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Al Qaeda sympathizer Bangladesh Nationalist Party's attempts to destabilize South Asian region

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  Kathmandu      January 22 2024

By: Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

Al Qaeda and Hezbollah sympathizer ultra-Islamist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) with active participation of its jihadist and pro-Caliphate ideological allies has started a dangerous plot targeting India that would destabilize South Asian region while turning Bangladesh into a neo-Taliban state while success of this attempt would turn Bangladesh as well as other nations in the region, including Sri Lanka, Maldives and Nepal into safe haven of jihadist-terrorists.

It is essential to note that BNP and its Islamist partners have a history of harboring anti-American, anti-Semitic, and anti-Western sentiments. These Islamist groups have been on record for setting fire to the American flag and chanting slogans like "Death to America" or "We shall become Taliban, Bangla [Bangladesh] will be Afghan".

In a deeply concerning move, during the 2001-2006 rule of the BNP-Jamaat coalition government, they even named a bridge 'Hezbollah' as a "mark of honor", openly expressing their support for the Lebanese resistance group, Hezbollah, which the United States has designated as a terrorist organization. BNP-Jamaat coalition government's junior communications minister Salahuddin Ahmed told French news agency AFP, "I named the bridge Hezbollah because of our love for the Lebanese resistance group. Hezbollah is the only group which is fighting Israel and the bridge is named after the group as a mark of honor".

The then Foreign Minister Morshed Khan went as far as to label Israel's actions as "state terrorism" and "religious terrorism" while accusing the United States of sponsoring it.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami consider Jews and Israel as "enemy" – support "elimination of the Jewish State from the world map", while they recognize Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas as "ideological allies".

Almost two decades ago, during 2001-2006, when an ultra-Islamist and ruthlessly anti-Semitic government comprising Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) was in power, eminent journalist and counterterrorism expert Alex Perry saw Bangladesh as a "deadly cargo" as it had become a breeding ground and safe haven of terrorists, insurgents and militants.

According to Alex Perry, in early March 2002, Al Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden's second-in-command – Egyptian national Ayman al-Zawahiri had been hiding out in Bangladesh for months after arriving in Chittagong. He was accompanied by a group of the global terrorist outfit. Zawahiri even visited Dhaka and met several leaders of Bangladesh Nationalist Party while at the instruction of some influential figures of the party Zawahiri was housed at a high-secured property at Dhaka's Gulshan area, which is owned by the Directorate General of Defense Force (DGFI). During his stay in Dhaka, Zawahiri had meetings with Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a war-criminal and asset of Pakistani spy agency Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), while Brig Gen Abdur Rahim, then Director General of the National Security Intelligence (NSI) has carried a fruit basket, kebabs and bread on behalf of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's son Tarique Rahman. During his meeting with Ayman al-Zawahiri, Brig Gen Rahim requested the Al Qaeda kingpin to help BNP government by assassinating Sheikh Hasina's son Sajeeb Wazed Joy in the United States.

According to Perry, after leaving the Taliban's headquarters in Kandahar as the city fell in early December 2001 and crossing into Pakistan, the fugitives traveled to Karachi, hired the 'Mecca' motor vessel and made the sail around India.

In July, a senior member of Bangladesh's largest terrorist group, the 2,000-strong Al Qaeda-allied Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), told TIME magazine the 150 men who entered Bangladesh that on December 21 were Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan.

It may be mentioned here that, following September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US soil, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) did set up a new five-man base in Dhaka, but merely as part of a global policy of establishing a presence in all Muslim countries. During the 2001-2006 rule of BNP-Jamaat Islamist coalition government, Bangladesh's southern coastal hills and northern borders with India turned lawless and were bristling with Islamic militants armed by gunrunners en route from Cambodia and southern Thailand to Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Central Asia and the Middle East. Subsequently, southern Bangladesh has become a haven for hundreds of jihadis on the lam. They find natural allies in Muslim guerrillas from India hiding out across the border, and in Muslim Rohingyas, tens of thousands of whom fled the ethnic and religious suppression of the Burmese military junta in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Following the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on in August 1975, Chittagong Hill Tract areas became Asia's oldest jihadist training camps with 26 interconnected bunkers complete with kitchens, lecture halls, telephones and televisions concealed beneath a three-meter-high false forest floor that stretches between two hills. Weapons available for training there included AK-47s, heavy machine guns, rifles, pistols, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.

On May 9, 2002 and 10, 63 representatives of nine Islamist groups including Rohingya forces, the Islamic Oikya Jote (IOJ) and the ULFA met in Ukhia to form the 'Bangladesh Islamic Manch', a united council under HUJI's leadership. Although the "Manch" had restricted itself to circulating speeches by Osama bin Laden and Mullah Masood Azhar, a Pakistani militant leader, it had big plans. A HUJI source told Alex Perry: "The dream is to create a larger Islamic land than the territorial limits of Bangladesh to include Muslim areas of Assam, north Bengal and Burma's Arakan province". That dream, if Islamic terrorists are allowed to continue their operations in Bangladesh, could be a nightmare for the rest of the region particularly India.

