NEW DELHI: Gunmen attacked a Shiite mosque in Bangladesh, killing one person and wounding three others, in the latest in a wave of deadly assaults this year on foreigners, secular writers and members of the Shiite community in the Sunni-majority nation.
The attacks, claimed by radical Islamist groups, have alarmed the international community and raised concerns that religious extremism is taking hold in the traditionally moderate country. The Islamic State group and a local affiliate have claimed responsibility for the killings of two foreigners – an Italian aid worker and a Japanese agricultural worker – as well as for attacks on the country’s minority Shiite Muslim community.
Bangladesh’s government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has repeatedly said that IS has no organizational presence in the country. It accuses domestic Islamist groups along with the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its main ally, the Jamaat-e-Islami party, of carrying out the attacks to destabilize the South Asian nation for political gains.
A look at the main Islamic political parties and radical groups:
Jamaat-e-Islami is Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party and a partner of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which is led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia – an archrival of current leader Hasina. The party advocates the introduction of Shariah, or Islamic laws.
Jamaat-e-Islami and its leaders openly opposed Bangladesh’s 1971 war to gain independence from Pakistan. Its members formed groups and militias to aid Pakistani soldiers during the war and acted as an auxiliary force involved in kidnappings and killings of those who supported independence. Many of its top leaders fled the country after independence, but returned following the 1975 assassination of independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Jamaat-e-Islami was banned for a brief period after the 1971 war, but was revived in 1979 after a military dictatorship took power following a series of coups and counter-coups. The group gained in strength and became a serious political force by the early 2000s.
Many of its top leaders have been accused of war crimes. Last week, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, a leader during the war, was executed despite concerns that the legal proceedings against him were flawed. Both its former leader Ghulam Azam and current chief Matiur Rahman Chowdhury have been convicted of war crimes by a special tribunal set up by Hasina in 2010 to deal with 1971 crimes. Two other senior leaders have also been executed for their role in the 1971 war.
Bangladesh’s High Court canceled the party’s registration in 2013, effectively barring it from contesting elections. The party has appealed the decision.
ANSARULLAH BANGLA TEAM:
Ansarullah Bangla Team came to light as an active Islamist group in 2013, when secular blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was killed by attackers in front of his home in Dhaka, the capital. Detectives arrested seven suspects, including students at a top private university and the group’s alleged chief, Jasimuddin Rahmani, a former imam of a Dhaka mosque.
They have been indicted and are currently facing trial. The other suspects said Rahmani’s sermons inspired them to attack Haider.
Bangladesh intelligence officials have said they tracked down the group after investigating a blog called “Ansarullah Bangla Team” which had five administrators, including two in Pakistan. In 2014, detectives arrested a Bangladeshi man and said he was one of the administrators. Despite the arrests of at least 40 suspected group members, the blog remains active with other administrators who operate from abroad, according to Bangladeshi intelligence.
The group, now banned in Bangladesh, has claimed responsibility for the killings of four secular bloggers this year, and has vowed to carry out more such attacks. It has also operated under the names Ansar al-Islam and Ansar Bangla 7.
JUMATUL MUJAHEDEEN BANGLADESH:
The group was founded in 1998 by Shaikh Abdur Rahman, a religious teacher educated in Saudi Arabia.
It came to notice in 2001 when it engaged in conflict with an extremist communist group in Dinajpur in northern Bangladesh. On Aug. 17, 2005, it exploded about 500 homemade bombs at nearly 300 locations almost simultaneously across the country as part of a campaign demanding the introduction of Shariah law.
Later it continued its violent campaign by attacking and killing judges and police, and threatening journalists and women without veils. It created a large network of supporters; some government officials say it has as many as 10,000 members.
In 2005, six of its leaders including Rahman were arrested and the group was banned. The six were hanged in 2007 after being convicted of the killings of two judges.
However, it remains active and has attempted to regroup. Dabiq, a magazine of the IS group, has claimed Rahman was the founder of the jihadi movement in Bangladesh.
On Thursday, police said they arrested five members of the group, and that one of its military commanders was killed in a gunfight in a Dhaka suburb. -AP