An Aug. 18 Christian Science Monitor story, online at TruthOut, reports that some 300 small bombs exploded in cities across Bangladesh the previous day, killing one, wounding at least 100, and raising fears of a surge of Islamic militancy. The bombs mainly targeted government offices, bus and train stations, and markets in 63 of the country’s 64 districts. No one formally claimed responsibility, but copies of a leaflet found at most of the sites carried a call by the group Jaamat-ul-Mujahideen for Islamic rule in Bangladesh.
Jaamat-ul-Mujahideen and similar organizations were banned in February for their alleged involvement in criminal activities. But critics say the government, which includes two Islamist parties, has been reluctant to take a hard line.
“The government has been suffering from some sense of self-complacency,” says Zaid Bakht, Research Director of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies. “They think they are in control of extreme right elements. They government has been discounting their size, their capacity and how they can destabilize things here.”
Most of the country’s 141 million people are Muslim. It was founded in 1971 on secular principles, but political violence has increasingly been a part of the long-standing rivalry between the two main political parties—the right-leaning Bangladesh National Party (BNP), now in power, and the left-leaning Awami League. According to Maj. Gen. Mainul Hossain Chowdhury (ret.), Bangladesh has seen some 400 other bombing cases since 1999.
Jaamat-ul-Mujahideen said the blasts were its “third call” to establish Islamic rule in the country. “If ignored and [if] our people are arrested or persecuted, Jaamat-ul-Mujahideen will take the counter-action,” the leaflets said. They also had a message for the US and UK: “It is also to warn Bush and Blair to vacate Muslim countries, or to face Muslim upsurge.”
Bangladesh shares some of the same demographic and cultural trends that contributed to the rise of militant Islam in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Like Pakistan, it has a network of Deobandi religious schools, or madrassahs, that have contributed to radicalization of many poor youth. Islamist violence against the country’s Hindu minority has grown in recent years. Experts say a number of militant Islamist groups have established a foothold in the country, including the Harakat al-Jihad al-Islami, or the Islamic Jihad Movement–which is said to have ties to al-Qaeda and to an organization of the same name in Pakistan.
Zachary Abuza, a senior fellow at the US Institute of Peace, sees parallels with Indonesia, the scene of large-scale attacks in Bali and Jakarta that were presaged by early, less effective blasts. He said that Bangladesh “is a country of concern to me because what you get out of the leadership sounds so much like what you got out of the Indonesian leadership before the Bali blasts. They would say that the country was a moderate Muslim country, the people were tolerant, they were secular, the radical Islamists were a distinct minority that had no interest in political violence.”