Following publication of Alex Perry's article, journalist Bertil Lintner in another article in South Asia Terrorism Portal wrote: "...While Bangladesh is yet far from becoming another Pakistan, Islamist forces are no doubt on the rise, and extremist influence is growing, especially in the countryside. According to a foreign diplomat in Dhaka, "In the 1960s and 1970s, it was the leftists who were seen as incorruptible purists. Today, the role model for many young men in rural areas is the dedicated Islamic cleric with his skull cap, flowing robes and beard".

Commenting on the 2001 general election and Islamist coalition government of BNP and JeI returning to power, Bertil Lintner wrote: "... Since last year's election, however, extremist Islamist groups have once again become more blatant in their attacks on the country's minorities and secular forces. The HuJI especially has attracted the attention of security planners in the region. The group was formed in 1992 reportedly with funds from Osama bin Laden. The existence of firm links between the new Bangladeshi militants and the Al Qaeda were first proven when Fazlur Rahman, leader of the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh" (to which HuJI belongs), signed the official declaration of 'holy war' against the United States on February 23, 1998. Other signatories included [Osama] bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri (chief of the Jihadist Group in Egypt), Rifa'i Ahmad Taha aka Abu-Yasir (Egyptian Islamic Group), and Sheikh Mir Hamzah (secretary of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan)".

Although people of Bangladesh rejected the Islamist-jihadist conglomerate of BNP-JeI and voted a secularist Awami League into power through a landslide victory during the general election in December 2008, it became a herculean task for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government in checking the rise of militancy and terrorism and eliminate existence of training camps and hideouts of anti-India separatist group - ULFA, while it also was a difficult task to fight jihadist outfits such as JMB, HuJI and later Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), which had formed alliance with Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). With such difficult situation, Bangladesh under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been effectively and successfully fighting these evil forces of jihadists and terrorists, while it has completely dismantled hidden bases of insurgency groups which were using Bangladesh soil in continuing terrorist acts inside India.

Al Qaeda-sympathizer BNP's fresher bids of destabilizing the region

Following its foiled attempts of turning Bangladesh into a neo-Taliban state with effective collaboration of Biden administration, several rogue NGOs, media outlets and controversial Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) at the direct instructions of its acting chairman Tarique Rahman – a convicted terrorist who is seen by the US authorities as "notorious and widely feared" and "symbol of kleptocratic government and violent politics in Bangladesh" – this ultra-Islamist and pro-Pakistan party has recently launched 'India Out' movement by xeroxing similar acts in Maldives, clearly with the target of instigating masses towards Islamism, jihadism, anti-Hindu and anti-India sentiment.

Meanwhile, cyber activists of BNP and anti-India elements are intensifying 'India Out' propaganda on social media, while it has also been joined by the Bangladesh representative of Al Jazeera – the Qatari broadcast network which has been extremely hostile towards Sheikh Hasina and ger government.

Supporting 'India Out' movement of BNP, in a post on 'X' platform, Al Jazeera's Bangladesh has shared an anti-India video tagging an Islamist propagandist named Pinaki Bhattacharya, who converted into Islam and fled Bangladesh when authorities pressed charges of producing counterfeit medicine and amphetamine inside his pharmaceutical factory.

According to an Indian website, sitting in France as an asylum-seeker, a self-proclaimed cyber activist Pinaki Bhattacharya is anti-Hindu and anti-India extremist. He has been regularly publishing contents defaming Hindu religion. It said, Pinaki became popular amongst radical Muslims and anti-India and anti-Hindu bloc in Bangladesh for his jihadist and anti-India publications. He persuaded Bangladeshi Muslims to wage jihad against the Hindus and join jihadist forces in Jammu and Kashmir in India.

Dozens of cyber activists of BNP and Jamaat are pushing-forward 'India Out' propaganda on social media platforms, while some of them are also calling for boycotting Indian products in Bangladesh.

With BNP's past track record of having connections with Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, as well as regional terrorist outfits such as United Liberation Front of Assom (ULFA) and anti-India insurgency kingpins such as Paresh Baruah, this ultra-Islamist as part of its ongoing 'India Out' movement may involve global and regional terrorist groups against India thus posing serious security threats to the region. Moreover, this may also give instigation to locals in joining this plot whereas radical Islamic forces and militancy groups may resurge with its agenda of Islamization of Bangladesh under the garb of hatred towards India and Hindus in particular as well as non-Muslim populace in the country.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is a multi-award-winning journalist, writer, research-scholar, and Editor, Blitz, a newspaper publishing from Bangladesh since 2003. He regularly writes for local and international newspapers. Follow him on X @Salah_Shoaib