Army sought UK group advice against Hizb ut-TahrirAdmin
The head of a London-based counter-extremist ‘think-tank’, who once had been a leader of the islamist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, met last year with an intelligence wing of the Bangladesh army to discuss the threat posed by the group.
Maajid Nawaz, the director of the non-governmental organisation Quilliam, advised the army officers about how to combat Hizb ut-Tahrir when he came to Dhaka in February 2011 on a trip funded by the British government, according to a number of people whom he met on his trip and confirmed by diplomatic sources.
In a recent statement published on Quilliam’s own website (www.quilliamfoundation.org/), Nawaz — who refused to be interviewed for this article — confirmed that he ‘visited Bangladesh several times to speak about the activities of extremist groups in the country’.
A spokesperson for Nawaz said in an e-mail that at ‘this current stage we are not prepared to comment any further than the press release’.
The British Foreign Office also refused to speak to New Age.
The British High Commission’s spokesperson stated that he was ‘not able to confirm any details’ of Nawaz’s trip to Bangladesh.
Two weeks ago, on 19 January, the Bangladesh army’s Inter-Services Public Relations Directorate claimed at a press conference that Hizb ut-Tahrir was linked to the attempted army coup to oust the elected government.
The army accused the Islamist organisation, which it described as ‘fanatical,’ of distributing leaflets which promoted e-mail messages titled ‘Mid-level Officers of Bangladesh Army are Bringing Changes Soon’, which the army said had been written by one of the alleged coup plotters, Major Syed Ziaul Haq.
Since the army statement, the police have arrested a number of men whom they allege are members of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Despite the arrests, there remains no independent confirmation that the Islamist organisation was involved in the alleged coup attempt.
A recent edition of the Economist reported that Ishraq Ahmed, one of the men claimed to be involved in the coup, denied he was a religious extremist, pointing out that the authorities had in fact seized ‘his painstakingly collected cellar of wines, Armagnacs and malt whiskies’.
A leading local Bangla newspaper also reported earlier this week — and subsequently confirmed independently by New Age — that Ishraq used to be a good friend of the current Awami League minister, Sayed Ashraful Islam, who stayed at Ishraq’s house in Dhaka whenever he visited Bangladesh in the early 1990s. At that time Islam was living in England.
The same newspaper also reported that Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Ehsan Yusuf, arrested for his alleged involvement in the coup, and who had retired as a major under the previous interim government, had received during the period of the current Awami League government, along with some other officers, a retrospective promotion to the post of Lieutenant Colonel.
In addition, the paper reported that Major General Quamruzzuman, the commanding officer of Comilla cantonment who had been ordered to return to Dhaka following reports of the attempted coup, had previously under the current government received two promotions in speedy succession.
Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has the goal of unifying all Muslim countries as an Islamic state or caliphate ruled by Islamic law, was banned in Bangladesh in October 2009 but is known to have continued its activities secretly.
Before setting up Quilliam, which describes itself as the ‘world’s first counter-extremism think-tank’, Nawaz had for 14 years been a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir and was amongst the group’s UK leaders.
In 2002 Nawaz served four years in an Egyptian jail for his membership of the organisation, after which he renounced his involvement in the political group along with its ideology.
It is also understood that he was a colleague of Mohiuddin Ahmed, the man who first set up Hizb ut-Tahrir in Bangladesh.
During his stay in Dhaka in early 2011, Maajid Nawaz lectured army officers on the dangers of the Hizb ut-Tahrir and the ways to prevent it gaining influence within the army, according to those with whom New Age spoke.
The sources, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity, also confirmed that he had come at the invitation of the Bangladesh authorities.
‘It seems his trip here was largely to raise awareness about the ideological counter-narrative to Hizb ut-Tahrir propaganda in society as a whole,’ said one person who met and spoke to Nawaz during his visit. ‘He was hosted by the government and security agencies concerned about radicalization within society.’
Nawaz had come to Bangladesh prior to this trip, but it is not clear whether on those occasions he met with the army.
The Director of the Inter-Services Public Relations Directorate, Mr Shaeenur Islam, did not respond to New Age’s repeated requests for comment made over a number of days by telephone, text and e-mail.
In its statement given on the day of the army press conference, Quilliam stated, ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir is the only active Islamist organisation in Bangladesh, which promotes the use of military coups to gain power.’
The statement refers to an extract from a leaflet given to members of Hizb ut-Tahrir which states that ‘(change would) normally be...by the Party seeking to access the military in order to take authority...After this the military would be capable of establishing the authority of Islam. Hence a coup d’etat would be the manifestation of a political change...”
Quilliam then goes on to specifically claim that a senior Bangladesh military official had confirmed to it ‘that they have very strong suspicions that the coup is the work of Hizb ut-Tahrir … [and] that Hizb ut-Tahrir has been actively targeting Bangladesh since the mutiny of the Bangladesh Rifles unit in 2009 when over 70 military personnel and civilians were killed’.
In June 2011, it was reported that the Pakistan military had also uncovered a coup attempt involving the Islamist organisation.
Earlier, in 2009, Nawaz told the Guardian newspaper that when he had been a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Islamist group used to recruit Pakistani army officers who were attending a training course in Sandhurst in Britain and send ‘them back to Pakistan to infiltrate the army’.
Quilliam had been heavily funded by the former British Labour government under a programme called Prevent, but its funds were significantly cut after the Conservative party came to power two years ago, a fact criticised in the think-tank’s press statement.
‘This attempted coup [in Bangladesh] follows the British Government’s total cut in Prevent strategy funding last year to the British High Commission in Dhaka for counter-terrorism training,’ said the think-tank in its statement of 19 January.
The statement also raised a question about British connections with the coup. It said, ‘Quilliam thinks that the British government should be aware of any possible links between British citizens and the attempted military coup in Bangladesh.’ No further details were provided
The Quilliam Foundation is named after Abdullah Quilliam, a 19th century British convert to Islam who was influential in advancing knowledge of the religion in Britain.