Bangladesh was on slain al-Qaeda leader Zawahiri’s radar

The slain al-Qaeda leader had called for an ‘intifada’, or uprising, in Bangladesh in 2014

Published : 2 August 2022, 08:01 PM
Updated : 2 August 2022, 08:01 PM

Ayman al-Zawahiri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as al-Qaeda leader after years as its main organiser and strategist, had called for an ‘intifada’, or uprising, in Bangladesh in 2014.

Islamist militants carried out a series of deadly attacks on secular writers, bloggers and online activists in Bangladesh at that time. Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent claimed credit for some of those attacks, although the government has always maintained the assailants were home-grown terrorists.

The United States said on Monday it killed Zawahiri in a drone strike in Afghanistan’s Kabul. In the years following bin Laden's death in 2011, US air strikes killed a succession of Zawahiri's deputies, weakening the veteran Egyptian militant's ability to coordinate globally.

Al-Qaeda's days as the centrally directed, hierarchical network of plotters that carried out the Sept 11, 2001 attack on the US, were long gone when Zawahiri took over. Instead, militancy returned to its roots in local-level conflicts, driven by a mix of local grievances and incitement by transnational jihadi networks using social media.

The first time the world heard of Zawahiri, 71, was when he stood in a courtroom cage after the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat in 1981.

Zawahiri, a physician, served a three-year jail term for illegal arms possession, but was acquitted of the main charges.

In 1999, an Egyptian military court sentenced Zawahiri to death in absentia. By then he was living the spartan life of a militant after helping bin Laden to form al-Qaeda.

A videotape aired by Al Jazeera in 2003 showed the two men walking on a rocky mountainside - an image that Western intelligence hoped would provide clues on their whereabouts.

For years Zawahiri was believed to be hiding along the forbidding border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.He assumed leadership of al-Qaeda in 2011 after US Navy Seals killed bin Laden in his hideout in Pakistan. Since then he repeatedly called for global jihad, with an Ak-47 as his side during video messages.

Three years after bin Laden’s death, an audio tape purportedly from the al-Qaeda called on the Muslims in Bangladesh to wage a battle to protect Islam before claiming that the idea of the Bengali nation has not worked out.

The entire clip lasting 28 minutes and 58 seconds titled "Bangladesh: Massacre Behind a Wall of Silence" featured a message from Zawahiri, who appeared only in a still image, along with other images, including the 2013 Hifazat-e Islam rally in Dhaka.

The first two minutes of the clip screen footage of police action against violence by Hifazat. Then Zawahiri spoke, hitting out at the Western media's alleged silence on 'how Muslims are massacred in Bangladesh'.

Letting rip at the creation of Bangladesh, he said it has not worked as a nation born in 1971 “to protect the independence, glory, honour and freedom of its people”.

The al-Qaeda chief’s tirade appeared to have been provoked by the war crimes trials.

Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Molla had already been hanged at that time while several other leaders of the party had faced death and life sentences.

“Bangladesh is the victim of a conspiracy in which the agents of India, the corrupt leadership of Pakistan Army, and treacherous power-hungry politicians of Bangladesh and Pakistan,” Zawahiri said in the clip.

“However the real victim was the Muslim Ummah in the subcontinent generally, and in Bangladesh and Pakistan specifically.”

He then called for the uprising. “I invite the leading Islamic scholars [Ulamaye keram] of Bangladesh to fulfil the role that Islam has given them.”

The al-Qaeda leader used the word ‘intifada’ in his message, which in Arabic literally means shaking-off, but is usually translated in English as uprising, resistance or rebellion.

“I invite you to lead the masses in a vast and inclusive proper uprising [intifada] whose tide does not recedes, nor its dynamism subsides, until the Shariah of Islam governs the land of Islam, instead of being governed over until it becomes the authority, instead of being subjected to ‘authority’, and until it leads the way, instead of being led.”

Hifazat then refuted claims of having links to al-Qaeda. A statement by the organisation quoted its then chief Shah Ahmed Shafi and Secretary General Zunayed Babu Nagari, both dead now, as saying that Zawahiri and al-Qaeda were a creation of “imperialist forces”.

“We do not know who is circulating this message, in what intention. We suspect it’s a new conspiracy against the country’s sovereignty and the Muslims of the country,” read the statement.

[With details from Reuters]

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher