Jamaat-i-Islami: A threat to Bangladesh?
By Chris Blackburn*
The Jamaat-i-Islami is a radical Islamist movement which dominates faith based politics in South Asia- its main branch is located in Pakistan where the late Maulana al-Mawdudi founded the party. The Jamaat has enjoyed increased political momentum since the attacks on 9/11 mainly due to successful propaganda campaigns by Islamist leaders- which highlight the inevitable failures in the international community's campaign against terrorism.
Bangladesh is one country where the Jamaat has made substantial moves towards their ideal of creating an Islamist state based on Shariah law. They have managed to gain important positions within government while hiding their links to militancy- a key factor in destabilising government systems which the movement seeks to eventually dismantle and replace.
The Jamaat-Bangladesh have also been involved in laundering money for a group linked to Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Al-Qaeda and the International Islamic Front (IIF). Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS) the student wing of the Jamaat- Bangladesh is also believed to be involved with terrorist organisations in India and Bangladesh.
The Jamaat's most important supporters outside South Asia are the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and Muslim Aid (UK) they both operate under charitable status in the US and UK. The charities receive zakat frombenevolent Muslim communities around the world under the guise of Muslim causes. ICNA and Muslim Aid are linked to persons believed to have been involved in war crimes during the 1971 Liberation War in Bangladesh and have been linked to terrorist groups from Bosnia to Indonesia.
Bangladesh is a country which is very important to the 'war on terror' mainly because it is the second largest Muslim democracy. It is home to 144 million- the majority are Muslim, which means that the country homes roughly 11% of the world's Muslim population. The international alliance cannot afford to lose Bangladesh to Islamist fanaticism as it will be a major blow to strategies to combat extremism in the region. The west must support a strong, secular and stable Bangladesh which will allow the country to become a leading light of moderation and temperance. Bangladesh has the potential of becoming a beacon of hope in the Muslim world even though it has to deal with obvious challenges such as poverty, corruption, flooding, military coups and spurts of Islamist militancy. It has been a constant struggle for Bangladesh to remain a secular and moderate country- its constitution and history reflects this.
Jamaat in the West
Bangladesh also has large expatriate communities in the UK and US- the rise in militant Islamism in Bangladesh will no doubt have an effect on those living in within these groups. The theories of diasporic nationalism and transnationalism show that trends in Bangladesh will undoubtedly be mirrored in these communities and spill over into the politics of their new homelands. The fact that the Jamaat-i-Islami controls influential religious organisations in the UK means that the trend in fanaticism within these communities will probably rise at a greater rate than in Bangladesh. The full influence of Jamaati organisations such as the Islamic Foundation UK, East London Mosque, Muslim Aid UK, Dawatul Islam and the UK Islamic Mission is yet to be fully studied but these groups are known to be aggressively pushing Jamaat's anti-secularism and anti-western literature and ideals - some of the backgrounds of arrested for terrorism ties in the UK such as Mozzam Begg and some of the 7/7 bombers show flirtations with Jamaat politics .
Bangladesh also plays a major role in relations between India and Pakistan. India's and other countries belief that groups with links to Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) are planning attacks on India from within Bangladesh make sure that the country will most probably become a future flashpoint for the two nuclear neighbours. The rise in violence in Sri Lanka and Balochistan are also believed to have been caused by this escalation of proxy warfare between the two nations.
I see the War of Liberation 1971 as a major struggle and milestone for humanity- people fought bravely and with heart to conquer oppression and hatred- the legacy of the struggle and its shadows still manage to dominate Bangladeshi politics and civic life. I am relatively new to Bangladesh but I am learning fast. I hope the country can become a major success story in fields of economic growth and act as model for other developing countries. However there is one major obstacle to the country's development and success- and I believe it is the emergence of the Jamaat-i-Islami and its role in supporting militancy and hatred in the region.
Jamaat: A Background
The Jamaat-i-Islami is a radical Islamist movement based in South Asia. It has party branches in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Kashmir, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. It was founded in Lahore, Pakistan in 1941 by Maulana al-Mawdudi, a Pakistani journalist, who became concerned that Muslim countries were turning to what he perceived as perverse ideologies such as nationalism, women's liberation and socialism. Mawdudi believed that certain parts of Islamic teaching should be used to justify his vision of a perfect Muslim state. Mawdudi believed that a Muslim country should be a combination of a fascist and communist state - with a powerful unelected elite which would control the state and every facet of life within it. Secularism and progress would end and be discarded for strict Shariah law .
