They came with a chilling message – anybody they deemed ‘un-Islamic’ would be eliminated – in the fashion of their operation in Afghanistan.
They started their first mission with poet Shamsur Rahman in 1999. One fine evening, they knocked on the door of the poet, went inside as the door was opened and then swiped their machetes on him.
The poet survived. But it served their purpose – to spread their message of terror. Huji or the Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, Bangladesh, that formally came into being in Bangladesh through a press conference in 1992 soon emerged as a notorious militant group.
And it is Huji that was used by a section of the BNP-led government in 2004 to throw grenades on an Awami League rally with the mission of killing Sheikh Hasina. Luckily she survived.
But since then Huji suddenly vanished from the country, almost mysteriously.
But is the mission of Huji [establishing Sharia rule] in Bangladesh over? Or is it no longer able to pursue its goal after losing its leadership following the August 21 grenade attack? Or is it just a tactic - that most radical outfits follow when facing trouble – to reemerge in the future?
According to experts, a fundamental radical Islamic group doesn’t vanish completely. It weakens, merges with like-minded groups and somehow continues to exist. The case of HuJi,B is not dissimilar.
“We don’t have any specific idea about HuJi,B, nor do the law-enforcing agencies have concrete information about the outfit. But we can’t say the chapter is closed,” said ANM Muniruzzaman, a retired military official and security analyst.
He believes two things may happen in the case of HuJi,B. “One is members of the outfit are operating outside of our knowledge and trying to regroup, with a target to re-emerge when they think its suitable. Secondly, their leadership and members are merging with newly emerged groups.”
Muniruzzaman said the merger of radical organizations is nothing new in Bangladesh, as well as globally, but a group like HuJi,B would not be too keen to follow that given its unique ideological and leadership base.
Ali Riaz, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Illinois State University, says he believes members of HuJi,B and its followers have likely joined other militant organisations, particularly the al Qaeda in Indian Sub-Continent (AQIS) and Islamic State (IS).
Author of several books of extremism, Riaz believes the resurgence of HuJi,b is unlikely because of the changed circumstances in the country and world.
While crackdown on militant groups in the past years has played a role, the generational change in the profiles of the potential militants is another reason for which the group may not be able to re-emerge, he analysed.
“However, I am afraid that as long a potential pool of recruits exists, remnants of the HuJi,B will continue to survive,” he concluded.
Tanveer Hasan Zoha, who tracks militant activities online, said he did not find any activity of HuJi,B in the cyber world. “They may follow a different strategy—silently operate in the real world, completely avoid the cyber world.”
HuJi,B was banned in 2005. Many of its leaders and members were captured during the 2007-08 caretaker regime and the subsequent Awami League government, which dismantled the organization and minimised its capacity.
Meantime, deadly radical groups like Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) and new-JMB emerged, carrying our more lethal attacks and killings, overshadowing what HuJi,B had done in the past.
The radical group has a history of comebacks after years of absence. HuJi,B was established by those of fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet army and receiving training on arms and explosives. It is not impossible for them to come back and start operations again, although it may not have a similar organizational set-up and operational strategy.
Police last March arrested two suspected operatives of HuJi,B who, according to the police, were planning to collect funds through robbery in a bid to reorganize the group. This is a concrete indication of a possible resurfacing of the outfit if the police claim turns out to be true.