Dhaka (AsiaNews) The government of Bangladesh has begun a probe into the financial activities of major Islamic NGOs as its intelligence agencies suspect they provide financial support to Islamist militants in the country.
Under the cover of building mosques, setting up madrassas, other educational institutions, hospitals and healthcare centres, these NGOs are thought to have funded militant groups and given financial backing to those involved in last month's countrywide wave of bomb attacks. Many donations come from private individuals in Mideast countries.
The central authorities have asked local administrations to closely monitor and report to them the activities of madrassas set up by the NGOs, particularly Qawmi madrassas that are not under government supervision.
In Bangladesh there are 15,000 private Quranic schools against 9,000 state-run schools. Between 2001 and 2005, the number of schools that received state funds rose by 9.74 per cent compared to 22.2 per cent from private sources.
Intelligence sources report that Islahul Muslimine is one of the NGOs under government surveillance; it was founded by Moulana Fariduddin Masud, who was arrested on charges of being connected to militant groups. In 2004 alone it handled funds for a total of 187,000 (US$ 230,000).
"We are working for welfare of the people, not for arms training. None of the registered Islamic NGOs has links to militancy," said an official with the Association of Muslim Welfare Agencies in Bangladesh.
Since funds often come through unofficial channels like the hundi network, links with extremist groups are hard to establish.
Hundi is a traditional informal value transfer system that allows movements of large amounts of money by coded phone calls that leave no paper trails or electronic traces. People pay up at one end pledges made at the other with no one, except those involved, the wiser.
Islamic NGOs operate largely in the poor districts of north-western Bangladesh, in places like Rangpur, Dinajpur and Rajshahi. And it is here that militant Islamic groups have extended their reach and become more active.
It is here in fact, in Rajshahi, that the now outlawed Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh began its operations which it later expanded into other areas.
Saudi-based Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation is another NGOs with alleged extremist tiesin recent years it has restored many mosques in Bangladesh's North-West.