EU, US decline to send election observers to Bangladesh

Updated 03 January 2014

EU, US decline to send election observers to Bangladesh

DHAKA: The European Union has refused to send election observers to Bangladesh, as have the United States and the Commonwealth, a grouping of 53 mainly former British colonies.
“We’re disappointed that the major political parties have not yet reached a consensus on a way to hold free, fair, and credible elections,” Marie Harf, a US State Department spokeswoman told a briefing in Washington.
Meanwhile, sources said that the two candidates vying to represent the Lalbagh constituency, among the minority of seats to be contested by more than one candidate in polls, are both in the ruling Awami League, which is poised to steamroll to victory as the main opposition party sits out the vote.
The Bangladesh National Party (BNP) is boycotting in protest at Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s move to scrap the tradition of letting a caretaker government oversee elections. The impasse undermines the legitimacy of the poll and is fueling worries of economic gridlock and further violence in the impoverised South Asian country of 160 million.
“The acrimony between two of our main leaders has brought this country to where it is now and not just crippled our economy and growth, but also our democratic system,” said Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of Citizens for Good Governance, a non-governmental organization.
Either Hasina or BNP chief Begum Khaleda Zia has been prime minister for all but two of the past 22 years and there is deep enmity between them.
Pre-election violence that killed more than 100 people, mostly in rural areas, had eased in recent days, although two people were burnt to death early on Friday when opposition activists hurled petrol bombs at a truck in northern Dinajpur, according to police. Five polling centers were set on fire in southeastern Feni, Khaleda’s hometown.
Meanwhile, verdicts in the International Crimes Tribunal investigating atrocities committed during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan have elicited a violent reaction from activists affiliated with the Jamaat-e-Islami party, an ally of the BNP.
Last month, the first execution resulting from the tribunal was followed by deadly violence against Awami League members.
Hasina has spoken of holding talks following Sunday’s polls with the opposition on the conduct of future elections.
If successful, these could eventually result in another election. The BNP demands that the current electoral process be halted.
Many opposition leaders are in jail or in hiding. Khaleda is under what appears to be house arrest.
“Even if the BNP wanted to sit down to a dialogue, the atmosphere does not exist,” Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, a BNP vice chairman who was detained for several hours following a recent visit to Khaleda’s home, told Reuters on Friday.
The Awami League argues that the interim government system has failed in the past.
“The election will be held under a strong and independent Election Commission, not under any unelected people,” Hasina said in a televised speech on Thursday night.
A poll published in Friday’s Dhaka Tribune found support to be evenly split between the two parties, with the BNP backed by 37 percent of respondents and the Awami League 36 percent.
While the military could step in to take power in the event of a breakdown of law and order — which it did in 2007 — it is widely seen as reluctant to do so.
“Sheikh Hasina’s main challenge is to convince the world these elections are credible and because that is not possible she will need a well-planned exit strategy to eventually conduct fair elections,” said Iftekhar Zaman, executive director of global anti-corruption body Transparency International in Bangladesh.


Exposed: UK Daesh cell fundraising for jailed jihadi brides

Updated 29 November 2020

Exposed: UK Daesh cell fundraising for jailed jihadi brides

  • Fake donation by undercover reporters reveals sophisticated terror network

LONDON: A Daesh fundraising operation based in the UK seeking to free Western jihadi brides from Syrian refugee camps has been exposed by the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
Undercover journalists spoke with a “fixer” in Turkey before exposing a “courier” in London collecting what he thought was a £4,500 ($5,987) donation to the operation.
But the brown envelope hidden at the “dead drop” by undercover journalists contained only a crossword book. In response to the revelations, London’s Metropolitan Police have opened an investigation.
The Syrian camps targeted by the operation for escape bids include Al-Hol, where Shamima Begum, who fled Britain aged 15 to join Daesh, was held.
A report last week revealed the existence of an Instagram group called Caged Pearls, run by British women detained in Al-Hol who are raising money to finance their escape from the camps.
The page promotes awareness of its mission through a poster reading: “Al-Hol — The cradle of the new Caliphate.”
One woman raising funds in the camp was named as “Sumaya Holmes,” who had been smuggled out of the camp and traveled to Turkey.
Holmes is said to be the widow of a British Daesh fighter who died in Syria, and the current wife of a Bosnian extremist serving jail time in his home country.
Holmes asks for donations on her Facebook page and posts pictures of women holding up posters begging for help.
One poster said: “I am a sister from camp Al-Hol and I need $6,000 so that I can escape from PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party). Please, I ask everyone to help me and donate as much as they can.”
Holmes captioned the image: “This is my friend and she is in need of help. She sent me this photo yesterday. Please, even if you can’t help, pass it to those who can donate to her.”
Another image posted by Holmes shows a woman holding a piece of paper that says: “I am your Muslim sister in Al-Hol camp. I need help from my brothers and sisters to be freed from the hands of the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces). I need $7,000 to be able to get out with my children.” The message added: “You can trust Sumaya Holmes on Facebook, she is trying to help me raise money needed.”
A Mail on Sunday reporter posed as a drug dealer who had converted to Islam. They messaged Holmes on Facebook to offer support and money.
Holmes then requested to communicate on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app favored by extremists and criminals for its high levels of security and privacy.
She asked for a Bitcoin donation but the undercover reporter declined. She then suggested making a bank deposit in an associate’s account in Jordan, and then hawala, an Islamic method of transferring money that uses a broker system. But the undercover journalist declined again.
Holmes finally provided details of a man called “Anas” in London who could collect funds in person. When an offer to donate was made, Holmes accepted.
In the meantime, she had been actively posting her support for Daesh on Facebook. In one post, she described the Chechen who beheaded teacher Samuel Paty last month as a “hero.”
In London, a second undercover reporter set up a meeting with “Anas” to deliver cash for the operation.
But the reporter changed the plan and left an envelope containing only a crossword book at the agreed-upon location.
As the journalists watched carefully, a man wearing a white crash helmet soon arrived on a scooter.
He found the package and messaged the reporter: “File received, let me check the money and tell you.”
He soon discovered the ruse, telling the undercover reporter: “There are no money in the envelope, there is only a book? It seems that you are not serious about your subject.”
When confronted again, “Anas” denied any involvement in the exchange, which would be illegal under British law had the envelope contained cash. “No, no, I don’t take anything, you are wrong,” he said.
Later, Holmes also denied her involvement. “That’s not true, good luck with publishing your lies,” she said.
The latest estimates suggest that about 300 of the 900 Britons who traveled to Syria to join Daesh are back on British streets.
Dr. Vera Mironova, a Daesh expert and research fellow at Harvard University, said: “To escape from the camps costs about $18,000 and the success of these campaigns shows the sheer amount Daesh are able to raise online.”
She added: “Once the women are smuggled out, it is impossible to monitor them. The women who collect money online are still with Daesh and are trusted and supported by members worldwide. They work with a network of supporters globally.”