Little evidence exists to support claims that a Bangladeshi jihadist held in Dhaka on Monday was involved in the 1999 hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar, highly placed police sources told The Hindu.

But the sources said Jamaat ul-Mujahideen-linked Belal Hosain’s arrest underlined concerns over the regrouping of jihadist groups, despite suffering losses due to a determined joint offensive by India and Bangladesh.

Hosain was held, along with Bangladesh nationals Mohammad Imazuddin, Sadek Hossain and Abu Naser Munshi, on the charge of plotting terror attacks under the leadership of Karachi-based Jaish-e-Mohammad operative Rizwan Ahmad. Few details were made available on the plot, but intelligence sources told The Hindu the five men were at an advanced stage of planning strikes in India.

Bangladesh’s crack counter-terrorist Rapid Action Battalion says Hosain claimed, during interrogation that he had inside knowledge of the plot to hijack Indian Airlines flight IC814 — an operation carried out to secure the freedom of jailed jihadist leader Maulana Masood Azhar Alvi, then held in a Jammu prison.

Documents filed by the Central Bureau of Investigations in a New Delhi court in 2000, however, show that while Dhaka was used as a staging post by the hijackers, no Bangladeshi was involved in the hijacking.

In September 1999, the CBI said the hijackers finalised their plans at a flat in Dhaka’s Subzi Mandi area. There, Ibrahim Athar Alvi, Masood Azhar’s brother, briefed the team about their plans to use loose security at the Kathmandu airport to stage the hijacking. From Dhaka, members of the team travelled to India, where they arranged for the fake Indian documentation they used to board the Kathmandu-Delhi flight.

Unclear Link to IC814

Hosain, intelligence sources told The Hindu, first claimed he had knowledge of the IC814 hijacking when he was questioned by the police in Guwahati days after the hijacking. Hosain was held by the police in West Bengal in the late 1999, on the charge of trafficking weapons and explosives across the India-Bangladesh border. He was then transferred to the custody of Guwahati’s Pan Bazaar police station, where he was wanted in connection with similar, but separate, charges.

The police were unable to find any corroboration for Hosain’s claims at the time. The Bangladeshi jihadist was then tried on multiple criminal charges, and began serving an eight-year sentence in 2000. He returned to Bangladesh at the end of his sentence. Hosain, police sources said, made multiple attempts to make contact with local intelligence officers through 2009, but his offerings were deemed unreliable.

Resurgent Jihad

Key to the future of the jihadist movement in Bangladesh is the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, or JMB, which seeks to establish an Islamic state in the country.

Ever since August 2004, when the JMB staged 500 simultaneous bombings in all but one of Bangladesh’s 64 districts, hundreds of JMB cadre were arrested and their original leadership council executed. But the JMB’s links to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish remain robust.

Saudi Arabia-educated seminarian Sheikh Abdur Rahman founded the JMB in 1998. Son of a prominent Islamist cleric, Rahman began his political career in the Jamaat-e-Islami, but lost faith in its claims to be working for a revolution through democratic means.

In 1995, he joined the Harkat ul-Jihad-e-Islami Bangladesh, a group formed by jihadists, who fought against the erstwhile Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Soon, though, he fell out with the HuJI on theological grounds.

Early in 1998, Rahman was introduced to Abdul Karim ‘Tunda,’ a Pilkhuwa, Haryana-origin Unani doctor, who was among the co-founders of the jihadist movement in India. Karim arranged for Rahman to meet with the top leadership of the Lashkar in Pakistan, including its chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed. Rahman was trained at Lashkar camps in Pakistan, before he returned home to found the JMB in 1998.

Political patronage from supporters linked to the former Bangladesh Prime Minister, Khalida Zia’s Bangladesh National Party gave the JMB access to substantial resources. More funds were made available by Islamist sympathisers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Brunei, Sudan and Pakistan. The United Kingdom-based group al-Muhajiroun — linked to the men who bombed the London underground train system in July, 2005 — is believed to have provided the JMB £10,000.

Interestingly, Hosain is thought to have been involved in raising funds for the JMB by running weapons between Malda and Bangladesh — the enterprise, which led to his arrest.

JMB operatives bombed cinema halls and folk theatre performances in 2002, killing 30 people in attacks intended to cripple the secular cultural expression.

It attempted to assassinate progressive writer Humayun Azad two years later and planned to kill Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus and writer Taslima Nasreen.

Many members of the JMB’s current shura, or leadership council — among them, Dhaka area chief Mohammad Mahfouz, military chief Najmul Shahid and information technology head Mohammad Sayem — are now thought to be working closely with the Lashkar and Jaish. Late last year, the police in Bangladesh disrupted a Lashkar-led plan to attack the diplomatic missions of the United States and India in Dhaka.

Correction

The JMB staged 500 simultaneous bombings in all but one of Bangladesh's 64 districts in August 2005. The tenth paragraph of the above report “Bangladesh arrest underlines continued jihadist threat” (March 3, 2010) gave the year as August 2004.

More In: National | News