Monday, March 1, 2010

The Threat from Jammat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh


Dhaka/Brussels, 1 March 2010: The Bangladesh government has taken steps to dismantle the terrorist group Jammat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), but it should not take its demise for granted: the organisation is regrouping and the possibility of another attack is increasing.

The Threat from Jammat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, assesses the ongoing danger JMB poses to the state. Despite two government crackdowns since 2005, the organisation continues to recruit, train and raise funds. Although JMB is a much weaker force due to the arrest of hundreds of its members and the execution of its original leadership council, it remains a potent threat with a proven capacity to regenerate. Its past and present ties to Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Tayyba (LeT), the organisation responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attack and for a foiled December 2009 plot to target embassies in Dhaka, reinforce that threat.

“In the past few years Bangladeshi security agencies have been relatively successful in getting at Islamist extremist groups to the extent that organisations like JMB are struggling to survive”, says Michael Shaikh, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Asia. “But JMB’s resilience and recent involvement with foreign jihadis indicate that it is still bent on bringing down the state”.

As a result of increased government pressure, JMB seems to have shifted strategies. Like many other jihadi organisations, it is constantly evolving and mutating; its past actions may not necessarily indicate its future direction. JMB appears to have modified its recruitment strategies, restricted its rural activities and altered its funding base. While it may have lost hundreds of operatives to the crackdowns, those that remain are likely to be more fully committed and thus more dangerous.

If JMB’s strengths are clear, its weaknesses are equally evident. Many of its mainstream political and financial patrons have been arrested or have lost power. Its reduced manpower means it has fewer resources to devote to recruitment and training for major operations. And its top explosives expert and other senior operatives have turned government informers, compelling less committed cadres to quit JMB. The one lethal quality that the organisation retains in abundance, however, is patience.

Sheikh Hasina’s current Awami League government is especially aware of Bangladesh’s Islamist extremist problem, as its members have been victims of attacks. But internal wrangling, lack of coordination between security agencies and the absence of a single counter-terrorism force have undermined any sustained effort to dismantle organisations like JMB. However, the biggest danger, in the absence of new attacks, is government complacency, and a sense that the problem has already gone away.

“All things considered, Sheikh Hasina and her government have not done badly at dealing with the terrorism threat. But it is no time to rest on their laurels”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “JMB’s weaknesses present the Awami League an opening to reshape its response to terrorism. If it moves quickly it could eradicate the organisation once and for all”.

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