Spiritual Leader of Neo-JMB Militants Arrested: Bangladesh Police

Prapti Rahman
2017.03.03
Dhaka
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170303_Spritual_leader_JMB_620.jpg Police escort Maulana Abul Kashem, the alleged spiritual leader of militant group Neo-JMB, to court following his arrest, March 3, 2017.
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Bangladeshi police Friday announced the arrest of the alleged spiritual leader of a militant faction blamed for carrying out a terrorist attack at a Dhaka café last year, saying he preached violence against foreigners in sermons to his followers.

Maulana Abul Kashem (alias Boro Huzur), 60, was arrested late Thursday in Dhaka’s Senpara neighborhood, Monirul Islam, Bangladesh’s counterterrorist police chief, said Friday. He denied that Kashem was in custody before Thursday’s arrest, despite the suspect’s claim that police have held him for months.

Police described Kashem as the spiritual leader of Neo-JMB, an offshoot of militant group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh that authorities blame for an attack in July 2016 that killed 20 hostages – mostly foreigners – at the Holey Artisan Bakery restaurant.

“Maulana Abul Kashem in his speeches and statements ruled that killing of foreigners is justified,” Islam told a press conference at the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Department. “It is not known whether he sanctioned the Holey Artisan café attack.”

“According to the penal code, he must shoulder the responsibility. But he has yet to confess to his role,” Islam said.

Investigators sought a 10-day remand to question Kashem about the Holey Artisan attack, but the court ordered seven days.

Islam said Kashem would boost the morale of Neo-JMB leaders, activists and supporters through his sermons. Additionally, Kashem wrote three books on holy war and hardline ideology that were used to train extremists.

“He used to visit the militant dens to deliver an extremist lecture,” Islam said.

Appearing in court on Friday, Kashem said he was detained and confined at the detective branch (DB) beginning in May 2016, months before the Holey Artisan attack. He pointed to lawyer Ziaul Haque and said he met him while confined at the DB office.

Haque confirmed to reporters that he saw Kashem in custody in January when police took him and his wife to the DB office and put him in a cell with Kashem.  Haque did not discuss why he and his spouse were taken into custody, but said no charges were filed.

When asked about Kashem’s alibi, Islam told reporters, “Accused people tell many things. Most of their statements cannot be accepted. He was arrested last night.”

Meeting with Canadian

Islam discussed Kashem’s path to leadership in Neo-JMB, which follows Islamic State ideology.

After Tamim Chowdhury, a Canadian citizen, came to Bangladesh in October 2013, he met with Kashem in Rajshahi, a foreign intelligence agency told Bangladesh police. Chowdhury became a senior leader of Neo-JMB, according to police.

“We did not know Tamim by name; we heard the words a ‘Canadian citizen.’ We arrested one suspect after the killing of blogger Rajib Haider. He disclosed that two foreigners of Bangladeshi origin had been with him,” Islam said, adding that one was a Canadian.

In the middle of 2015, police determined that Chowdhury was the Canadian, Islam said. Chowdhury and two other suspected Neo-JMB members were killed by police and security forces during a raid near Dhaka on Aug. 27, 2016, nearly two months after the Holey Artisan attack.

“We could not sense the gravity of the meeting and we could not apprehend that an attack like the one on the Holey Artisan café would take place,” Islam said. “He (Kashem) had been the principal of a madrassa in Ranirbandar, Dinajpur,” Islam said, adding that Kashem and Chowdhury met sometime in late 2013 or early 2014.

“Conflicts and rivalries over leadership led to the breakup of the JMB. Abul Kashem took leadership of the new faction,” he said.

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