Many Qawmi madrasa teachers and students had joined the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s to join hands with the local Mujahideens there against the then Soviet occupational force. Inspired by al-Qaeda, they later launched the Bangladesh faction of militant group Huji eyeing to establish Islamic rule here.
Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami Bangladesh (HujiB) announced its formation officially on April 30, 1992 from a press conference at the National Press Club with Maulana Abdus Salam as its chief.
Other top brass included Shaikhul Hadith Allama Azizul Haq, who served as the chief of Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ), and Muhammad Habibur Rahman alias Bulbuli Huzur of Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish, and Mufti Izharul Islam Chowdhury, principal of Lalkhan Madrasa in Chittagong.
The group first hit the headlines by carrying out an attack on poet Shamsur Rahman at his home on January 18, 1999. They later bombed a cultural function of Udichi in Jessore on March 6, 1999 in which 10 persons were killed and over 100 injured.
Until January 27, 2005 when they killed former finance minister Shah AMS Kibria and four others, the members of HujiB carried out at least 13 attacks killing 105 people and injuring more than 700 others.
Then the BNP-Jamaat government banned the militant group on October 17, 2005. The Home Ministry note banning HujiB read: "Harkat-ul Jihad Al-Islami is a self-proclaimed terrorist organisation. Its activities are very sensitive and it is identified as a terrorist organisation.”
Most of its top leaders including Mufti Abdul Hannan and Mufti Abdur Rouf have been arrested in connection with the attacks and are now facing trials. But detectives say the group is now divided into three parts but are trying to reorganise.
Earlier it enjoyed support from local politicians linked to the BNP, Jamaat and IOJ. It also received support from outlawed militant group Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Pakistan's spy agency ISI, Pakistani militant groups Lashkar-e-Taiba, Asif Reza Commando Force (ARCF) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Indian separatist group Ulfa and Myanmar-based Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO).
It was also reported that a 25-member team of Taliban operatives reached Bangladesh in June, 2001 to train HujiB cadres. Over three dozen members of HujiB were also arrested in Saudi Arabia and Bolivia in 2003 on suspicion of planning terrorist acts.
Monirul Islam, chief of Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime unit, said: “The outfit used to get financial support from influential people and it made them strong and ferocious. Instigated by the financiers, they conducted the grenade attack on an Awami League rally on August 21, 2004.”
He thinks that the outfit has lost its strength as most of their leaders and supporters are now either in jail or on the run.
According to intelligence information, the three HujiB factions are led by Mufti Hannan, Mufti Rouf and Abdus Salam. Of them, Salam is absconding and believed to be leading the group from abroad.
Leaders of the three groups held meetings several times to unite, but it has not been possible because of Salam's opposition.
Many of its members have joined different active militant groups like the JMB and Ansarullah Bangla Team, and are believed to be taking part in the recent targeted killings.
Police's detective branch has got information after interrogating Mufti Maulana Nazimuddin, Engineer Saiduzzaman and Anas, who were arrested from Old Dhaka on July 23, that the factions are working to strengthen its organisational activities.
Mahfuza Afroz Lucky, senior assistant commissioner of DB police, said: “Although the outfit is now weak, its members are trying to re-unite again. As a part of it, money is coming from someone in the Middle East. The arrestees have told us that they are using the money to bear costs of cases and release the detained leaders and members.”
The group first saw split in 1998 when Mufti Hannan and Mufti Rouf formed Islamic Gono Andolon. After its ban in 2005, Gono Andolon was renamed Sacheton Islami Janata on August 19, 2006.
The outfit enjoyed impunity during the military-backed caretaker government when they organised rallies and processions under the banner of Sachetan Islami Janata. The faction led by Salam even floated Islamic Democratic Party (IDP) with a 15-member convening committee in May, 2008 to contest the national election in December. But the IDP did not get party registration.