International terrorist group and al-Qaeda’s regional wing AQIS has vowed to take revenge over the execution of HujiB top leader Mufti Abdul Hannan, terming the Afghan war veteran-turned-notorious militant leader an “icon of dawat and jihad in Bangladesh.”
Labelling him a “martyr” and a “follower of Hazi Shariat Ullah” who spearheaded the Faraizi Movement against British rule, AQIS (al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent) in a statement recently said that Mufti Hannan had resisted the secularists’ moves to limit Islamic activities to mosques and madrasas, and had revived jihad in Bangladesh.
Mufti Hannan, chief of a breakaway faction of HujiB floated officially in 1992, and two of his associates were hanged by the government on April 12 in a case filed over the grenade attack on the Shahjalal Shrine in Sylhet 13 years ago.
The attack was aimed at killing Anwar Choudhury, the then UK high commissioner in Dhaka who was visiting the site, on May 21, 2004. Choudhury escaped death, but three people were killed and over 70 others sustained injuries.
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Both AQIS and Huji (Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami) are headquartered in Pakistan, and have their local wings – Ansar al-Islam (previously Ansarullah Bangla Team) and HujiB – actively operating in Bangladesh.
Reportedly formed by members of JMB, Hizb ut-Tahrir and Islami Chhatra Shibir a decade ago, Ansarullah was banned in 2015 and Ansar al-Islam was outlawed on March 5 this year. Most of its top leaders have been on the run.
The US government blacklisted AQIS as a “foreign terrorist organisation” and its leader, Indian-born Asim Umar, a “specially designated global terrorist” in a statement issued on June 30 last year.
Mufti Hannan was allegedly patronised by the BNP, Jamaat and Islami Oikyo Jote as well as other militant groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan during 1999-2005, but was finally arrested on October 31, 2005 – two weeks after the outfit was declared to be banned in the face of widespread condemnation by local and international groups.
The latest AQIS statement, issued by its media wing chief Mufti Abdullah Ashraf, blamed the USA and India for taking a stance against Islam and asked the Muslims in Bangladesh to unite, removing mistrust and division between them.
The group also mourned the death of Ansar al-Islam’s military and IT expert Mukul Rana, who was killed in an alleged gunfight with law enforcement officials in Dhaka last year.
Mukul Rana masterminded the recent attacks on war crimes trial campaigners, secular activists and LGBT rights activists, police said.
The AQIS statement is being discussed by Ansar al-Islam members on their Bangla platform Dawahilallah, where they also remembered the contribution of former Jamaat leader Shayakh Abdur Rahman, who founded the pro-al-Qaeda outfit Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) in 1998 and was executed in 2007.
The forum members also criticised Islamic scholars and clerics linked to Qawmi madrasas for accepting the government’s recognition for Dawra-e-Hadith certificates after meeting with the prime minister recently.
They earlier expressed grievances when like-minded Qawmi madrasa-based radical Islamist platform Hefazat-e-Islam had requested that the government remove the statue of Lady Justice from the Supreme Court premises, suggesting that they should have materialised the demand through street agitations.
Since 2013, over a dozen of war crimes trial campaigners, secularists and LGBT activists have been killed by al-Qaeda supporters in Bangladesh at regular intervals.
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Ansar al-Islam has taken credit for 13 attacks, in which 11 people were killed and six others sustained critical injuries. The last attack killed LGBT activists Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Tonoy on April 25, 2016.
Of the 13 cases, the trial of only one case has so far been completed.
Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden’s successor, Egyptian ideologue Ayman al-Zawahiri, announced the formation of AQIS in September 2014 to carry the group’s fight to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and with a special focus on Rakhine state of Myanmar.
After the Myanmar Army’s crackdown began in the Rakhine state in October last year, followed by attacks on its border outposts along Bangladesh by a Rohingya extremist group, both Ansar al-Islam and Islamic State extended support towards the new group named Harakah al-Yakin or Faith Movement, and urged Bangladeshi Muslims to join the jihad.
Since last month, AQIS has released photos of two Bangladeshis who had been killed fighting for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, calling for suicide attacks in Bangladesh. One of them – Tariq alias Sohel – was identified as the chief of Bangladesh operations.
Notorious Mufti Hannan
HujiB was formed in 1992 for “establishing Shariah law in Bangladesh.” The group later split into three factions due to differences over methodology.
Between 1999 and 2005, Mufti Hannan’s faction was responsible for carrying out at least 14 attacks that killed over 120 people and injured scores of others – mostly leaders and supporters of the Awami League, leftist parties and cultural activists.
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Mufti Hannan had a dozen cases pending against him when he was executed. He received the death penalty in the Ramna blast case while the trial regarding the August 21 blast case is in the final stage.
According to case documents, Mufti Hannan had been assisted by high ranking government officials during the BNP-Jamaat rule between 2001-06 in carrying out attacks that included attempts to assassinate current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, then leader of the opposition, and other top leaders of the Awami League, as well as to terrorise secularists and liberals.