While members of the militant group expressed solidarity with the demand, they also bitterly criticised Hefazat-e-Islami, a Qawmi madrasa-based platform, for sailing on two boats – trying to please the government with soft words and at the same time working to uphold Islam.
The matter is being discussed among the Ansar al-Islam members in their online forum Dawahilallah.
The reaction came after Hefazat Secretary General Babunagari at a programme on Wednesday threatened to stage another May 5-like siege at Motijheel if the statue was not removed immediately.
The al-Qaeda affiliate – formed in late 2014 with members from universities and madrasas – also castigated Hefazat for submitting memoranda to the prime minister and the chief justice to realise the demand.
Babunagari warned that they would not accept any sculpture but the one of a Qur’an on the apex court premises
Other than Hefazat, an umbrella organisation led by Hathazari Madrasa Principal Shah Ahmed Shafi who professes death for atheists, the Islamist parties and groups opposing the installation of the statue are Awami Olama League, Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish, Islami Andolon Bangladesh and Jamaat-Shibir.
All these domestic and regional militant outfits want to establish Shariah Law in the country, while the Islamist parties and groups are working for the same cause as a long-term goal.
US ‘concerned’ over al-Qaeda presence
Meanwhile, a senior US military official has said that their government are “concerned about the instability in Bangladesh,” caused due to “a lot of AQIS interference.”
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“Yes, they [AQIS] have a regional agenda, but this region is very important to the United States ... In this Shorabak objective, there were congratulatory notes going back and forth about some of these activities in Bangladesh. There is a linkage to core al-Qaeda,” General John W Nicholson, who serves as the commander of Resolute Support and US Forces in Afghanistan, said.
“Of course, al-Qaeda is very focused right now on the survival of their senior leadership, but they are connected to these guys as well. They all share the same agenda and the same focus,” Nicholson said in an interview with the Counter Terrorism Centre website Wednesday.
The US government blacklisted AQIS as a “foreign terrorist organisation” and its leader, Indian-born Asim Umar, a “specially designated global terrorist” in a statement issued on June 30 last year.
Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden’s successor, Egyptian ideologue Ayman al-Zawahiri, announced the formation of AQIS in September 2014 to carry the group’s fight to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
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Under the new designation, if investigators tie any assets or property under US jurisdiction to the group or its leader, they will be frozen. US citizens are forbidden from having any dealings with the group, AFP reported.
AQIS members in Dawahilallah have expressed astonishment over the US military official’s acknowledging the presence of the outfit in Bangladesh after several years.
A discussant even claimed that the Muslims of Bangladesh had accepted them warmly, though the governments of Bangladesh and the US refused to admit their presence.
Before Ansarullah Bangla Team, two other banned Islamist terror outfits of Bangladesh – HujiB and JMB – had al-Qaeda affiliation.
What al-Qaeda is doing here
A major issue being discussed in Dawahilallah forum is the removal of the names of two Islamist clerics includding Hafezzi Hujur from two roads in Dhaka. The Dhaka South City Corporation took the step in line with a High Court order that says the duo had taken stance against the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh.
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Their call for wider campaigns and waging an armed jihad – against the Myanmar government for the recent atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and the plight of those who fled to Bangladesh – is a top priority issue the militants are discussing every day.
Ansar al-Islam earlier extended support to Harakah al-Yakin or Faith Movement, a like-minded Rohingya-based militant group that attacked three border outposts of Myanmar as part of their armed jihad on October 9.
In a public statement issued on December 15, al-Qaeda urged the Muslim youths of Bangladesh to join the fight to avenge the persecution against Rohingyas.
The statement came at a time when Hefazat was campaigning throughout the country against the Myanmar government and to raise funds for Rohingyas who have taken shelter in Bangladesh.
Al-Qaeda members are also campaigning against the indigenous peoples of the country's CHT region terming them terrorists.
The forum members earlier instigated attacks on the Hindus of Nasirnagar last year when the local Muslim hardliners carried out rampage in the area in the name of protesting against an alleged blasphemous post by a Hindu youth on Facebook.
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Since 2013, members of Ansar al-Islam, previously Ansarullah Bangla Team, have killed a dozen secularists and war trial campaigners based on “lists of atheists” prepared by different radical Islamist groups including Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Chhatra Shibir and Hefazat.
It uses the May 5, 2013 demonstration of the Hefazat members at Motijheel to inspire the extremists.
Both al-Qaeda and Islamic State have criticised the radical Islamist groups and their leaders for signing the government-sponsored fatwa against militancy, and holding rallies and processions condemning last year’s Gulshan terror attack.
‘Hefazat plays double standard’
On Wednesday, after a Dawahilallah forum member posted a news item on Babunagari’s remarks, two senior members reacted sharply accusing the Islamist group of taking favour from the government.
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One of them wondered why Babunagari addressed the “tyrant government of Sheikh Hasina” as an “honourable government.”
Babunagari warned that they would not accept any sculpture but the one of a Qur’an on the apex court premises.
Another al-Qaeda member accused Babunagari of double standard, saying: “You are playing with Islam. Islam is not so insignificant that you will need to submit a memorandum or application to the kufr [government].
“You have cheated the people by signing the fatwa against the mujaheeds of Islam. You are trying to please the government and Islam at the same time.”
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The senior member, known as “Mohammad bin maslama,” also alleged that Hefazat was supporting democracy while giving a blind eye to the deaths of its supporters at Motijheel in 2013.
But in the end, the militant said that they would continue to support Hefazat, disregarding differences, as long as the radical platform was working on the spread of Islam.