Bangladesh has much less of an Islamic terrorism problem than India and Pakistan but it also has Islamic political parties and these are becoming more of a problem. While most Bangladeshis are hostile to Islamic terrorism, a growing number back the Islamic politicians. The reason can be summed up in one word; corruption.
The two largest secular political parties are notoriously corrupt and have been for decades. The secular politicians talk about eliminating corruption but never do anything about it. The Islamic politicians are seen as (and generally are, for the most part) less corrupt.
While the Islamic politicians are not as hostile to Islamic radicals as their secular counterparts are, they do support and practice democracy. Recently the secular politicians got a shock when the Islamic parties won an unexpected number of local elections. In fact the Islamic candidates won more often than the ruling party.
This effort was led by Jamaat e Islami (or just Jamaat) a political party that advocates running Bangladesh according to Islamic law and has been known to tolerate violence against non-Moslems. Jamaat was banned from participating in national elections in 2013 because Jamaat refused to change it stance on imposing Islamic law on Bangladesh. Jamaat can still get the vote out and urge its followers to support other party (Islamic or not) candidates. This year Jamaat showed it was quite popular at the local level.
The secular parties seem to be responding to this with their usual vote rigging and physical intimidation of voters and candidates who oppose them. This just makes the Islamic politicians more popular. The way this usually plays out the Islamic parties eventually get a majority and then comes a military coup to prevent the Islamic politicians gaining power via a vote. The military intervention usually causes lots of moderate Islamic activists to become radicalized and turn to Islamic terrorism. It’s all downhill from there with years of violence and lots of dead people.
Meanwhile there is still some Islamic terrorism out there. This was seen on February 23rd when a prison van carrying three convicted Islamic terrorists was ambushed. One of the police escorts was killed and the attackers wounded three others. The three prisoners made a getaway with their liberators. Two of the escapees had been convicted of terrorism and sentenced to death. One of these men was found the next day and shot to death when he refused to surrender. The Islamic terrorists declared all this a victory and promised more.
All the terrorists involved here, and apparently there liberators as well, belonged to JMB (Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh). The prisoners and those who freed them belonged to a militant faction of JMB that preaches and practices terrorism. Most of the JMB organization (which claims over 100,000 members) is technically non-violent and regularly puts candidates up for election. A similar organization has been winning a lot of elections lately, even though it regularly condemns the radical wing of the JMB.
In 2005 all of JMB was banned because of growing Islamic terrorist violence traced back to JMB. Since then JMB has suffered heavy losses and the number of attacks it has made have declined to practically nothing. Meanwhile dozens of active members were convicted and sentenced or prison or execution (which continue to take place). Despite all this JMB (now believed to have adopted another name in an attempt to escape police pressure) still posts videos on the net claiming that it still operates training camps near the Indian border and has thousands of trained Islamic terrorists ready to strike. But in the last year there have been no attacks, unless you count the recent ambush that freed three JMB members.
The government believes that some training camps exist and continue to impart both ideological and arms training. It’s all because of money. Banning radical groups like JMB does not destroy them. That’s because these groups started as social welfare operations intending to improve the lives of ordinary Bangladeshis. There’s a lot of corruption and poverty in Bangladesh so any social welfare organization, even one with a religious agenda, has plenty of popular support.
JMB survived largely through the efforts of local and foreign Islamic charities, including al Qaeda’s International Islamic Front (IIF). These groups finance good works as well as discreetly supporting more radical solutions to social problems. JMB wants to establish a religious dictatorship in Bangladesh, seeing that as the ultimate solution to the nation’s social problems. Most Bangladeshis prefer to keep their democracy, as inefficient as it may be at times.
As long as JMB can get cash from other Moslems (especially those in the wealthy oil states of Arabia) they can keep going. This financial support has to be handled carefully and much of the cash arrives via hawala (a traditional and informal banking network). For many years internationally banned Islamic charities linked to terrorist funding continued to operate in Bangladesh. NGOs like the RIHS (Revival of Islamic Heritage Society), AHIM (Al Harmain Islamic Foundation) and other semi-legitimate groups were eventually directly linked to financing Islamic radical groups and shut down in Bangladesh and elsewhere.
Bangladesh has never encouraged Islamic radicalism and has responded vigorously to Islamic terrorist groups that sought to operate in Bangladesh. That has kept the Islamic terrorism problem small, but has not managed to totally eradicate it. Some Islamic terrorists in Bangladesh survive by only carrying out their attacks in India. A lot of Bangladeshi’s are tolerant of that because of all the “Islam is under attack” propaganda coming from conservative Islamic clerics over the last few decades. This line of thought ignores the fact that most of the terrorism and religious violence on the planet comes from Islamic terrorists and that has been the case for decades. Bangladeshi leaders understand and appreciate this and in order to maintain good relations with India (and cooperation in going after Islamic terrorist groups attacking Bangladesh and using bases just across the border) crack down on any Islamic terrorists they can find inside Bangladesh. If India provides information on some group that is quiet in Bangladesh but supporting attacks in India, the Bangladeshis will go after it.