By N. Manoharan and Niharika Hooda*
The recent deadly terror attack in Dhaka might have been claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Daesh, but the pointers are towards the banned local terror group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). This is of serious concern to India, not only because of JMB’s cross-border presence but also due to its linkage with the ISIS.1
The JMB, meaning ‘Assembly of Holy Warriors’, is a Bangladesh-based terror outfit formed in 1998. The principal objective of JMB is to establish an Islamic state in Bangladesh based on Sharia. Given its strong belief in Salafist ideology, JMB considers the modern principles of governance like democracy, liberalism, socialism and secularism as “anti-Islamic”. In the initial stages, funding for JMB came from various sources such as extortion, smuggling of drugs, donation from international Wahhabi charity groups based in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Kingdom (UK), patronage by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), contribution from its members and taxation on local business. Very soon, JMB turned towards more lucrative foreign sources of funding and also smuggling in counterfeit currencies. The then Bangladesh Nationalist Party or the BNP-led government’s soft-peddling also helped in JMB’s phenomenal growth and influence. The government did not realise the gravity of JMB’s agenda until the terror group triggered a country-wide serial bombing in August 2005, when about 500 bombs went off in 63 of the 64 districts of Bangladesh within half-an-hour.
In the ensuing crackdown by the Khalida Zia-led government, many of JMB’s leaders and cadres were arrested or killed, especially by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) of Bangladesh. It was at this stage that JMB decided to shift some of its operations to India. The JMB leader Abdur Rahman (alias Shahadat), who had sneaked into India in 2006, was instrumental in building the outfit’s network across the India-Bangladesh border. Around the same time, the operational wing of JMB in West Bengal was declared as the ‘65th Unit’.2 In October 2014, JMB was found running a bomb and explosive making unit in Burdwan, from where bombs and grenades were transported to Bangladesh in consignments. The fact that bomb blasts at Chennai and Patna in May 2014 carried JMB’s signature indicates that some of the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) used might have been diverted within India as well.
India is being used by JMB not just as a hideout, but also for recruitment as well. Recruitment is done through madrasas, mosques and effective use of social media. JMB’s network is especially active in Murshidabad, Malda and Nadia districts of West Bengal and parts of Muslim-majority districts in Assam. These areas are also closer to JMB’s strongholds in northern and north-western Bangladesh. JMB’s traditional strategy of creating networks of matrimonial alliances across the border has also helped in facilitating the establishment of its bases within India. Going by call and travel records of the JMB members detained so far, the outfit seems to have spread its footprints in southern India and Jammu and Kashmir as well. It is estimated that about 50 JMB modules are operating in India.
What is more concerning is JMB’s linkage with terror groups active in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and even beyond. The common thread that connects all these groups is their anti-India, anti-democratic and pro-Salafist ideology. It is difficult for JMB to operate in India without the assistance of local militant groups. Some of the known collaborationists are Indian Mujahideen, Al Jihad, Al Ummah and Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). In the case of Pakistan, JMB has established a strong network with Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Harkat-ul Jihad-al Islami (HuJI). Similarly, they have built linkages with Taliban and al Qaida in Afghanistan. For its operations in Myanmar, JMB relies on Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) based in Rohingya refugee camps in southern Bangladesh. Going by the latest slogan of JMB – “Jihad from Bangladesh to Baghdad” – the network now includes the ISIS as well. The scope of networking among these terror groups includes training, recruitment, funding, information sharing, arms, operational assistance, manpower and logistics. Funding to JMB has also been traced to NGOs located in West Asia, like the Kuwait-based Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS), and even Europe. This shows that JMB’s network involves a section of Bangladeshi diaspora as well.
Bangladesh-based terror groups acting against India is not new. What is new is a Bangladeshi terror group based in India acting against both India and Bangladesh. This is a serious development. What is of utmost concern is how the activities of JMB in India have gone unnoticed for over half-a-decade. It would have remained so for long had blasts in Burdwan would not have taken place accidentally. Vote bank and communal politics, lack of capability of state police forces, lack of proper coordination between the Centre and the States, and lack of cooperation between India and Bangladesh have long helped JMB disguise its presence. These issues have to be addressed on an urgent basis.
Border guarding cannot afford to remain slack and requires attention. JMB will largely lose its purpose, if its cross-border activities are effectively curtailed. This apart, India could consider strengthening Bangladesh’s counter-terrorism capabilities, especially in dealing with radical terror groups. The present dispensation in Dhaka has been helpful in stifling India’s north-eastern militant groups that often took shelter in Bangladesh. A weak and pro-Islamist regime in Bangladesh is not in the interest of India. Therefore, robust counterterrorism cooperation between India and Bangladesh is imperative to tackling common enemies like JMB.
*Dr. N. Manoharan is Associate Professor at the Department of International Studies and History, Christ University, Bengaluru and Ms. Niharika Hooda is pursuing Masters from the same university.
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India. Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at http://idsa.in/idsacomments/why-jmb-is-of-concern-to-india_manoharan-hooda_210716
1. Abhishek Bhalla, “Indian intelligence agencies warn Bangladesh Mujahideen may have links to Islamic State”, Mail Today, May 28, 2015; Shishir Gupta, “India wary of IS attacks through Bangladeshi terrorist groups”, Hindustan Times, January 24, 2016; Bikash Singh, “Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangaldesh is Being Monitored: Assam Director General of Police, Mukesh Sahay”, The Economic Times, July 11, 2016; and “Islamic State claims they now have a ‘regional leader’ in Bangladesh”, bdnews24.com, November 23, 2015.<
2. The ‘65th Unit’ was otherwise known as the “Bengal Unit”. JMB was said to have maintained a unit in each of the 64 districts of Bangladesh, and the one in West Bengal was the 65th.
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