Mawdudi was heavily influenced by the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood) which is centred in the Middle East. He was a friend and reader of Sayyed Qutb, a leading radical Islamist leader . Qutb advocated creating an Islamist vanguard that would engage in violent Jihad against those that didn't want to become part of their plans for a fundamentalist Islamist state . Mawdudi also believed in this but did not want to have this as the only option, he believed that the Islamist movement would need a political party so the group could have semi-legitimacy and could work for its goals with the system. In the book 'Jihad in Islam' (Sabilillah) wrote that like a communists living in the US during the Cold War they would be less likely to be disrupted by the governments if they weren't trying to sabotage the state or constantly trying to formulate armed revolutions . He believed that acting as a political party would allow the movement to have breathing room to subvert and change the system- but only when the timing was right and the Jamaat thought it had enough support would Jihad by the sword be appropriate . The Jamaat is a movement which works within democracy but by no stretch of the imagination are they democratic. They want to destroy Bangladesh's secular constitution by supporting the Islamification of society through Dawa and Islamic finance.
Jamaat links to Al-Qaeda
Mawdudi formed an ideological and semi-organisational alliance; the two groups share organisations such as the International Islamic Universities (IIU's), the Islamic Foundation UK (Ali Ghali Himmat and Ahmed Idris Nasreddin of the Ikwhan/al-Taqwa Bank were trustees- they have been designated terrorism financiers by the US and UN) and charities such as the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and the International Islamic Charitable Organisation (IICO). Abdullah Azzam, a founder of Hamas and Osama bin Laden's former mentor taught at the IIU-Islamabad Pakistan , there are other links between the IIU's and jihadi terror however with time restraints they cannot be discussed today.
The alliance helped to promote global Islamism and fight the threat of Soviet expansionism in the Islamic world. The movement's goals were furthered and consolidated when the Saudi, Pakistani, British and American governments recruited the alliance to tackle communist influences during the Cold War. The governments financed and trained the alliances cadre to fight and expel the Soviet forces which invaded Afghanistan in 1979- this was when Osama Bin Laden became involved with the global Islamist movement .
Jamaat-i-Islami has been involved in murder, terrorism, intimidation and bigotry from it's direct participation in war crimes during the 1971 War of Liberation to it's involvement in pursuing sectarian violence against the Ahmadi sect in Pakistan and Bangladesh . Recently the Jamaat has been threatening the lives of journalists in Bangladesh if they continue to report and uncover the Jamaat and Shibir's ties to militancy . A democracy must be allowed to have a free press- all actions must be taken to ensure this type of intimidation does not persist during the forthcoming elections.
The Jamaat-Bangladesh has been repeatedly linked to terrorist organisations mainly due to the fact that the majority of leaders and terrorists belonging to Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Jagrata Muslim Janata (JMJB) have past histories of involvement with Jamaat and the Islami Chhatra Shibir .
The Islami Bank Bangladesh (IBBL) is also linked to militancy and is controlled by the Jamaat - banks which act as foreign sponsors of IBBL have previously been used or have been accused of funnelling money to al-Qaeda linked militants and supporting radical Islamism in other countries. Yassin Qadi, a US and UN designated financier of terrorism's family are also close to the bank . Qadi is a Saudi businessman and is the son-in-law of Sheikh Ahmed Salah Jamjoom, a foreign sponsor of IBBL . Jamjoom was a former finance minister in the Saudi government. It is not known if Qadi has direct ties to the bank. The Kuwaiti based Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS) also had accounts at the bank they are suspected of financing terrorism in Bangladesh and elsewhere- it is believed that the organisation helped finance the 17th August serial bombings in 2005 .
The links between the IBBL and the International Islamic University (Chittagong) - show how the Jamaat-Ikwhan is growing in influence in education- mainly in Dawa and Islamic financial sectors. The Jamaat- Shibir Bangladesh has also acted as a funding conduit for the ISI and the Jamaat-Pakistan . In 2000 Indian intelligence agencies intercepted a letter from Jamaat leaders which acknowledges that monies had been transferred through Jamaat-Bangladesh to the Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA) from Jamaat-Pakistan . It must be noted that the US State Department and the US Department of Justice are concerned that the Bangladeshi Government is not investigating 45 major money laundering cases related to International terrorism; they believe it is due to political reasons- the US sent a team of officials from the Department of Justice to Dhaka to directly talk to their opposite numbers, this meeting was meant to be secret but was leaked to the press because of the frustration at the lack of progress .
MULTA is a terrorist organisation which is working towards turning Assam, a region in North India, into an Islamic enclave which will be run by Shariah law. The group has been involved in bombings and assassinations of civic leaders in Assam. MULTA works closely with Harkat-ul-Jihadi-Islami (HUJI-B) and is funded by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) . HUJI-B has been added to the US and UN list of terrorist organisations. MULTA also works closely with other terrorist organisations such as the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) which are all allied to Osama Bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF).
The network wants to create a Brihot Bangladesh or 'greater Bangladesh' by merging Muslim communities from North India into Bangladesh. Islami Chhatra Shibir (ISC), Jamaat's student wing are also believed to have been involved with this militant network and are working in tandem with the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) to support the network. In 2002 Salim Sajid, SIMI's financial secretary was interrogated and confessed how ISC were closely working with the SIMI to plan and attack Indian interests . The groups have been meeting in West Bengal under the banner of the 'Islamic Action Force'.
