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British link to Islamist militancy found in Bangladesh

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

According to news, catered by internationally acclaimed AFP news agency, Bangladesh security forces are investigating a link between a British-based charity and an Islamic school where a huge cache of weapons and a bomb-making factory were found.

Police in southern Bangladesh conducted the raid on the Islamic seminary or Madrassa March 24, 2009, uncovering firearms, bullets and explosive devices. A member of the elite Rapid Action Battalion [RAB] told AFP the school had opened only 45 days ago on the remote island of Bhola in the south of the country.

"It is owned by the Green Crescent charity, which is a UK charity. They were running a school and an orphanage here," RAB officer K.M. Mamunur Rashid said, adding that the building was surrounded by water with a drawbridge so that locals could not access it.

"It's a mini-ordnance factory. “We found small arms – about nine or 10 in total – plus equipment to make small arms, about 3,000 rounds of ammunition, two walkie-talkies, two remote control devices and four sets of army uniforms,” he said.

“We also found enough explosives and other equipment to make several hundred grenades. We found some ordinary Islamic books, but others that are in line with extremists like bin Laden," he said.

"It is a big Madrassa and we have so far gathered that this whole compound is being used for militant training. The charity also has plans to build two more Madrassas in Bhola," the RAB source told AFP.

Green Crescent’s web site, www.greencrescent.org, shows that it is involved in projects in Bhola, as well as several others around Bangladesh and at least one in Pakistan. The charity, which is registered in the UK under the number 1099233, was founded in 1998 by students in Britain and Bangladesh, and is based in Stockport, six miles from Manchester.

In the website of the NGO, it is mentioned “Green Crescent charity was created by students in 1998 from the United Kingdom and Bangladesh who believed that individuals with vision are capable of changing society in a positive way and decided to do whatever possible to make life that much better for those who have very little. The charity operates mainly in Bangladesh, but has also started some work in Pakistan. We concentrate on long-term education and health projects. All donations go directly to where it is needed, as we have no U.K. administration costs, thus, we are able to carry out humanitarian work where ever and whenever the need arises, efficiently.”

Bangladeshi authorities have long viewed Madrassas with suspicion, fearing they could be potential recruiting grounds for Islamic militant groups. The country was hit by a series of coordinated bomb attacks in August 2005, for which Bangladeshi court awarded death penalty to a number of kingpins and members of Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh [JMB], a notorious Islamist outfit in the country.

The recent recovery of the “mini-ordnance factory” inside the Madrassa, funded by British non-governmental organization [NGO] opens a new window for counter-terrorism specialists to re-assess the funding sources of the religious militant groups in Bangladesh as well in the Indian sub-continent. It was already known that notorious Islamist groups like Hizb-Ut-Tahrir, although being banned in a number of countries, are continuing to operate in several nations through its headquarters in Britain.

A neighbor of the Madrassa named Harona Begum said, she had witnessed strange behavior near the building for months.

"I was excited when they started building the school. I wanted my three children to go there but was told no locals were allowed. A lot of people from out of town would go to the Madrassa. They did not talk to anyone in the village.”

Meanwhile, United Kingdom’s Charity Commission, commenting on the recent recovery of militant training camp and arms haul inside Madrassa, funded by British NGO said, “These reported activities said to be run under the auspices of a UK charity, Green Crescent Bangladesh UK, raise very serious concerns.”

It said, “Terrorist activity is clearly under no circumstances acceptable for a charity. We are actively examining the information available.”

The commission's website said that in 2008, Green crescent had a turnover approaching £70,000 [$102,733].