had warned the Government of an 'explosive situation' if his party leaders and workers were roped in on what he described as "imaginary charges".
Significantly, seven out of the nine people presently indicted for War Crimes (WC) belong to the JeI, including its top leaders - Ameer (chief) Motiur Rahman Nizami, former Ameer Ghulam Azam, Nayeb-e-Ameer Delawar Hossain Sayedee, General Secretary Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, Assistant Secretary General Muhammad Kamruzzaman, Assistant Secretary General Abdul Quader Mollah and absconding former JeI member Abul Kalam Azad
The others indicted are Salauddin Quader Chowdhury and Abdul Alim, who belong to BNP.
Thus far, judgment has been delivered in the case of four individuals: on January 21, 2013, ICT-2 (constituted on March 22, 2012) delivered the verdict against Abul Kalam Azad , awarding the death sentence. On February 5, 2013, ICT-2 awarded life imprisonment to Abdul Quader Mollah ; on February 28, 2013, ICT awarded death sentence to Sayedee and later, on May 9, 2013, ICT-2 imposed the death penalty on Kamaruzzaman .
According to partial data collected by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since March 25, 2010, the unrest unleashed by the JeI-ICS, with the support of the BNP and other radical groups, across the country, has led to the death of 127 people, including 63 JeI-ICS cadres, 55 civilians and nine Security Force (SF) personnel in 57 incidents of killing (all data till June 16, 2013). Thus far, February 28, 2013, has been the bloodiest day, with 40 persons killed in Rangpur, Gaibandha, Satkhira, Thakurgaon, Chittagong, Sirajganj, Cox's Bazar, Chapainawabganj, Noakhali, Dinajpur, Rajshahi, Dhaka, Moulvibazar, Natore and Bogra Districts, when JeI-ICS cadres clashed with law enforcement personnel, while protesting against the ICT verdict that sentenced Delawar Hossain Sayedee to death.
Moreover, SATP data further suggests that, since March 2000, the JeI-ICS combine has been connected with at least 171 killings, including 85 civilians, 10 SF personnel and 76 of their own cadres (killed by SFs) in 81 incidents of killing. Further, at least 3,006 persons, including 1,824 civilians, 543 JeI-ICS cadres and 614 SF personnel, have been injured in JeI-ICS related violence over this period. 4,396 JeI-ICS cadres have been arrested during this period.
The JeI-ICS has long been associated with political and religious intolerance and is infamous for preaching an extremist message of religious exclusion and hatred in Bangladesh. It has projected its radical positions through orchestrated street violence and vandalism in the name of protest demonstrations, strikes and shutdowns. The ongoing protest against the War Crimes Trials has been just another pretext for JeI to flex its street muscle prior to the next General Elections scheduled to be held in early 2014. Indeed, the open defense of war criminals reflects the integral ideology of these formations, and their fundamental opposition to democratic politics and constitutional governance.
The JeI was founded in undivided India in 1941 by its first Ameer, Maulana Abul A'la Maududi, with the goal of developing an Islamic community of devout believers. After India's partition in 1947, the party was divided into Jamat-e-Islami Hind and Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan. JeI started its activities in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) during the 1950s. During the liberation struggle, the JeI in East Pakistan joined forces with the Pakistan Army to participate in the genocide of an estimated three million civilians, and a range of brutal crimes, including the widespread use of rape as a weapon. Banned after the Liberation War of 1971, JeI resumed overt activities in Bangladesh in 1979. Between 1981 and 1987, the number of full members of JeI rose from 650 to 2,000, while associate membership doubled to approximately two million.
The rising popularity of the organization renewed its political ambitions. The party played a crucial role in Governments formed by the BNP in 1991 and 2001. The JeI had 18 seats in the Jatiyo Shangshad (Bangladesh Parliament) of 1991 and 17 seats in 2001. In 1996, it had three seats. In the last General Elections of 2008, it secured only five seats. In an apparent backlash, the Jamaat and BNP have been attempting to derail the sustained consolidation of the Sheikh Hasina Wajid-led Awami League (AL) Government.
According to media sources, JeI-ICS has established stakes in various businesses including banking and insurance, hospitals and pharmaceuticals, transport, media, education, housing, shopping centre, etc.
The JeI controls some 30 charities of various sizes and reach. Prominent amongst them is the Al Hera Samaj Kalyan Foundation. Founded in 1982, its objective is principally to preach Islam, publish religious books and journals, run madrasas (Islamic seminary), orphanages and charitable dispensaries, and disburse loans and assistance to the poor. It also distributes books on Islamic resurgence and scriptures free of cost. The Foundation is also engaged in the lucrative manpower export to the Gulf and West Asia.
