Militant training in the Hills: How Jamaatul Ansar got involved with KNF

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Tipu Sultan

The new Islamic militant organization, Jamaatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya (hereafter Jamaatual Ansar), has again come into the discussion after video footage of training of its militant members in the camp of armed group KNF in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) under their supervision was leaked. At the same time, how did the members of a radical group with Al-Qaeda ideology made relations with the disparate ethnic groups of indigenous origin, how did they accept each other, that question has also come forward.

Analyzing the information obtained from the relevant sources, it is learnt that getting training and a safe shelter in the mountains (CHT) was the strategic goal of Jamaatul Ansar. And to implement it, the cooperation of some armed group of the hills is necessary. For this, they established contact with the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF), a new armed group in the hills. A written agreement was signed between the two organizations in 2021.

It is known that the members of KNF are mainly from indigenous Bawm ethnic group. Leaders of Jamaat-ul-Ansar were interested in making a deal with the Bawms mainly because of their loyalty. Militant leaders make an explanation for this by bringing up an example from Islamic history of being sheltered and trained under their umbrella. That is, in the fifth year of Prophethood of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), a group of Muslims migrated to Abyssinia (now part of Ethiopia). Among them was Hazrat Usman (RA). It is called the first migration (Hijrat) of Islam.

And then the Christian king of Abyssinia, Najjashi, gave refuge to the Muslims. Since the Bawms of CHT are Christians, the Islamic militant leaders called it permissible (jaiz) to take refuge with them.

On the other hand, the question why KNF gave shelter to religious redical groups has also come up. According to the information received in this regard, manpower or strength increase was also important to the KNF in this regard in addition to financial benefit. The KNF, which came into discussion at the beginning of last year, considers the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) as their main opponent. There have been several conflicts between them.

Interrogating the KNF members arrested in the recent operation, the law enforcers learnt that KNF chief Natham Bawm felt that if the Islamic redical groups were given shelter, they would also fight with the KNF against its rivals. Meanwhile, a member of Jamaatul Ansar Mohammad Abdur Rahman alias Zaheer (33) was shot dead in an attack in June last year while fighting for the KNF. Nizamuddin alias Hiran, who left home with a youth named Zaheer from Noakhali and went to the militant hideout in the hills, was arrested recently. The law and order forces came to know about Zaheer’s death from him.

The KNF has given a pseudonym to each of the militants who have gone to the hills for military training. It is like the name of the Bawm people. They were called there by that name. For example: Shibbir Ahmad, who is seen in the training video as a bully, goes by the pseudonym ‘Karche’. Milan Talukder was named as ‘Lamjawl’. Imran was given the name ‘Saital’. In three such batches the 55 people trained each have a Bawm name. This is also believed to be part of the tactics used by the militants in the fight against rival groups in the hills.

Officials of law enforcement agencies said that Jamaatul Ansar has signed a written agreement with KNF for training. According to the agreement, Jamaatul Ansar paid KNF three lakh taka per month for shelter and training. Apart from this, Jamaatul Ansar used to pay the food expenses for the 150 members of KNF. Training begun in November 2021, contract until 2023. This financial gain prompted the KNF to ally with disparate religious militant group.

An officer involved in the investigation and questioning of the arrested persons said that Jamaatul Ansar’s chief advisor Shamin Mahfuz established contact with Nathan Bawm. Shamin Mahfuz alias Manring Murung was arrested in Dhaka in 2014. At that time, the police told the media that they had tried to build a training camp for militants by taking land in Thanchi of Bandarban. After being released on bail, Shamin joined the establishment of a new militant organization named Jamaatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya.

So far 55 militant members of Jamaatul Ansar have received training in three batches at the KNF camp. Their training was supervised by KNF chief Nathan Bawm, their military commander so-called Brigadier Vungchunglian Bawm, media wing chief so-called Lt. Colonel Laljong Mui Mawaya and so-called Lt. Colonel Lal Munthial Chir Chir Moi. Some of the trainees were already arrested by RAB. RAB sources said that this information was obtained by interrogating them and the arrested KNF members.

Jamaatul Ansar also bought some arms from them after taking training from KNF in their camps. Among them are 15 AK-22 rifles and shotguns. Apart from this, some country-made guns were also bought. Each weapon has a code number or mark to identify it. It was also seen in the training videos of the militants.

Apart from this, the military clothes they wear in training are made by Islamic militants. They have two tailors in their team. One has been identified as Md. Didar, whose house is south of Comilla Sadar. For more than a year, KNF and Jamaatul Ansar militants have stayed together in the hideouts of remote hills, even they have eaten together.

When asked how this coexistence of two different groups was possible, the head of RAB’s intelligence branch, Lt. Colonel Moshiur Rahman told on Wednesday that this Islamic militant group wanted to build a safe haven in the remote hills. For this they chose the KNF, an armed group in the hills. The people associated with the KNF belong to the indigenous ethnic group and are Christians. Jamatul Ansar brought forward the example of a group of Muslims migrating from Makkah to Abyssinia during the time of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) to justify their choice as allies. However, their argument is not relevant here. Because, the situation of Makkah in which the Muslims migrated to Abyssinia or Medina is not present here now.

The article is taken and translated from Bangla Daily ‘Pratham Alo’.