The near-simultaneous 500 explosions in 2005 were the result of allowing the militant group to operate freely even after its involvement in repeated bomb attacks and murders
Medina University educated Abdur Rahman, who formed Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) in April 1998 to establish Islamic rule in the country through militancy, found a formidable atmosphere to move ahead with his mission.
For the following two years, Rahman travelled to different parts of Bangladesh and mobilized a lot of followers, believing that he would be able to materialize his mission the way the Taliban once did in Afghanistan.
The year before JMB was formed, Rahman went to Pakistan and took training on operating firearms and explosives, combat tactics and maintaining secrecy at a Lashkar-e-Taiba training camp for 20 days. It boosted his confidence.
During those years, another terror group Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, Bangladesh (HuJi,B) had been carrying out grenade attacks one after another but faced no trouble.
Rahman was encouraged by the inaction of the authorities against HuJi,B men. He thought he and his followers would go scot-free after committing crimes.
In 2000, JMB attacked and killed the writer of the book "Nari Tumi Manush Chhile Kobey” (Women when were you human?) Monir Hossain Sagar in Tangail for making “indecent remarks about Allah and the prophet” in the book. It carried out two more attacks in 2001.
In separate attacks in Rahman’s home district Jamalpur, the militant group slaughtered two converted Christians in 2001.
The same year, 10-12 JMB operatives were nabbed in Dinajpur’s Parbatiyapur with bombs. They went there for training on making bombs. All were released on bail the following year.
During a blast in a Rangamati hotel in mid-2001, JMB leader Nasrullah died while another leader Shamim was injured. Shamim was arrested but walked out of jail later.
First, the then Awami League government and the then BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami alliance regime did not take all these attacks and blast incidents seriously. Neither conducted an investigation to know the real motive behind those incidents.
After every criminal offence, the JMB leadership faced no troubles. This gave them all the inspiration to carry out attacks more frequently.
In 2002, lower-ranked JMB leader Siddiqul Islam Bangla Bhai led a group to kill Tarapado Poddar, a leader of a religious minority community, in Bagerhat. The mission failed as people caught five operatives, including Bangla Bhai and handed them over to police.
All were later sent to jail for trial but walked out of jail within a month only to launch bomb attacks at a cinema hall and a circus pandal in Satkhira, leaving three people dead.
The deadliest attack came on December 7, 2002, when JMB men carried out simultaneous bomb attacks in four cinemas, killing 10 innocent people and injuring over a hundred.
Instead of a proper investigation and arrest of the attackers, the then government accused the opposition Awami League of plotting the attack and subsequently arrested several leaders.
JMB was happy to remain out of the dragnet.
After the Mymensingh cinema blasts, the militant group shifted its focus to the other part of the country. In January 2003, JMB launched an attack on a fair in Tangail’s Shakhipur that killed seven people.
The same month, a group of JMB men raided a shrine in Kalai upazila in Joypurhat and slaughtered five khadems to loot away Tk20 lakh. The terror group needed money for buying explosive substances and training its members on bomb-making.
No JMB operative was either implicated in the attacks or arrested. JMB kept operating freely as police arrested some villagers for the offence.
Later in February 2003, one JMB man was killed and two others injured in an explosion while manufacturing bombs in a mess in Dinajpur. Police recovered explosives, bomb-making materials and manuals, and one revolver from the blast scene. The injured JMB operatives were arrested and put in jail but for several months.
JMB’s strength demonstrated
The militant group’s strength was demonstrated when they fought with a police team in Khetlal of Joypurhat.
On the night of August 14, 2003, a police team went to a house in Uttor Moheshpur village on information that many people gathered there with an ulterior motive.
It was in fact a regional conference of over 100 JMB leaders and activists. A battle between police and JMB operatives left several policemen seriously injured.
Police managed to arrest a large number of JMB operatives. They also arrested Bangla Bhai when he went to Joypurhat jail gate to meet the arrested fellows. Surprisingly, he was given a clean-chit and released.
The other arrested JMB men were also released on bail within eight months. It is learnt that JMB leadership spent a good amount of money for their release. Some BNP-Jamaat leaders and police officers made the job easy.
The BNP-Jamaat government should have cracked down the militant outfit after the battle but it did not and allowed the group to be more ferocious.
Meanwhile, JMB killed a Rajshahi University professor while another professor of Dhaka University survived an attack.
Facing no challenge, Rahman thought of doing something that would take his group to a new height. He decided to come out of hiding and operate openly.
End of April 2004, he chose Baghmara of Rajshahi and some other places in neighbouring Natore and Naogan districts to show his strength. JMB set up camps, picked up persons it deemed enemies of Islam and tortured them in broad daylight.
Instead of arrest, then police and local administration helped Bangla Bhai and his bridge members to rule the areas for about one month. Some ruling party leaders supported them. The then industries minister and Jamaat leader Motiur Rahman Nizami accused the media of creating Bangla Bhai.
Following widespread media reports and criticism, then prime minister Khaleda Zia ordered for the arrest of Bangla Bhai but there was none to carry out her order.
JMB leaders went into hiding but had nothing to worry about. They thought of doing something that would not only earn people’s attention but also take them to the global terror landscape.
Silently JMB’s explosive experts kept preparing bombs. Its leadership fixed August 17, 2005, and exploded 500 bombs in 63 districts.
In 13 terror attacks, JMB killed 53 people before the countrywide bombings. There were also many blast incidents that left JMB operatives dead. Bomb-making materials and firearms were seized from the scenes—all were enough for the BNP-Jamaat government to take the matter seriously and crack down on the JMB.
The intelligence agencies also kept mum, allowing Rahman and his outfit to plan for an unprecedented attack like that of August 17. In fact, the countrywide bombings would never happen had the governments and its law-enforcement agencies clampdown hard on JMB.
Eventually, Rahman, who was later popularized as Shaikh Rahman, and his top aides got captured and executed in 2007.
Rahman’s dream for a Bangladesh to be ruled by Islamic law could not be accomplished but he and JMB are an example of how a simple group could turn notorious, if went unpunished.