Dangerous ties


BANGLADESH, WHICH HAS only just admitted to the terrorists in its midst, has a long way to go to ensure its own security and avoid sowing more discord in a volatile region. Last Tuesday, three bombs exploded near courthouses and a law office in two cities, Gazipur and Chittagong. Two days later, a suicide bomber disguised as a tea vendor detonated a bomb in Gazipur. On Friday, police discovered and defused nine bombs near government buildings in the south of the country.

Earlier that same week, the British Embassy received a threat from a man claiming affiliation with Al Qaeda against its building as well as those of the United States and various European countries. In mid-November, two judges were killed by bombs. The close chronological proximity of the attacks recalled the events of Aug. 17, when about 400 small bombs exploded across the country in the span of about 40 minutes, a devastatingly clear indicator of the coordination and skill of Bangladeshi extremists.

According to Bangladesh’s national police chief, the latest bombings were the country’s first suicide attacks, and they used explosives more powerful than those used in most previous attacks. This suggests that militants in Bangladesh are adopting the tactics and technology of their counterparts in the Middle East -- and could be interested in stronger ties with groups abroad.


What makes the situation more precarious is that Bangladesh only just admitted that violent extremists were a problem. Since 2001, Western intelligence agencies have reported the presence in Bangladesh of Taliban remnants along with various other militant groups. It was not until February 2005, however, that Bangladesh addressed the issue at the behest of the international community, banning two terrorist groups and putting some of their ranks in prison.

But acknowledgment of a problem is just the first step in solving it. Bangladesh has yet to deal with one of the more disturbing aspects of its problem: the implicit support by some Bangladeshi officials of various Islamic extremist groups. The increasing involvement of mostly peaceful Islamic parties in the Bangladesh National Party’s coalition government is a positive development. But some ministers and officials are widely believed to have sympathy for the militant counterparts of those parties.

Bangladesh is far from becoming a haven for terrorists like Afghanistan was (and, some say, still is). But the development of ties among Bangladeshi politicians, local militants and extremists abroad could endanger an already tense region. Dhaka should break those ties whenever they are exposed.