In 1998, Al-Qaeda styled Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) was formed in Tangail by Shayakh Abdur Rahman
Notorious criminal Siddiqur Rahman, alias Bangla Bhai, who led many killings in Rajshahi region, and was behind the nationwide bomb attacks in 2005, wanted to be covered by English newspapers.
Aiming to reach a global audience, on several occasions he invited senior journalist Hasibur Rahman Bilu based in Bogra, to share different insights so that his notoriety was covered by English dailies.
Bilu, then a journalist for The Daily Star, has not only witnessed Bangla Bhai’s notorious crimes, but also directly met the man during his reign of terror.
“Bangla Bhai trusted me. He chose me for two reasons – I was from his village, and because he was keen on English news coverage,” said Bilu yesterday, in a conversation with Dhaka Tribune.
“‘Please put my name in italics so that it can draw attention,’ Bangla Bhai would say,” said Bilu.
A Naogaon based advocate made the introductions between Bilu and Siddiqur in 2005, when the latter expressed his desire for coverage in English.
“Bangla Bhai was pretty sure then that there were no alternatives to English news coverage to spread news of his activities in the global arena,” said Bilu.
In 1998, Al-Qaeda styled Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, Bangladesh (JMB), was formed in Tangail by Shayakh Abdur Rahman. It later spread in the northern districts – especially in Rajshahi’s Baghmara – in 2004 with the help of Bangla Bhai.
The militant outfit came into the limelight after multiple nationwide bomb attacks were carried out simultaneously in 500 places between 11:30am and 12pm on August 17, 2005.
Nearly 200 people were injured and two were killed by the bomb attacks in 63 districts, except Munshiganj.
JMB claimed responsibility for the attack during the tenure of the BNP-Jamaat-led four-party alliance government.
Talking to Dhaka Tribune, Bilu said Siddiqur called him one day and asked for coverage on the trial of two outlaws.
“Bilu Bhai, we will slaughter two of them tomorrow in the village market. I need coverage,” Bilu said, quoting Bangla Bhai, adding: “It will be a public slaughtering. We are already miking [using loudspeaker] in the area.”
Bilu published the news in advance which put massive pressure on the local administration. The police were successful in preventing the public execution, but could not stop the murders.
One of the victims, Abdul Qaiyum Badsha, was hanged from a tree. The photo published by The Daily Star raised a public outcry across the country.
The other victim, Idris Ali, alias Khejur Ali, was murdered and mutilated. His body, chopped up in seven parts and buried, was recovered from a field in Naogaon.
“The JMB would do this to gain supreme authority in the area. Their aim was to cleanse the area of outlaws, and they were commonly known as ‘Sorbohara’ [communists] then,” said Bilu.
‘Will make you a minister for newspapers’
Bangla Bhai trusted this senior journalist so much that he even wanted to make him a minister if he came to power.
“Bilu Bhai, we will form a government. You will have to be a minister for newspapers once we come to power,” said Bilu, quoting Bangla Bhai.
“They [JMB] wanted a revolution in the country to establish Islamic Sharia. Once I asked him how they would manage the funding and arms. Bangla Bhai was confident that it would come from abroad,” said Bilu.
Bilu, who had numerous conversations with Bangla Bhai Siddiqur, said he was also made an offer to visit Afghanistan to visit the training grounds of Islamist Group supporters which he declined.
He said there were local training grounds in Naogaon and Rajshahi where participants would pay to train. The group also had a torture cell in Bagmara of Rajshahi.
Shayakh Abdur Rahman, educated in Saudi Arabia, founded JMB that targeted secularists, non-Muslims and non-Sunnis, police, and foreigners. The group attacked alleged underground communist outlaws in Rajshahi, Natore, Naogaon, and Bogra in 2004.
From March 31 to May 24, 2004, JMB and its associate organisation, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), under the leadership of Bangla Bhai, carried out a series of attacks on the Awami League and outlawed leftist groups under the patronage of the BNP-Jamaat government.
JMB founder Shayakh Abdur Rahman also went to Pakistan in 1997 and in 2002 to meet leaders of overseas militant groups including Lashkar-e-Taiba.
He was arrested by security agencies along with Bangla Bhai Siddiqur Rahman, and several hundred members of the militant outfit, after the simultaneous bomb attacks.
It was Siddiqur who led the killings in Rajshahi in 2004 that helped JMB flourish.
Bangla Bhai was seen openly carrying out his activities under the patronage of local administration, police, and the BNP-Jamaat government's lawmakers and ministers of that time.
The two top leaders were captured in March 2006. They were executed the following year, along with three other Majlish-e-Sura members.