The JeI has set-up mosques, madrasas and other Islamic institutions, all of which preach a radical Wahhabi form of Islam. With the promise of monetary benefits, many poor students from Bangladeshi madrasas have been recruited by the Jamaat and its allies for jihad (holy war) in places such as Afghanistan, Kashmir, Palestine, Bosnia and Chechnya. Being a tightly knit-cadre based party, JeI is able to attract a wide section of support through a host of local networks and social welfare programmes. JeI works on the calculation that the goodwill and popularity it generates through various welfare activities in the community easily transform into support for various violent activities, both domestically and abroad.
JeI's linkages with terrorist organizations within Bangladesh are well documented. JeI's involvement, along with Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) and BNP, in the August 21, 2004, grenade attack on an AL rally (which killed 24 people and injured another 300, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed) was exposed in July 2011, when the Special Superintendent, Criminal Investigation Department, Abdul Kahhar Akhand, disclosed that their re-investigations indicated that operatives of HuJI-B had carried out the attack, backed by former State Minister for Home, Lutfuzzaman Babar, Khaleda Zia's Political Secretary Harish Chowdhury, former Minister and JeI leader Ali Ahsan Mujahid, and incumbent BNP lawmaker, the fugitive Mofazzal Hossain Kaikobad.
Earlier, on July 13, 2010, the 'chief' of the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) Saidur Rahman, had disclosed links between JeI and JMB. Rahman was a former member of JeI and was arrested on May 26, 2010, for orchestrating the serial bombings across Bangladesh on August 17, 2005. Rahman is undergoing trial in the case.
Similarly, linkages between the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT) and JeI were revealed after the arrest of five HuT cadres from Dhaka. While HuT 'advisor' Syed Golam Maola was arrested on July 8, 2010, another four cadres were arrested on July 9, 2010. Detective Branch officials stated, on July 11, 2010, "We brought the four face to face with Maola and quizzed them about their connection with Jamaat. They admitted that their leaders had recently instructed them to work keeping a close contact with Jamaat." The four workers also admitted to being involved with ICS.
In addition, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) 'chief' Siddiqul Islam alias Azizur Rahman alias Omar Ali Litu alias Bangla Bhai, who was hanged along with five cadres of JMB: Abdur Rahman, Abdul Awal, Khaled Saifullah, Ataur Rahman and Hasan Al-Mamun on March 30, 2007, had admitted that, as a college student, he was a member of ICS. Bangla Bhai claimed that he quit ICS in 1995, after the Jamaat accepted female leadership, which, according to him, was a sacrilegious. He had been pronounced guilty by the Supreme Court of involvement in the killing of two judges in Jhalakathi (Jhalakathi District) in November 2005.
The party has established a vast network for money laundering and finance. One 2005 estimate indicated that the JeI generates a net profit of Taka 12 billion annually. Mir Kasem Ali, who was arrested on June 17, 2012, and is facing War Crimes charges, is considered to be the 'brain' behind JeI's financial and business empire. ICT has fixed June 27, 2013, for the hearing on framing charges against Kasem, which include murder, looting, arson and abduction committed during the 1971 Liberation War.
In light of the present upheaval, on May 25, 2013, Information Minister, Hasanul Haq Inu described JeI as a "terrorist outfit", and said that they unleashed terror and destructive activities whenever they had been given permission for rallies. Earlier, on April 11, 2013, Inu had warned, "If the Jamaat practices terrorism, then the government will positively be considering banning the Jamaat".
Significantly, on June 11, 2013, the Jatiyo Shangshad passed the Anti-terrorism (Amendment) Bill, 2013, to "effectively curb terrorism through inter-state cooperation". The Bill, inter alia, gives the central banks authority to freeze suspicious accounts without court orders.
Further, on June 12, 2013, after hearing arguments on a petition filed by Syed Reza ul Haque, a central leader of the Tarikat Federation, which challenged the legality of JeI's registration as a political party, the Dhaka High Court announced that it will deliver its verdict 'any day'. On April 11, 2013, a special HC bench of Justice M. Moazzam Husain, Justice M. Enayetur Rahim and Justice Quazi Reza-ul Haque started hearing on the matter. JeI was registered as a political party by the Election Commission on November 4, 2008.
JeI's violent message of extremist Islamism has long undermined democracy in Bangladesh, and was also central to the Pakistan Army's genocidal campaigns in its eastern wing, before the formation of this new country in 1971. This extremist message has secured significant penetration across the country, moving deep into the rural set-up as well, polarizing society and provoking repeated cycles of violence against those who refuse to accept the radical creed advocated by the JeI.
Despite the organisation's appalling history of criminality, the current regime has sought to bring it to account for the first time in Bangladeshi history. Nevertheless, the JeI's street power, its proclivity to ready violence, and its deep linkages with establishment political formations, particularly the BNP, make it an extraordinarily dangerous adversary. As the elections approach, it remains to be seen whether its extremism and violence can be contained, or whether its message of hate will tip the scales into the escalating disorders that have afflicted the country in the past.
Source: South Asia Intelligence Review