How a Bangladesh youth's life was changed by a radical

DHAKA: An interview with a militant in custody reveals how outlawed terror outfit Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami leader Zafar radicalised a pious youth, turned him into an explosives expert.

Things were quite normal in the life of Mohammad Omar when he was a grade-10 student. A pious boy from a very young age, he used to offer prayers at a mosque next to his Uttara house. But everything began to change after an elderly man drew his attention.

The man used to stay at the mosque for longer than others, offering prayers. He got himself introduced to Omar. Initially, he gave the boy some lessons on Islam and as time went by they got closer.

Then one day, the man started talking about jihad.

Transmitting radical thoughts to Omar at the mosque went on for more than a year from 2005 to mid 2006.

Omar decided to sacrifice his life for the “cause of Islam” as nobody was there to tell him that what he got from the man was nothing but misinterpretation of his religion. 

He turned into an explosives expert of outlawed terror outfit Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami (Huji). He was arrested in Fatullah of Narayanganj on Oct 25, 2014.

Under pseudonyms, Faizul and Robi, he was in-charge of a laboratory facility at Fatullah where he was making bombs. The lab was busted with his arrest.

The Detective Branch (DB) of police at that time also arrested Huji activists Md Rafique Ahmed alias Sajid, Md Nadim Ahmed alias Sumon and Md Salahuddin Ahmed in nightlong raids in Uttara and Tikatuli areas of the capital and in Narayanganj.

It could not be confirmed whether Omar is still in jail or on bail. Contacted, Deputy Commissioner (Media) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police Masudur Rahman yesterday said, “We had arrested him and I need some time to ascertain whether he is in the jail or on bail.”

Then a postgraduate student of applied chemistry department of a private university, 25-year-old Omar told The Daily Star in November 2014 how he was radicalised.

“At the mosque, I got hooked on jihad. I became ready to sacrifice my life for the cause of Islam,” Omar said in an interview on the sidelines of a press briefing where he and three other arrested Huji members were produced.

And the man who instilled the idea of jihad in Omar was none other than Huji's one of the top leaders - Mawlana Abu Sayeed alias Dr Zafar.

Probe found that Zafar along with another Huji linchpin Mufti Abdul Hannan masterminded a number of deadly attacks like August 21 grenade assaults on an Awami League rally in 2004, and blasts at Ramna Batamul in 2001, 2001 CPB rally in the capital's Paltan and 1999 Udichi programme in Jessore.

Zafar continued brainwashing Omar at the mosque at Uttara Sector-13 until he was arrested in 2006. Zafar's confinement, however, could not stop communications between the two. Omar used to meet his "spiritual leader" in Kashimpur jail posing as a relative.

Asked if he had any trouble meeting Zafar in jail, Omar smiled and said, "It's no big deal. You just pay the jail staff 500 to 1,000 taka (US$6.20 to US$12.40) and they will allow you to meet and talk to anyone for an hour."

Zafar also used to phone him from jail. Asked how Zafar got a cellphone, Omar again smiled and said the jail guards let him use their phones.

"May be it was not always for money. Some jail staff might have become interested in militant ideology getting in touch with Zafar," he said.

Plan of deadly attack

After law enforcers in the wee hours of May 6, 2013 flushed out Hefajat-e-Islam members, who had been occupying the Shapla Chattar, Zafar called up and asked Omar to start work on making explosives.

Zafar also told him that Md Rafique Ahmed alias Sajid would provide him with laboratory facilities and chemicals.

Rafique, who once taught at an Uttara madrasa where Zafar was the head teacher, did accordingly.

“I started work on bomb-making. I learned the process from YouTube,” said Omar.

The cost was between 150,000 taka to 200,000 taka and Rafique managed it. Omar didn't know the source of the fund.

This correspondent also briefly interviewed Rafique in 2014.

Both the Huji activists disclosed how the terror outfit was preparing to launch deadly attacks.

"I was making bombs meant to be exploded at Gonojagoron Mancha," Omar said.

The Gonojagoron Mancha was a youth platform, spearheaded by bloggers and online activists, demanding the highest punishment of war criminals. Its journey began in February, 2013.

To counter the youth force, propaganda was orchestrated that the Gonojagoron organisers were all “atheists”. Hefajat Islam, a Qawmi madrasa-based organisation, even took to the streets demanding capital punishment for “atheist bloggers”.       

"Each of the bombs was able to cause huge destruction within a radius of six to eight metres," Omar added.

Rafique said he knows that at least four Huji members had taken one-month training on arms and explosives in Pakistan in 2013-14.

He, however, had claimed that he didn't know them by name. He also said he didn't know which organisation trained them and how the fund for the travel was managed.

Zafar had close links with Pakistan-based dreaded militant organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahideen and Harkatul Mujahideen.

He also had some link with the intelligence agency of a South Asian country, said a source.

Dr Zafar, an Afghan war veteran and also an accused in the August 21 grenade attack case, had been leading his followers in Huji from jail, according to Omar.

Omar, son of a retired Air Force officer, claimed after being arrested he realised that he had taken the wrong path and that is why he was sharing all this.

He said militants never change in jail, and suggested setting up correction centres for militants like that for drug addicts. - The Daily Star/Asia News Network

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