Monday, March 10, 2008

US terms Huji as foreign terrorist outfit

US terms Huji as foreign terrorist outfit
Ashfaq Wares Khan
Source: Daily Star
March 7, 2008

The US state department on Wednesday formally labelled Harakat ul-Jihad-i-Islami-Bangladesh (Huji-B) as a foreign terrorist organisation (FTO) and as a specially designated global terrorist (SDGT), to allow the US government to target the Islamist terrorist group's finances and operations.

The group, notorious for carrying out armed attacks on unsuspecting targets, is more commonly known as Harkatul Jihad Al Islami in Bangladesh.

Huji, as a global terrorist outfit, was previously put on the list of 'Other Terrorist Oragnisations' in 2003 by the US, but the latest move provides the government of that country with the legal basis for actions against the group.

The designation also signals to Bangladesh, the US government's 'heightened concerns' about Huji-B, and bumps up the outfit's terrorist status by putting it among an elite group of 44 FTOs formally identified by that government.

The move came as a result of the US state department's counter terrorism wing's view that Huji-B has 'engaged in planning and preparations for possible future acts of terrorism' and 'retains the capability and intent to carry out such acts' against US targets.

"The leader of Huji-B signed the February 1998 fatwa sponsored by Usama bin Ladin [sic] that declared American civilians to be legitimate targets for attack. Since then, Huji-B has been implicated in a number of terrorist attacks in Bangladesh and abroad," stated a US news release in Washington.

Signed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Executive Order 13224, criminalises providing material support to Huji-B by US citizens or people living under US jurisdictions, and freezes all Huji-B property and interests in the US and in areas under US jurisdiction.

The designation also enables the US to deny visas to Huji-B representatives, and requires US financial institutions to freeze assets held by Huji-B.

The Bangladesh home ministry quickly responded to the announcement, with a senior home ministry official saying, any covert or overt activity by any terrorist organisation will be dealt with an iron fist.

Groups are usually labelled 'specially designated global terrorists' as part of the US government's three-year old campaign to starve out terrorists of funds.

So far, more than 390 groups and individuals have been designated supporters or financiers of terrorism under the programme -- meaning they are subject to seizure of assets and are prevented from doing business with anyone without government permission.

Huji-B emerged with an open declaration of Jihad at a news conference in early 1992. But the then BNP government did not pay any attention to the outfit's dramatic appearance.

The group had been nourished almost unchallenged for years until now detained former premier Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League (AL) government began chasing the fanatic Islamist group in January 1998, as it had carried out an attack on late iconic poet Shamsur Rahman.

Even after the extremist organisation had made an assassination attempt on the then prime minister Sheikh Hasina in 2000, the AL government however failed to check its advancement.

A few of the nine suspected militants held by Rapid Action Battalion in October of last year, with a large amount of arms and explosives in their possessions, admitted to their involvement in another assassination attempt on Hasina on August 21, 2004.

One of the arrestees said Huji boss Mufti Hannan's men had given him the grenades hurled at the AL chief's rally for safekeeping.

There were several reports that the BNP-Jamaat-led immediate past four-party alliance government patronised Huji-B and its leaders.

The alliance government, however, was compelled to take some measures including banning the group and arresting a few of its leaders in October 2005.

The move came in the wake of pressures from home and abroad to take actions against the Islamist terrorist organisation, which investigators also found responsible for perpetrating the August 21, 2004 attack on Hasina.

Interestingly, a few days ahead of banning the organisation the then prime minister Khaleda Zia, also the chief of BNP who is currently in detention, held a meeting with a number of Huji leaders when they, posing as Islamic scholars, called on her at the Prime Minister's Office.

A top Huji leader categorically branded a former BNP minister as his patron to the media, after being arrested.

A year into the banning, a number of top Huji leaders under a different banner held a public meeting in the capital after getting a nod from the government in October 2006.

On April 30, 1992, Huji appeared in Bangladesh through a news conference wearing sleeveless olive combat jackets over shelwar-kameez.

Terrorist leaders sat shoulder to shoulder during the news conference at the National Press Club in the capital, and boastfully described how they had fought in the previous Afghan war. They also demanded that Bangladesh be turned into an Islamic state.

A day after the public emergence, they paraded through Dhaka streets after a Juma prayer celebrating their victory over the Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Although the US had put Huji and Huji-B on the list of 'other terrorist organisations' in 2002 and 2003 respectively, it took the Bangladeshi government three more years to ban the terrorist organisation on October 17, 2005, after much denial of its existence in the country.

The then foreign minister M Morshed Khan said he had not seen 'any activity of such organisation in Bangladesh'.

Lawmakers from Jamaat-e-Islami, who had alleged links with the Islamist terrorists, also denied the existence of Huji in Bangladesh.

Under such leniency and denials, Huji spread its wing in madrasas, setting up training camps in greater Chittagong and in three hill districts, carrying out terrorist activities.

Only after widespread public outrage over near simultaneous bomb attacks nationwide on August 17, 2005, did the BNP-led alliance government ban the Islamist terrorist outfit.

The home ministry note banning Huji read, "Harkat-ul Jihad Al Islami is a self-proclaimed terrorist organisation. Its activities are very sensitive and it is identified as a terrorist organisation. The government is declaring Harkat-ul Jihad Al Islami and all its activities banned on the basis of information received so far.”

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