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Last Updated: Monday, 6 March 2006, 17:15 GMT
Is Bangladesh winning against extremism?
By Waliur Rahman
BBC News, Dhaka

Bangladeshi security forces arrest Islamic militant leader Siddiqul Islam
Siddiqul Islam was captured at his hideout in Mymensingh district
Two of the most wanted Islamic militants in Bangladesh have been arrested in the past seven days. What does this mean for the country's fight against extremism?

The capture of Siddiqul Islam, the second most wanted Islamic militant in Bangladesh, came just four days after the arrest of his alleged spiritual guru Abdur Rahman.

Islam, known as Bangla Bhai meaning Brother of Bengal, came to notoriety in April 2004 as the leader of Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) - the group blamed for a number of vigilante killings in north-western Bangladesh.

Police say the JMJB was an off-shoot of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), the banned Islamist militant group led by Abdur Rahman, which has been blamed by the government for a wave of bombings that have killed nearly 30 people.

The two men had been on the run since the government announced a $70,000 bounty for information leading to their arrests, following bombings in August last year.

'Temporary setback'

Security analysts described the arrests as a "quite significant" development in containing extremism in Bangladesh, where the authorities have long been in denial about the problem.

"These are the two men who were in control of the JMB, so there is no doubt that their arrests will significantly reduce the capability of the group," said retired Brigadier General Shakhawat Hossain.

Abdur Rahman in his house before surrendering
Rahman is said to have provided key information to intelligence agents

He said the arrest of Abdur Rahman proved to be the most important factor in the government's fight against militancy, as the information he provided to intelligence agents led to the capture of Bangla Bhai in just four days.

Brig Gen Hossain said the organisation appeared to be too centralised - despite carrying out lethal suicide bombings, it had never had a proper structure.

"They probably launched themselves into these activities prematurely. The two arrests also prove the organisation did not grow much beyond the leadership," he told the BBC.

But security analysts are sceptical the arrests will deal a final blow to the JMB and other militant groups.

"It could be a temporary setback," said Brig Gen Hossain. He said the middle leadership would initially be on the run, but they would probably try to re-group and fill the vacuum created by the crackdown.

'Roots still intact'

"The most significant point is that although the majority of people in Bangladesh are Muslim, they really don't like extremism. And that is why they did not get the necessary support from the people in localities where they operated," he said.

Rapid Action Battalion members at the bomb site in Gazipur
The JMB has been blamed a number of bombings

The government claimed success soon after the arrest of Bangla Bhai. But opposition groups are not convinced.

"We cannot call it a success. Without arresting those who sheltered Bangla Bhai, his capture is like chopping the branches off a tree while keeping the roots intact," said Rashed Khan Menon, president of the left-wing Workers' Party of Bangladesh.

Abdul Jalil of the Awami League called the arrests "a drama".

"Both of them were created by the government but were arrested keeping the next general election in mind," he said.

The government denied the allegations, and promised to investigate whether the militants have links with any other political groups.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia said there is no place for extremism in Bangladeshi society.

"I am hopeful that all the terrorist networks will be destroyed very soon and the remaining terrorists will be captured," he said.

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