Ignoring 459 bombs

The US media and government have said very little about what is probably the most dramatic and well-organized attack by jihadist terrorists since 9/11, the August 17 explosion of 459 bombs in a span of 30 minutes in Bangladesh.

The attacks were subtle (if that can be said of bombings), and very well-organized. The targets were government buildings and populated areas, but apparently the intention was not wanton destruction — only 2 people were killed and a couple hundred injured. According to Reuters, the bombs “caused little damage and appeared to have been aimed chiefly at spreading panic.”[1] The attackers used “homemade bombs – explosives in small tin cans,” many of which were “cushioned in sawdust, apparently intended to limit the damage they caused.” [2]

Map of Bangladesh with bomb blast locations The bombs went off in 63 of the 64 districts of Bangladesh, and were timed to go off inside of a 30 minute period. The group responsible must have been incredibly well-organized.[3] The country’s Daily Star newspaper called the operation “Grassroots Clockwork,” saying it was carried out by “some 400 activists and leaders” who planned it in exquisite detail.[4]

There is practically nothing on this event in the US media, in sharp contrast to the front page circus around the London attacks, or Madrid. I found three articles so far in the New York Times [5] and four in the Washington Post [6] You would think that the sheer scope of the attacks would draw a lot more media attention, especially from the Bush “anti-terror” crowd. So why isn’t the media paying attention to these bombings?
Perhaps the fact that the people terrorized were mostly poor and brown might have something to do with the weak outpouring of sympathy, concern, and solidarity. Since the terrorists were home-grown, there is certainly less fear that we might be next, always a factor in how a disaster story is pitched.

The lack of carnage made room for attention to be paid to the alleged perpetrators’ political message, something our own media and government tend to avoid as much as possible. Unlike the Bush/Blair standard ignorant and racist response to Islamist terrorism (“they hate our way of life”), Bangladesh’s State Minister for Home acknowledged that these bombings were “done in an organised way with an objective.” The message itself is similar to that of other jihadist groups who we have heard from in recent years. The leaflets left at the bomb sites by Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh addressed two groups of people, first “Muslims in Bangladesh,” and second “Muslims of the world.” The first part of the document called for an Islamic state and labeled the present democratic government a creation of “kafirs,” or infidels. In the second section, key points include the following: [7] [8]

  • The “biggest terrorist of the present world is George W Bush, who launches attacks on innocent Muslims by resorting to terrorism, and tries to make the Muslim into nonbelievers by forcibly imposing a Kufri [evil] Constitution.”
  • “Democracy is the main weapon to establish evil forces in the world. This evil order allows the arrest of Mujahideen who are on Allah’s path.”
  • Bush and his allies “want to bring the whole world under their control through a new world order by establishing a Kufri concept of democracy. It seems to be a neo-Pharaonic ambition.”
  • Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and other leaders of Muslim majority countries who act as agents of Bush are “kafirs.”
  • To Bush and Blair: “The Muslims across the world are rising up. If you don’t stop repression forthwith, you will not be allowed to live in safety anywhere in the world.”

Coincidentally (or not?) one of the architects of the Bush/Blair policy, Paul Wolfowitz, is in Bangladesh for a visit in his capacity as president of the World Bank. Even some of Wolfowitz’s natural allies among the country’s elites lambasted his presence. A meeting of NGO officials and academics convened to criticize World Bank projects in Bangladesh as “mass destructive.” Most of the speakers protested Wolfowitz’s visit and complained, among other things, that the poverty rate in their country had doubled (from 30 to 60 million) between 1972, when Bangladesh first began receiving World Bank “aid,” and 2005.[9] It is likely that the anti-US component of the jihadist message resonates deeply with the concerns of the Bangladeshi people. Even if the bombings had been covered in more detail by the US media, this point would surely have been lost.

Thanks to Angsuman Chakraborty for bringing this story to my attention.


  1. Reuters
  2. Australian Associated Press – registration required
  3. Daily Star [Bangladesh]
  4. Daily Star
  5. New York Times archive search for ‘bangladesh’
  6. Washington Post archive search for ‘bangladesh’
  7. Simple Thoughts – Abridged translation of the leaflet by Angsuman Chakraborty
  8. The Daily Star [Bangladesh]
  9. The Daily Star [Bangladesh] – On his first tour of South Asia since he became the Bank’s head, Wolfowitz has been unwelcomed in other places too. Activists in Andra Pradesh, one of the first Indian states to receive World Bank loans, also protested in advance of his visit [BBC News]

2 thoughts on “Ignoring 459 bombs”

  1. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for your informative roundup.

    As a Bangladeshi I give my 2 cents here:
    Alhough the terrorists were home-grown, an operation of this magnitude (imagine 49 of 50 states in USA) had to be well planned. There was atleast 1500-2000 people involved and the costs would have been somewhere around $1,00,000 – $1 million. Now that is a hefty sum for a poor country like Bangladesh. What the government and the Islami parties are trying to say that probably these were some lunatics who are going out of control. But I suspect an international terror link and huge funding from abroad. The terrorist networks which exist since 1990s (after some 2500 Bangladeshis came back from Afghanistan war) have received millions of dollars so far from Middle East and Arab countries. It would be interesting to learn who backed these terrorist outfits but I suspect it would be never divulged.

    Probably the big frustrations of these terrorists is that the main Islami parties (which are controversial to general Bangladeshis and represents 5-10% of the pouplar support) are also active participants in the democracy. People suspect that some Islami parties have terrorist outfits, but I think the 18/7 bombings surprised the Islami parties also.

    I think these terrorists have dared this much because of the government’s approach in denying that terrorists exist in Bangladesh. The investigations of many previous bomb attacks (specially the Aug 21, 2004) bomb attacks against the opposition leader) were politicised and the opposition also played a role in it by not co-operating with the goverment.

    There is a rumour in the country that it is a ploy to destabilize the country so that some other third force like the military can take over. Whichever way the things are going it is frustrating for us.

    Whatever the World Bank says (the population has also doubled since 1972), We know that albeit all the natural calamities, limited resources, poor infrastructure, political unrest and other impediments Bangladesh is growing at a steady rate and we are almost self sufficient in feeding 140 million people.

    The West should help in not turning this country into a famine ridden war zone like some of the African countries. We do not want aid, we need partners for development and free trade opportunities so that we can deal with our own problems. We want friends rather than masters and believe me Bangladeshis are good friends if you get to know anyone of them somewhere.

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