Security forces in Bangladesh are investigating alleged links between a British-based charity and an Islamic school after a raid uncovered what officials described as a "terrorism training" facility.
Members of the country's specialist Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) found guns, grenades and ammunition at the madrassa, 60 miles south of the capital, Dhaka. Leaflets about jihad (holy war) were also found, along with equipment for making bombs.
"We suspect that it has been used for terrorists – for training and attacking," said Lt-Cdr Mamunur Rashid, an RAB deputy director, speaking from the southern Bangladeshi city of Barisal. "We recovered 10 guns, 3,000 rounds of ammunition and about 2,500 parts for grenades."
The security forces say the madrassa on the island of Bhola was operated by Green Crescent Bangladesh UK, which is registered as a charity in Britain with offices in Green Pastures, Stockport. The school is said to be surrounded by water and has a drawbridge which prevented local people from accessing it. The charity also ran an orphanage at the location.
Hirona Begum, 28, who lives near the madrassa, told AFP: "I was excited when they started building the school. I wanted my three children to go there but was told no locals were allowed. A lot of people from out of town would go to the madrassa. They did not talk to anyone in the village."
Lt-Cdr Rashid said four people had been arrested in the raid. Three of those detained were Bangladeshi but the fourth was a British national, Dr Faisal Mostafa, who, according to official documents, is the founder of Green Crescent. In 2002 a man called Faisal Mostafa, also of Green Pastures, Stockport, was acquitted of plotting a terrorist bombing campaign in Birmingham. It is unclear whether the man arrested yesterday is the same person.
Some local reports suggested that among those arrested was a member of the militant group, the Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). It was responsible for a series of bomb attacks in the summer of 2005. "We are now investigating to find out everything we can," added Lt-Cdr Rashid.
Ashraf, a trainee teacher in the Manchester area, said he helped set up Green Crescent's website and had organised a number of events for the charity. He said he was dismayed to hear that police had found weapons at the school.
"I'm absolutely shocked and very upset," he said. "No one is really sure what's going on. I've helped organise events with the charity about helping Muslims assimilating and integrating into British society so to hear there might be weapons there is shocking. I've seen DVDs and presentations of what the charity does out there and they seem to do some very good work, educating kids and helping poor Bangladeshis get access to doctors."
A relative of the charity's founder Dr Mostafa, who declined to be named, also confirmed he had been arrested. A mobile phone owned by Dr Mostafa went unanswered yesterday.
The charity's website says it was founded in 1998 by students "from the United Kingdom and Bangladesh who believed that individuals with vision are capable of changing society in a positive way and decided to do whatever possible to make life that much better for those who have very little".
One of the charity's trustees is Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, a Muslim convert academic who delivered a lecture at Birmingham University last night entitled "Sharia law: Barbaric or Misunderstood?".Reuse content