After the series bomb blasts of August 17, 2005, the media as well as the Awami League leaders and political observers alleged that then the BNP-led government ally Jamaat-e-Islami had connection with banned radical Islamist group JMB – both having the common aim to establish Islamic law in Bangladesh.
However, an aide of then prime minister Khaleda Zia acknowledged that many Jamaat men had joined the JMB.
Even though Jamaat then denied having any organisational link with the JMB (Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh) and like-minded Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), two of its senior leaders admitted that there were some former Jamaat members in the JMB, according to US embassy cables leaked by whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
On December 14, 2005, then US charge d affairs in Dhaka Judith Chammas met with former PMO principal secretary Kamal Siddiqui.
“JMB is filled with former Jamaat-e-Islami members who broke away when the latter aligned with the BNP [in 2001]. Some Jamaat members maintain supportive links to the JMB,” the cable sent to Washington on December 15 quoted Siddiqui as saying.
When asked, he declined to give names or more specific information.
He also acknowledged the government’s missteps, in particular its failure to recognise JMB’s terrorist potential and the protection of senior JMB figures by influential BNP leaders including Khaleda’s elder son Tarique Rahman and former state minister Ruhul Kuddus Talukder Dulu.
“There is no doubt that there are some foreigners helping JMB. There is a nagging suspicion that this is the work of ‘the big brother,’” Siddiqui told Chammas.
BNP’s Senior Vice-Chairman Tarique in 2005 had phoned then home state minister Lutfozzaman Babar for the release of JMB’s second-in-command Mahtab Khamaru, according to another cable leaked by WikiLeaks.
As allegations piled against Jamaat after the blast incidents, its Assistant Secretary General Muhammed Kamaruzzaman called on Chammas on December 21 the same year to convince the US that Jamaat had not been involved with the JMB.
He earlier visited the French, the UK, the Norwegian, and the Chinese embassies to defend the party.
“There were no current JIB [Jamaat] members that are members of the JMB. A member of the JMB can be a former JIB member, but will never return to the JIB party,” Kamaruzzaman said when asked by Chammas.
Another cable sent on January 24, 2006 quoted senior Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Molla, who was executed last year for his involvement in 1971 war crimes, saying that some JMB members had associations with Jamaat, particularly the student wing – Islami Chhatra Shibir.
Molla said the JMB members left by their own admission as they disagreed with Jamaat’s stance on “adhering to the democratic process.” His party had not been weakened by the association with the JMB, he told the US official.
A US embassy official met Molla at the Jamaat office on January 19. He said the JMB men were isolated from the people, and therefore, would not “survive in the current sea.”
Blaming India and the Awami League for supporting the group, Molla dismissed notions that the BNP government was protecting the JMB militants. “It is a political campaign saying that [Shayakh] Abdur Rahman is being protected.”
Asked who might be supporting the JMB, the Jamaat leader said the JMB’s explosives had come from India, and “it has been long known that India desires to control the markets of Bangladesh.”
He thinks India blames Bangladesh for threatening the stability of all neighbouring states to justify its hostility to Bangladesh.
Even after it was banned in early 2005, Molla said, the JMB had not gone but certainly their activities decreased. He anticipated that splinter groups might arise and make future attacks.
According to Kamaruzzaman, the bombings were meant to destabilise the government and the Awami League was benefited from that. “Islamists certainly are not benefited. Islamic parties are being blamed for the bombings, which gives them a bad name,” he told Chammas.
Kamaruzzaman said newspapers were offering three arguments as proof of the Jamaat-JMB link. The first argument was that Jamaat wants Islamic law, as does the JMB. “Anyone can push for Islamic law, but the method in which they pursue the cause is different,” he said.
He, however, did not deny the second argument that relatives of Jamaat men were members of the JMB. “The country is densely populated and it is easy to find people that have relations with members of the government. There are relatives of the opposition Awami League that are also members of JMB,” the cable reads.
The Jamaat leader was sentenced to death for committing crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War and is awaiting verdict in the appeals case at the Supreme Court.
According to Babar, who Chammas met on December 19, 2005, JMB was aware that their string of violent attacks is not sanctioned by Islam, and therefore, their prime motivation must be to unseat the ruling party by splintering their four-party coalition.
Babar insisted that JMB’s agenda was political and not religious. “The randomness of their targets indicates they are primarily interested in creating instability.”
Therefore, he concluded, the JMB was politically motivated, and it was all about “winning the next election [in late 2006]” and splitting Jamaat from the BNP-led ruling coalition.