SIMI was the student front of the Indian branch of the Jamaat-i-Islami and follows the thoughts and teachings of Mawdudi . It has a history of supporting the Taliban and al-Qaeda . Its cadre are believed to have been directly and indirectly involved in recent bomb attacks in India- they are believed to have helped terrorist cells in Varanasi, New Delhi, Mumbai and Adohya; these attacks have been major escalations for the SIMI as they have caused extremely high fatalities and casualty rates. SIMI is also working with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) which are based in Pakistan . These are also members of the International Islamic Front.
In 2003 Indian Muslims working in Middle Eastern countries were contacted and recruited by known SIMI operatives to go and fight Coalition forces in Iraq - which is another escalation of the group's international activities. The worrying point is that the ICS and Jamaat are working closely with SIMI and are well aware of its current strategy to attack India.
Jamaat's support network in the UK and US
Jamaat-Pakistan and Jamaat-Bangladesh also receives backing from the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and Muslim Aid branches who act as fundraisers, missionaries and PR managers for the Jamaat-i-Islami movement in the West . The charities have been linked to terrorism and have also been linked to Mueen Uddin Chowdhury and Asrafuzzaman Khan , two expatriate Bangladeshi's with Jamaat backgrounds who are suspected of being directly involved in war crimes. The two charities send money collected in the UK, US, Germany and Austrialia to the Al-Khidmat Foundation/Society and Muslim Aid's Bangladeshi branch . They are both de facto arms of the Jamaat. Al-Khidmat aids militancy and helps to support the Hizbul Mujahideen, Jamaat's armed wing and other groups . Hizbul Mujahideen is designated by the US and UK as a terrorist organisation .
In 2004 Russian security agents from the Federal Security Bureau (FSB) assassinated Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev, the former vice president of Chechnya in a car bomb attack in Doha, Qatar . They believe he was meeting with wealthy Middle Eastern figures to collect funds for Jihad. Yanderbiyev was a recipient of Jamaati funds to wage war on Russia . Jamaat-i-Islami is listed by Russia's Supreme Court as a leading financier and supporter of terrorism. After the 9/11 attacks the Russian FSB passed information to the US stating they believed that Jamaat would be involved in the attacks on the WTC and Pentagon, these assertions proved correct when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks was arrested in the home of Jamaat leaders .
Al-Khidmat has recently helped to repatriate 2500 Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorists that have been released as part of an amnesty by the Pakistani authorities . There have been reports that Taliban fighter are being treated at Al-Khimat's medical centres in Pakistan. Al-Khidmat has also recently donated huge sums to Hamas to carry on with its Jihad against Israel . Al-Khidmat, ICNA and Muslim Aid's branches should be added to UN and US sanctions for their direct financial support for terrorism.
Al-Khidmat has also recently given money to Sheikh Faisal Malawi of the Jemaah Islamiya (Lebanon) to aid his Al-Fajr militants to help Hezbollah attack Israel in Lebanon . Malawi is the former deputy chairman of the European Council for Fatwa and Research alongside Sheikh Yusef al-Qaradawi.
Jamaat's history of involvement in war crimes during the 1971 War of Liberation in Bangladesh is a major reason why many should be concerned at the groups rise in power and status in Bangladesh. Despite the groups involvement in murder and its obvious distain for a secular Bangladeshi Constitution- it has managed to survive because of the animosity between the two major parties.
I hope that the two parties can unite in their condemnation and rejection of the Jamaat's plans for Bangladesh. I have met several BNP leaders and I am amazed by how much they loathe the Jamaat and its policies. I just hope that the top leadership of the BNP will start to listen to the grassroots. The Jamaat has been allowed to become a 'third way' rather than being alienated and shunned because of its extremist policies and activities. Hopefully recent developments in Australia which are linked to the persecution of war criminals of '71, many of the suspects are senior Jamaat leaders. This action will hopefully help to stop the progress of the Jamaat's politics of hatred and subversion in Bangladesh and show the world that crimes against humanity will not go unpunished.
Bangladesh's dark history must be laid to rest, the Jamaat cannot be allowed to cause anymore anguish- only when it has diminished in power and strength can the country live up to its true potential. I wish you luck and I will continue to help in anyway. Jamaat-i-Islami is not just a threat to the Bangladesh but to the whole world...we must work together to stop it from getting stronger. Thank you.
* Chris Blackburn is a political intelligence analyst. He is the BritishRepresentative of the Intelligence Summit USA- an annual conference for intelligence, business, military and political leaders from around the world. He helped setup a lawsuit for the 9/11 victims families, which targeted the suspected financiers of Al-Qaeda. He worked on BBC's Panorama programme 'A Question of Leadership' a documentary which linked leading
British Muslims to extremist Islamist politics. He also works with journalists and writers on counter-terrorism and political issues Above paper was presented to the International Conference to Discuss Terrorism, Democracy and Economic Development in Bangladesh, held on September 30th, 2006 at UN Plaza Hotel in New York City, USA.
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