The Bangladeshi Prime Minister has warned that radical British Bengali Muslims are fuelling extremism in her country – the world’s third most populous Muslim nation.
In an interview with the Guardian, Sheikh Hasina said that UK-based jihadis of Bangladeshi origin are encouraging those within the Diaspora as well as locals in Bangladesh to join the cause of international jihad.
Mrs Hasina said that Prime Minister David Cameron should do more to tackle the issue at the root
“The British government should take more steps on the ground. Jamaat [-e-Islami – Bangladesh’s leading Islamist party] has a strong influence in east London. That’s true. They are collecting money, they are sending money.”
Mrs Hasina’s comments come a month after a British-Bangladeshi man – 58-year-old London IT worker Touhidur Rahman – was arrested over the brutal murders of two secular bloggers by Islamists earlier this year.
Several other cases linking individuals from Britain’s Bengali population to extremist groups active in Bangladesh and elsewhere, including Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB), Islamic State and al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), have come to light in recent months.
This week it also emerged that two young men – cousins Ruhul Amin from Cardiff and Reyaad Khan from Aberdeen – who were killed by British drone strikes in Syria were also of Bangladeshi-origin.
Security analysts say that Bangladesh, a country of 160 million people, many of whom live in severe poverty, is ripe for radicalisation.
One intelligence analyst told the Guardian that Islamic State was looking to the country for recruitment.
“Unofficially, the number of Bangladeshis going to fight in Syria and Iraq is up to 30. Bangladesh is becoming a transit route to Isis from India. We also have growing numbers of Bangladeshi diaspora guys coming (to Bangladesh) from Britain to recruit,” the analyst said.
The director of an NGO specializing in security said that many young men are falling prey to recruiters from the UK and other parts of the West. “There are very large numbers of young men who don’t have a job or any prospects”, the director said.
“Their only experience is the madrassas and the mosque. In rural areas they don’t even have access to social media. These people want to be used, so they are very easily manipulated.
“When Bengalis from the UK come in, they are very easy to lead. The jihadi recruiters are coming from London, from Germany, from the US. They are educated, they have been to university, so they are more sophisticated,” the director added.
Sheikh Hasina said that cooperation between countries was important to stem the tide.
“Certainly we want cooperation from all other countries so that they should be very careful that no illegal money or arms or terrorists should take any chance to create any problem to any other country”, Mrs Hasina said.
According to local experts, one of the main Islamist political forces is the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI), a fundamentalist group allied to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
Shahriar Kabir, a Dhaka journalist and author, described Jamaat to the Guardian as “the godfather of all terrorism” and said it posed a threat to Bangladesh’s secular tradition.
“If the BNP [the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party that is allied to JEI] wins the next election, Bangladesh will become Islamicised,” Mr Kabir said.
“Isis and al-Qaida are targeting Bangladesh. Jihadis are coming here from abroad, some from the UK. And money for the Islamists is coming from Islamic NGOs and individuals in Britain and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
“We are fighting to maintain a secular society. But we are losing ground. If we lose we will become a centre of global jihadi terrorism,” he added.
Jamaat-e-Islami’s connection to the Bangladeshi community in east London and other British cities is well-established.
On its website, the East London mosque states it is “not affiliated to or controlled by JEI” although it says it has hosted JEI speakers in the past.
The UK government says the UK needed to do more to tackle extremism in Britain.
David Cameron’s official spokeswoman told the Guardian: “The PM … set out his thinking in a big speech before the summer. He does believe the government needs to be working with communities in a cross-country effort.
“Alongside that, in many of the bilaterals that he has had with other leaders he also talks to them about what more we can do to work together to look at the best ways to address radicalisation and extremism.
“When he was in south-east Asia that was one of the things he talked to them about.”