A touch of al Qaeda taints the image of Bangladesh in Japan

Monzurul Huq
Part One: The image of Bangladesh in Japan had generally been a favorable one as expatriate Bangladeshis, through their diligence, hard work and sincerity, were able carry the message that our country, despite occasional political upheavals and unfavorable media reports overseas, has not turned out to be the rotten place the people in Japan often hear about.

In addition, since the country’s emergence as an independent state in 1971, the subsequent governments of Bangladesh have also tried hard to maintain a warm and friendly relationship with Japan, a country that in the course of time has become the number one donor for Bangladesh. As a result, Bangladesh had always been viewed by the people of Japan as a developing country, tolerant on religious and other issues, criterion that are usually applied as a barometer to judge the standing of a particular nation in global politics.

But that might have been turned into a chapter of history by now, as the reckless acts of a few Bangladeshis in Japan, with dubious political links back at home and overseas, has shattered the image to the core, causing unprecedented damage to all gains that we could have achieved during the last three decades through the efforts of different segments of our population, starting from the ordinary citizens right up to the government.

It has been reported worldwide that five foreign nationals, including three Bangladeshis, were arrested in Japan last week for allegedly getting involved in an international terrorist network linked to al Qaeda. Initial reports of the arrest suggested that the men picked up by police in early morning raids at 10 different locations across five prefectures in Japan received telephone calls from Lionel Dumont, a Frenchman of Algerian origin with alleged links to al Qaeda.

The men were arrested a week after reports surfaced in Japan that Dumont shuttled between Malaysia and Japan from July 2002 to September 2003 using a fake passport and contacted the men to set up a terrorist cell. Dumont’s stay in Japan came to light during investiga

tions by German police authorities that arrested him last December and extradited to France last week. Until then, his whereabouts had been shrouded in mystery. Interpol had wanted him in connection with various crimes including murders in France and Bosnia. The 33-year old converted Muslim radical was earlier arrested in the Bosnian case, but later escaped from a jail in Sarajevo.

Born in a working class immigrant family in northern France, Dumont dropped out of university in his first year and joined the French Army. He was posted to Djibouti and took part in French peacekeeping operation in Somalia in 1992 and 1993. On his return to France he left the army,

converted to radical Islam and went

to Bosnia to fight against the Serbs in the civil war.

He returned to France in 1995 and joined other Islamic radicals to form a group called Roubaix Gang. The group continued to finance its activi-

ties with a series of holdups and most of the members were arrested a year after its formation when they tried to attack a police station. But Dumont was among the few who escaped and he returned to Bosnia where he was arrested, tried and sentenced to 20 years in jail for killing of a policeman. In may 1999 he escaped from Sarajevo prison and since then his whereabouts had been a mystery until the German police appre-

hended him in Munich in December 2003. It was a mere coincidence that police in Germany came to know Dumont’s whereabouts in Munich.

According to police sources,

British authorities arrested a British national last October on suspicion of carrying explosives. Among the numbers found in suspect’s mobile phone was the Munich number for Dumont and that eventually led to a successful raid to his hideout. After his arrest, a search of his possession revealed the existence of a fake passport with genuine Japanese visa and an alien registration card issued under a false name by the city of

Niigata. The police authorities in Germany later handed all essential documents related to his stay in Japan to the Japanese police. Records

of Dumont’s mobile phone use showed he had regular contact with thirteen foreign nationals in Japan, including Bangladeshis and Pakistanis in Niigata, Gunma, Saitama, Kanagawa and Tokyo. The French passport that he used under a fake name showed that Dumont was in Japan on four occasions, from July to September 2002, October to December 2002, March to May 2003, and July to September 2003.

All such crucial information helped Japanese police to launch a through investigation that led to more sensational details and arrests. He lived for nine months in an apartment in Niigata owned by a Pakistani, who is the owner of a used car sales company in Gunma prefecture. Dumont is believed to have worked closely with Pakistanis and made frequent visits to Gunma, Saitama, and Tokyo to contact other foreigners including Bangladeshis known to have contact with a political party in Bangladesh known for its fundamental standing.

Armed with enough details needed for issuing an arrest warrant, police in Japan on Wednesday arrested five people, including three Bangladeshis, having close contact and financial transactions with Dumont. The arrested Bangladeshis are 33-year old mobile phone sales company president Mohammad Himu Islam, his younger brother and an employee of the company, Faisal Ahmed, and 29-year old illegal immigrant Mokhtar Hussein. Further police investigation revealed more details about the depth of their involvement in al Qaeda operation in Japan and the group’s money laundering effort using Japan and expatriate Bangladeshis as launching pads.

Police investigators later found bank accounts in Japan that they suspect may have been part of an

underground bank for the al Qaeda network. Some 1 billion yen, equivalent to more than 500 million Bangladeshi Taka, have been credited in the past three years to bank accounts of two mobile phone sales companies run by Mohammad Himu Islam, believed to be the gang leader of al Qaeda network’s Bangladesh connection in Japan. The investigators have been unable to confirm that the money deposited in the accounts of Himu’s companies were business transactions, as the amount surpasses many times over the usual earnings for such companies.

Himu has told the investigators that he got to know Dumont at a mosque in Takasaki in Gunma prefecture, and that they had spoken to each other over the phone many times. Investigators believe that Himu was at the center of Dumont’s personal network in Japan and they also suspect that he might have used these bank accounts to send money abroad allegedly to help fund terrorist activities.

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