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'We are very afraid after this'

28 March 09 13:04 GMT

Bangladeshi police are investigating a madrassa (or Islamic theological school) established by a British charity where a cache of weapons was uncovered. The BBC's Abdullah al-Muyid has been to visit the madrassa at the centre of the story.

I saw the poster on the wall of the ferry I caught to Bhola: "So bombing and killing people is not allowed in Islam". It referred to a hadith - the stories of the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad handed down by word of mouth.

It was an expression of the deep concern over the rise of militant activities and bombing incidents across Bangladesh.

Recently the country's elite anti-terror force, the Rapid Action Battalion, uncovered a huge stash of firearms, ammunition and explosives at a madrassa.

It is not new to find this type of thing in madrassas, but for the first time a UK link has been found.

Green Crescent Madrassa was established by a British citizen of Bangladeshi origin and the organisation which provides funds for it is registered as a charity in the UK.

Well-defended

After driving more than 230km (143 miles) and crossing over three big rivers, my 12-hour journey came to an end.

I had reached the village of Rumkeshob in the island district of Bhola.

The village does not look different from any other in the country, but an unusual pink-coloured single-storied building in a well-defended complex has pushed this place into the media spotlight.

The Green Crescent Madrassa complex is in the rear side of the village and a narrow zigzagging driveway connects it to the main road.

The four hectare (10 acre) site is cut off from the village by a 2.4m (8 ft) wide canal full of water.

The entrance has a small bridge with a gap negotiated by an iron sheet which acts as a drawbridge.

Two policemen were guarding the main entrance and they rolled the bridge to let us in.

There are eight rooms in the first building around a courtyard in the middle which is not visible from outside, and this has an extension as well.

In one of the rooms the police allowed me to enter, I saw benches and a blackboard on the wall. The adjacent room was being used as the bedroom for the students, and the next one to it was the dining room.

This building is connected to another one - used as the teachers' quarters - by a concrete path, and in between these two buildings is a big pond or water tank.

It was in this second building that the discovery of firearms, ammunition and explosives was made.

All the weapons and explosives were found in the ceiling of the three rooms - well hidden from the eyes of anyone.

'We never suspected'

"I never went inside," said Mumtaj Begum, who lives just on the other side of the canal that separates the complex from its neighbours, "we thought it was only for rich people."

Mohammad Ali, the local council member, said foreigners were seen coming and going, but no-one knew what their purpose was.

"They brought in people from other places to build this place and rarely allowed us to go inside. We are very afraid after this discovery of these dangerous things," said Mr Ali.

Another villager, Abdur Rhaman, said: "He used to give a lot of things to the poor... last time he gave hijabs to the poor women. We never suspected that he was doing something of this kind."

And a villager known as Sohidul explained: "They said there would be an orphanage, a madrassa and a hospital - we were very happy."

No-one ever suspected militant activity at the complex.

Assistant Superintendent of police H M Azimul Haque is leading the investigation team.

"As we recovered some books on jihad, I think there is a strong connection to militancy and maybe they were piling up these things to create anarchy in the country," he told me.

The sense of surprise and unease at the discovery of the arms cache goes well beyond Bhola.

Nitul Dey, a businessman I met on the ferry, said: "I no longer feel safe as they can throw a bomb in a busy marketplace full of innocent people, now safety has become a major concern for many of us.

"I do not understand why these educated people are doing these things when they are living relatively better than us."

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