Foreign money is funding Bangladesh's NGOs that are fuelling Islamist militancy in the country, a minister has said.
Finance Minister AMA Muhith on Wednesday said: "There is an international network against terror financing. Bangladesh has not completely become a part of that network."
He alleged that most of the NGOs, now under close scrutiny of government agencies and the Bangladesh Bank, came during Khaleda Zia's tenure (2001-06), when it shared power with Jamaat-e-Islami and other Islamists.
Islamist NGOs had grown during Zia's 1991-96 tenure as well.
During the rule of the four-party alliance government, the NGO Bureau listed 473 local and 25 foreign NGOs. Since 1990 it has approved 2,367 local and foreign NGOs that run on foreign funding.
"When Mojahid (Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid, Jamaat-e-Islami secretary general and former social welfare minister) was in charge, a number of new NGOs popped up.
"There are some investments in the country that patronise militant activities," Muhith noted but did not identify such investors, The Daily Star said on Thursday.
The NGO Bureau scrutinises the sources of foreign funds of the NGOs and from now on the scrutiny would be made more intense, he said.
Bangladesh Bank is trying to find out the membership of the Egmond Group, which deals with international financing and money laundering.
"The caretaker government (had) initiated some moves to stop terror funding. This will be strengthened further," Muhith said referring to the previous government that ruled during 2007-08.
Following the 2005 countrywide bomb attacks by Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), then BNP-Jamaat alliance government took up a drive against Islamist militants.
Intelligence reports recommended banning the Kuwait-based Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS) and taking action against a number of other Middle Eastern organisations found to have links with Islamist extremists.
In 2002, the US Department of State blacklisted some RIHS offices, citing their support to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.
But the Zia government "used to entertain RIHS top leaders", the minister said, alleging that the RIHS chief was visiting Dhaka and had met three ministers when Islamist militants threw grenades and fired upon a rally being addressed by present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in August 2004.
Intelligence agencies had also reported that militant group Ahle Hadith Andolon Bangladesh (AHAB) also receive such funding. AHAB chief Asadullah Al Galib himself talked about receiving funds.
The banned Harkatul Jihad, responsible for a number of gruesome killings and grenade attacks, also receive foreign funding. Intelligence reports said the JMB spent roughly Tk 60 lakh ($87,847 approx) a year for maintaining its fulltime leaders and cadres, and Tk 1-5 crore for buying explosives and firearms and executing attacks.
Other suspect NGOs include Rabita Al-Alam Al-Islami, Al-Muntada Al-Islami, Society of Social Reforms, Qatar Charitable Society, Islamic Relief Agency, Al-Forkan Foundation, International Relief Organisation, Kuwait Joint Relief Committee, Muslim Aid Bangladesh, Dar Al-Khair, Hayatul Igachha and Tawheed-e-Noor.
These NGOs have been operating in the country since the 1990s.
Bangladesh Bank Governor Salehuddin Ahmed on Wednesday said the central bank has intensified monitoring at commercial banks to find if there is any link between suspicious transactions and militants.
"We are examining the transactions afresh," United News of Bangladesh (UNB) news agency quoted him as saying.