Tasnim now wants to get involved with anti-terrorism activities
“Violence can’t promote Islam. The people who are working to establish Islam through violence are making a mistake. I got involved in militant activities in my youth but finally I’ve realized that it was wrong. Many young people like me are misguided. Now I feel that no one can force anyone to continue religious activities through oppression; rather, the process should be simple and non-violent.”
This is the realization of Abdullah Al Tasnim alias Nahid – a top leader of the banned militant group Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). He has been in jail for 15 years and has at least a dozen cases against him. Tasnim was interviewed under special arrangements at Kashimpur High Security Jail in Gazipur.
Tasnim says he got involved in militant activities in 2004 as he had been inspired by the sermons of Shaykh Abdur Rahman – the founder of the al-Qaeda styled notorious militant group JMB.
On a Friday in 2004, Tasnim attended a Khutbah or Islamic sermons led by Abdur Rahman at a mosque in Sharifbagh area of Dhamrai near Dhaka. After the sermons, the JMB founder wanted to identify people who would be the part of jihad. Nahid responded to his call and became a part of the group.
“I raised my hand along with others when Shaykh Rahman asked us to be part of jihad. He noted down our names and addresses. At the time, I was pursuing higher secondary education at Tamir-Ul-Millat Alia Madrasa in Tongi. I gave him the address of my mess. He came to visit me there,” says Tasnim, who was arrested after the JMB carried out a series of bomb blasts at 300 locations in 63 districts on August 17, 2005. He later secured bail in 2014, but the law enforcers arrested him again after six months.
Launching its activities in 2001, the JMB came to the limelight after the blasts. In 2004, it conducted violent attacks on Awami League supporters and leftists in Rajshahi and Naogaon areas under the banner of “Jagrata Muslim Janata”. According to media reports, the JMB is responsible for over 1,100 attacks, mainly against non-Sunni and non-Muslim people in Bangladesh.
Before the government banned the group on February 23, 2005, JMB leaders collected members from many districts. Shaykh Abdur Rahman was arrested on March 2, 2006, and after a judicial process, he was sentenced to death. Six JMB men, including the founder, were hanged on March 3, 2007. Following the executions, a faction of the JMB re-emerged as Neo JMB and indulged in militant violence by attacking different places, including the Holy Artisan Bakery.
Tasnim says Shaykh Abdur Rahman and another top leader of the group, Ataur Rahman Sunny, regularly visited his mess. They talked about the goals and vision of the organization. At the time, the leaders informed him that the then government had been helping them execute their plans.
“After expressing allegiance to Shaykh Abdur Rahman, I was given the task to expand the network of the student wing and do analysis. My brother Abdullah Al Sohel and Taiyabur Rahman Hasan joined too. We worked together at the student branch. They taught us how to invite and engage more students and gave us physical training.”
His brother Sohel was convicted and given a death sentence for carrying out bomb attacks on the Gazipur court. But he has been on the run for many years.
Tasnim’s father is the late Professor Abdul Hamid. Tasnim was born in a conservative family whose members were highly educated. One of his uncles was a professor at Jahangirnagar University and another was a secretary in the government. After passing Alim from Tamir-Ul-Millat Madrasa, Tasnim was admitted to the English department of Government Saadat College in Karatia, Tangail.
“I worked with full enthusiasm in order to establish the Caliphate in Tongi and later in Tangail. We visited the adjacent districts to recruit members. After collecting the monthly fees from the members, we gave it to Shaykh Abdur Rahman or other senior leaders. But everything changed after the series of bomb blasts of 2005 as the law enforcers became vigilant after the incident. I was arrested on December 19, 2006,” Tasnim recalls.
He continued his militant activities from jail as well. Since he had studied many Islamic books since his childhood, Tasnim wanted to learn more about Islam from the other members of the group and what he called the scholars in jail. He got bail in April, 2014. But he was picked up from the jail gate by an intelligence agency, which gave him 15-day counseling before releasing him.
“I tried to go to Saudi Arabia after getting bail and prepared my passport. In the meantime, a JMB member named Nayeem came to me with Sarwar Jahan Manik and asked me to join their Neo JMB team. They told me about a man named Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, who would come to the country from abroad for the sake of Islam. Tamim used to work with a relief organization in Syria, and had links to many financiers in the UK and the US. But I found their plans to be more radical,” he told this interviewer.
Tasnim participated in several meetings with Manik and Nayeem. But he did not agree with their destructive plans. Soon he met with Samiun Rahman alias Ibn Hamdun – a British citizen of Bangladeshi origin – with whom he had several meetings at Gulshan Azad Mosque. They even went to Sylhet for a meeting. Tasnim was trying to find a new method of establishing the Caliphate.
Sarwar Jahan Manik was a prominent leader of Neo JMB. The five militants of the Holey Artisan Bakery attack expressed their allegiance to Manik before the attack on July 1, 2016. Manik was killed in an operation conducted by RAB in Ashulia on October 28, 2016.
On the other hand, Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury – the military commander of Neo JMB and the mastermind of the Gulshan attack – was killed in another operation by the CTTC unit in Narayanganj on August 28, 2016. Police arrested Samiun Rahman from Dhaka on September 28, 2014. He got bail after three years and got arrested again.
Tasnim says: “My ideology was different from the one preached by Manik and Samium. But the police arrested me after learning about my involvement with them. I was arrested by detectives on September 19, 2014. Then began my life in jail. Now I have realized that the path I had taken to establish a Caliphate was wrong. Islam can’t be established through violent means.
“A specialized intelligence agency came to me as part of its de-radicalization process. I told them that I wanted to work with them to prevent militancy if I get the scope. I urged them to use me in the process. I don’t know what’s in my fate. Probably I’ll never be able to go out of jail.”