Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen in Bangladesh: A Growing Threat

5 MINS READNov 23, 2005 | 23:50 GMT
The past few months have seen a dramatic escalation of violent activity by the banned Bangladeshi group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JuM), sometimes referred to as Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). According to a Nov. 22 report in the Bangladeshi English-language Daily Star newspaper, the JuM's policymaking body — Majlis-e-Shura — recently ordered its bomb and suicide squad members to fight their opposition to the death and to continue striking government offices and courts. The group claimed responsibility for the Nov. 14 attack that killed two Bangladeshi judges in the coastal town of Jhalakathi, 155 miles south of Dhaka. The targets of that attack — judges — fit with JuM's current campaign to use violence to establish Shariah (Islamic law) in Bangladesh. The group repeatedly has threatened to attack judges, the law minister and court buildings if Shariah is not instituted. JuM literature also was found at the home of the suspect in the Nov. 14 attack, a self-proclaimed JuM member who was captured at the scene. JuM conducted a series of small-scale attacks Aug. 17, using 503 small improvised explosive devices (IEDs) placed across Bangladesh and coordinated to explode between 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. The devices were placed in 63 of Bangladesh's 64 districts, and 18 of the IEDs reportedly were recovered intact. Though the devices did not contain shrapnel, they did result in two deaths and injured an additional 115 people. On Oct. 3, three IEDs exploded in district court buildings outside Dhaka, killing two people and reportedly wounding more than 40. These devices were reported to be larger than those used Aug. 17. The Nov. 14 attack appears to mark a further escalation of JuM's campaign. It used an even more powerful device and targeted specific judges for assassination rather than randomly placing IEDs in buildings. Though the press labeled the incident a "suicide attack," the assailant actually tossed the IED under the vehicle the judges were riding in. The attacker reportedly received a serious leg injury from the force of the initial blast. He apparently had a second IED — which did not detonate — strapped to his upper thigh and hidden in his crotch area; it is unknown whether the device malfunctioned, or the attacker decided at the last minute not to become a martyr, or the attacker was incapacitated by the first device and therefore unable to activate the second. Because of the modus operandi used in the bombing and the sequence of events that unfolded afterward, we believe the attacker intended to survive but was wearing the second IED to keep from being captured. JuM appears to have no problem obtaining explosives, and apparently is actively constructing devices — an activity normally conducted toward the end of the attack planning cycle. On Nov. 2, Bangladeshi authorities discovered several completed IEDs being transported by a JuM courier in Bandarban. The next day they reportedly seized a kilo of RDX powder, along with 100 grams of sulfur powder and 500 grams of "ammonia" — which was probably actually ammonium nitrate — from another JuM courier. Another cache, this one containing 12 IEDs, reportedly was discovered and destroyed Nov. 21 in Kaliakoir upazila. Since Nov. 14, JuM has sent letters and made telephone calls threatening many judges, other governmental officials and courts throughout the country; some of the threat letters reportedly were even accompanied by Muslim death shrouds. Despite Bangladeshi authorities' efforts, JuM's activities appear to be increasing in frequency and lethality. That the group was able to construct and place 503 IEDs in August — and then coordinate the attack so the devices placed across the country exploded within half an hour — demonstrates that JuM has a widespread presence, robust logistics and sophisticated command-and-control capabilities. JuM members reportedly received training from al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and allegedly maintain links with that group. Because of the nature of the threat and the capabilities of the Bangladeshi military, police and intelligence personnel, we do not believe Bangladesh's government will be able to end the JuM threat in the foreseeable future. Though JuM seems to be fixated on judges and the legal system right now, it also appears to have a broader target set that includes nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). In the parcel containing explosives seized Oct. 2, Bangladeshi authorities found a document called "Invitation for United Islamic Jihad." The document contains the common JuM call for government officials, judges, lawyers, common people, NGOs and other organizations to establish Islamic rule in Bangladesh. Pamphlets found near many of the Aug. 17 devices demanded the expulsion of foreign NGOs "engaged in anti-Islamic activities in Muslim countries." NGOs not heeding these warnings could eventually face the same threat currently facing the judges. Over the past week JuM has threatened to attack government offices, courts and war memorials if celebrations are held to commemorate "Martyred Intellectuals Day" on Dec. 14 and "Victory Day on Dec. 16. Commemorations of these days undoubtedly will occur, and therefore we anticipate that JuM, which has consistently followed up its threats with action — and has access to IEDs and other weapons — will attempt to make good on its threats.

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