Forced to lay low since they had to retreat from the streets in face of police crackdown more than two years ago, the Islami Chhatra Shibir, the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, is trying to get back in the game by infiltrating other student organisations.
Sources in different political and independent student bodies told the Dhaka Tribune that Shibir members are joining their ranks in disguise and then using those organisations’ identities and resources to spread their own subversive propaganda.
Shibir was actively involved in the violent street demonstrations of the BNP-led 20-party alliance before and after the 2014 general election, and in the spate of blockade in early 2015 that saw several arson attacks on the streets.
After the law enforcement agencies launched a crackdown on them, Shibir members began to disappear from the streets in mid-2015.
Since then, Shibir sources say they have been silently working at the grassroots level, especially in remote areas, with a focus on recruiting local school and college students.
They are also active in mosques and go door-to-door to maintain contact with the potential recruits, said the sources, all of whom requested anonymity.
Meanwhile, Shibir has established committees in schools, colleges and universities before December 31 last year.
Sources inside organisations like Bangladesh Chhatra League – student wing of the Awami League – and Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal – student wing of the BNP – and other student organisations said Shibir was deliberately targeting people who had lost their relatives or friends in the hands of law enforcement agencies.
They are equally active online and use social network services like Facebook and Skype, and messaging services like WhatsApp and Viber, to keep contact among themselves and with their targets, said Shibir sources.
Shibir leaders and activists have scores of Facebook pages and also use proxy websites to continue communications online.
In many areas, they are allegedly spreading hatred among young Muslims and provoking communal attacks by picking on individuals and accusing them of hurting religious sentiment, the sources said.
A number of Shibir leaders have recently been found involved with banned militant groups like Ansarullah Bangla Team and JMB.
Leaders of several student organisations have alleged that Shibir members are creating factional feud inside their party after infiltrating their ranks.
Shibir’s high command reportedly devised a plan to infiltrate all levels of educational institutes, but universities remain their top priority.
Chhatra League’s Chittagong University (CU) unit leader Abdul Malek, who is the vice-president of a faction, told the Dhaka Tribune that the other faction has a number of Shibir leaders and activists.
“The faction is in trouble due to the Shibir intruders as the latter are fuelling the infighting,” he said, adding that his faction was cautious so they could prevent Shibir intrusion.
Chhatra Dal’s CU Senior Vice-president Abdul Kaiywam also attested to the fact that Shibir men were creating factional feud in many student organisations.
“I suspect that some Shibir activists may have infiltrated our committee,” he said.
A similar trend has been reported in other public universities, and sources said they are expanding their activities in the private universities as well.
The Dhaka Tribune made several attempts to reach Shibir central leaders regarding these allegations, but none of them responded.
Known for their ferocity, Shibir gained notoriety in the 1980s and 1990s for their activities in university campuses.
In February 2013, soon after the death penalty of Jamaat leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee, Shibir men unleashed terror around the country, making headlines by beating up and killing policemen, torching public vehicles and properties, exploding bombs, felling trees and uprooting railway tracks.
The worst face of Shibir surfaced prior to the 2014 polls as they went on a rampage, alongside their BNP allies, killing more than 500 people in arson attacks.
In February 2014, US-based research group IHS Inc ranked Shibir third most violent non-state actor in the world in a report titled IHS Jane’s 2013 Global Terrorism and Insurgency Attack Index.
Earlier in 2010, the US Department of Homeland Security, in its report titled “National Consortium for Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism,” said Shibir was associated with international terrorist networks.
The International Crimes Tribunal, formed to try the collaborators for crimes against humanity in 1971, branded Jamaat and its affiliates, including Shibir – then named as Islami Chhatra Sangha, as criminal organisations on a number of occasions, saying such organisations cannot function in a democratic country.