In January 2013, Abdul Kalam Azad, another JEI figure accused of crimes against humanity in Bangladesh, had been sentenced to death in absentia, since he had decamped, apparently to Pakistan. Bangladesh also seeks to try Chowdhury Mueen Uddin, an organizer of JEI’s militias, for the sadistic murders of 18 independence activists during the war. Mueen Uddin, however, fled to Britain in 1971. Until he was charged by Bangladesh, Mueen Uddin worked as head of Muslim chaplaincies in the UK National Health Service. The UK and Bangladesh do not have an extradition treaty, and Britain will not turn over prisoners who might face capital punishment, as in Mueen Uddin’s case.
In February 2013, the Bangladesh court sent JEI leader Abdul Qader Mollah to jail for life for murder, rape, torture, and arson. The tribunal next sentenced JEI leader Delwar Hossain Sayeedi to death, for murder, torture, and rape. In May 2013, JEI assistant secretary-general Muhammad Kamaruzzaman received a death sentence for organizing a wartime massacre of civilians. JEI secretary-general Ali Ahsan Mohammed Mujahid was condemned to death, also in July of this year, for terrorism in 1971.
The life penalty against A.Q. Mollah provoked widespread reaction among Bangladeshis. JEI members took to the streets in violent demonstrations. Thousands of young supporters of the war crimes trials gathered in Shahbag Square in Dhaka, demanding capital punishment for Mollah and prohibition of JEI. JEI reacted to the Shahbag Square events by new rioting against the government and media, with at least four people killed during an outburst after Friday prayers on February 22.
Next, as reported by the Financial Times, tens of thousands of white-clad marchers, calling themselves Hefazat-e-Islam (Protectors of Islam), descended on Shahbag Square to confront the critics of Islamist zealotry. State security forces drove the Hefazat activists out of Dhaka, with at least 58 deaths, in May, but the Shahbag Square podium was also shut down. On August 13, JEI called a two-day strike across Bangladesh that produced road closures, street fighting, and attacks on police by the organization’s youth organization, employing firebombs and clubs.
Financial Times reporter Victor Mallet affirmed, “Hefazat’s leaders and supporters are based in the madrasas . . . that have proliferated across Bangladesh, often supported by migrant workers returning from Saudi Arabia, and they really do have a Saudi-style, puritanical and anti-western agenda akin to that of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
A radical Islamist resurgence has been underway for some time in South Asia. When the Obama administration announced the temporary closure of U.S. diplomatic facilities in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia early this month, Dhaka was included on the shutdown roster, as was the embassy in Port Louis, capital of the small Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.
Mauritius, with a population of 1.3 million and a Muslim community of about 16 percent, is of little interest to most Americans, but it is targeted by Wahhabis. Swaleh M.A. Duman, board member of the oldest mosque on the island, warns, “Saudi Arabia has offered many scholarships to our youth to come and study Arabic and Islam in Medina. . . . We will have to do something to save our people from that threat.”
In Sri Lanka, which has a Muslim population of only 7.6 percent out of 21.5 million, a Sufi leader, M.C.A. Hameed, also points out that after Sri Lankan Muslims began to find employment in Saudi Arabia, many young Sri Lankan Muslims were awarded scholarships to Saudi universities. But “those who completed their studies returned to Sri Lanka and… propagat[ed] the ideology” of Wahhabism, Hameed says. Further, “to pursue their goal the Wahhabis resorted to violence and intimidation culminating in death and destruction.”
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