A terror group that has plagued Bangladesh for more than a decade carefully manages marriages within its ranks to help it survive, a member of the group told BenarNews in a recent interview.
High-ranking members of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) are allowed up to four wives so that they have safe places to stay, according to “Khadem,” a member of the group.
Moreover, men who are with JMB appoint “standby husbands” for their wives in case they are widowed.
“We know that we can be killed anytime; we are ready to die. So our members select standby husbands for their wives,” said Khadem, who spoke to BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
“For instance, Mr. X and Mrs. Y are a couple. Mr. X will introduce Mr. Z to his wife as her next husband in case he [Mr. X] dies in a police or other operation. Mr. X authorizes Mrs. Y to marry Mr. Z after his death. And Mrs. Y will accept the decision,” he said.
If she does not, she will be allowed to quit the group provided that she does not divulge its secrets, he said.
“Leaking any information … would be dealt with severely. But in most of the cases, our women members remain with the Company and marry the standby candidates,” he said, using an insider codename for JMB.
The number of women who have been radicalized nationwide is unknown, but social conditions in Bangladesh are contributing to this trend, according to Rukhsana Siddiqua, an assistant professor of criminology at the Mawlana Bhashani Science and Technology University in Tangail.
“Our women are docile and vulnerable. They are highly influenced by the men – be it their fathers, brothers, sons and husbands. A sister will naturally believe her brother. A woman will turn militant when a big brother or husband, whom she thinks is most trusted, feeds his sister with militancy,” Siddiqua told BenarNews.
Girls and young women in Bangladesh can also be influenced by their surroundings such as in the college environment, she said.
“For instance, a university or college student is prone to fall in the grip of militants when she sees that all of her roommates are promoting militancy in the name of Islam," Siddiqua added.
Frequently on the move
So far this year, security forces in Bangladesh have arrested an unusually high number of suspected female militants: 17, including three who were being groomed for suicide attacks, according to police.
“I cannot give you the current figure of the female members. But four years ago, we had, on average, 100 female members in each of the (64) districts,” said Khadem.
He said recent anti-militant operations had damaged the operation and forced JMB to revise its marriage policy.
“We need to change our locations frequently. The hotels and guesthouses are risky for our members as the intelligence agencies are very active there. So, we have adopted a new policy,” he said.
JMB now allows some men, depending on their importance, to marry up to four women living at different places.
“Our female members rent houses stating that their husbands work in other places and they will come at times. Thus our militants stay with their wives at secure houses and continue the operation,” said Khadem.
JMB provides funds for renting the houses and other costs as needed.
Khadem said the militants were against using contraceptives and abortion. “But the rate of pregnancy is very low. The Company bears the cost of the children in case they get pregnant,” he said.
Keeping it secret
JMB leapt into national consciousness in August 2004 by staging synchronized attacks in 63 of Bangladesh’s 64 districts.
Today, the organization persists, despite multiple crackdowns and the death of its former top leaders at the gallows in 2007.
The most active current iteration of the group, dubbed Neo JMB, subscribes to Islamic State ideology and was involved in the first international terrorist attack on Bangladeshi soil, the July 1 café attack in Dhaka that left 29 people dead, officials said.
Monirul Islam, chief of the Bangladeshi police’s counter-terrorism unit, acknowledged JMB’s marriage policy to BenarNews.
“They try to arrange marriages among themselves to keep their activities secret. We have reports that the couples get funding from the organization,” Islam said.
A security analyst, retired Brig. Gen. Sakhawat Hossain, confirmed the information.
“Its militants get married among themselves so that their activities are kept secret. If they marry non-militant men or women, their activities would be leaked,” Hossain told BenarNews.
The Sept. 7 arrest of two JMB couples by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) revealed other aspects of the group’s marriage strategy, officials say.
According to a RAB press statement, in one of the couples, the woman was far more educated than her husband. She had obtained an advanced degree in botany.
“The organization (JMB) decides about their marriage. You see, highly educated Nahid Sultana married eighth-grade dropout student Aminul in line with the decision of the high ups,” RAB spokesman Mufti Mahmud Khan told BenarNews.