Indian authorities suspects Al Qaeda in Sunderbans

Vol 6, PW 9 (03 Jul 02) People & Policy

INDIAS DOMESTIC INTELLIGENCE agency the Intelligence Bureau has cautioned ONGC that remnants of Al Qaeda and the Taliban have set up base in coastal Bangladesh, close to its Sunderbans offshore acreage.

ONGC's block in the Sunderbans - the world's largest mangrove forest - is near Bangladesh's Semutang hydrocarbon structure. IB officials tell this report Al Qaeda and Taliban have set up a training camp and an arms cache in Bangladesh's Satkhira region with help from local Islamic radicals.

Jamait-e-Islami, a Muslim fundamentalist party and now part of the Bangladesh ruling coalition, won most of the parliamentary seats in Satkhira. An IB source tells PETROWATCH some 200 Islamic radicals - half of them locals and the rest Pakistanis and Afghans - are believed to be at the Satkhira base.

IB informers among the local fishing community alerted it to the presence of outsiders near the Sunderbans close to where ONGC plans to drill. Worried IB officials last week sent in a team of field agents to verify this report.

"ONGC must take security of the offshore platforms seriously," said a senior IB source. A security plan has been prepared for the area.

Maoist guerrillas traditionally dominated this area until successive governments crushed them in the mid-eighties. Islamic radicals have since filled the vacuum.

IB claims the Al Qaeda-Taliban base in Satkhira is managed by the Bangladesh Islamic Manch, an umbrella body of nine radical Islamic groups set up in March.