- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

An attack on police yesterday at the U.S. cultural center in Calcutta has focused attention on rising Islamic extremism in Bangladesh, where two Islamic parties joined the new ruling government last fall.
India which claims Pakistan's security services are linked to Bangladeshi extremists blamed Pakistan-based extremists for the attack, which killed five police officers and wounded 18 other officers, a pedestrian and a U.S. mission guard.
The attack comes with Pakistan and India already on a war footing over previous terrorist attacks in Kashmir and on New Delhi's Parliament, all blamed by India on Pakistan-backed groups.
Indian officials told the Associated Press that a man had called police in New Delhi to claim responsibility for the attack on behalf of Harakat-ul-Jihad Islami, an extremist group that is fighting in Kashmir with al Qaeda support. A spokesman denied any involvement.
But news reports from the region also linked the attack to another Islamic extremist group called the Raza Command, which operates along the border between Bangladesh and India.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher also said yesterday that one of the groups claiming responsibility was based along the Bangladesh border, though he did not identify it by name.
Two U.S. congressmen who recently returned from Bangladesh have expressed concern over mounting Islamic fundamentalism in that country.
"Bangladesh government officials we met are critically aware of the threat of Islamic fundamentalists," said Christopher McCannell, chief of staff to Rep. Joseph Crowley, New York Democrat and a member of the International Relations subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia.
Mr. Crowley met in Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital, this month with leaders of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which took power in October, including Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.
"The BNP and the prime minister see the issue in a way where they have a lot of people who may be of a lower social economic group who may be open to outside influence of fundamentalist ideas or who may be easily recruited through madrassas [religious schools] and terrorist networks," said Mr. McCannell, who was on the Asia trip.
An Indian official said Pakistan's intelligence agency, InterServices Intelligence (ISI), had been working with Islamic terrorist groups in Bangladesh for the past few years, attempting to create a second front against India.
"The ISI and extremist groups have been building up over the last five years," said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
"The ISI is trying through Nepal and Bangladesh, which both have porous borders with India, to get into India and create problems." Bangladesh was part of Pakistan until 1971.
He said extremists had traveled from Nepal to fight Indian forces in Kashmir, and that one of the men who hijacked an Indian plane in Nepal in December 1999 came through Bangladesh.

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