Pompeo’s ‘terror hub’ remarks upset Bangladesh

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Jeddah – Yasmine El Tohamy – DHAKA: Bangladesh has criticized remarks by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo labeling the country as a place where “Al-Qaeda cells have carried out attacks.”
In comments published on the State Department website on Tuesday, Pompeo listed several countries, including Bangladesh, as terror hubs.

The claim brought a stinging rebuke from Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry, which described the comments as “irresponsible” and “unfounded.”

“Mr. Pompeo mentioned Bangladesh as a place where the terrorist group Al-Qaeda carried out attacks, falsely suggesting similar attacks may happen in the future. Such irresponsible comments by a senior leader are very unfortunate and unacceptable,” the ministry said in a statement.

It also denied any Al-Qaeda presence in the country.

“Bangladesh strongly rejects these kinds of baseless remarks and falsification,” the ministry said, as it highlighted Dhaka’s commitment to counterterrorism.

“The country has become a party to all 14 international counterterrorism conventions and is actively involved with international ‘preventive’ initiatives to combat terrorism,” the statement read.

“If any such claim could be substantiated with evidence, the government of Bangladesh would be happy to take the necessary measures against such activities. However, if such a statement is made out of speculation, Bangladesh considers it very unfortunate, especially in the context of the ever-growing bilateral ties between the two friendly countries based on shared values, peace and common goals.”

Pompeo’s remarks also baffled Bangladeshi foreign affairs and security experts.

“I can see no reason why he specifically mentioned Bangladesh in connection with Al-Qaeda,” Ambassador Touhid Hossain, a former foreign secretary, told Arab News.

“Al-Qaeda’s involvement was not proven in any previous incidents in Bangladesh.”

However, Pompeo’s comments are unlikely to damage US-Bangladeshi ties, he added.

Bangladesh and the US have a good bilateral relationship and this type of comment will have no impact on the relationship, Hossain said.

Humayun Kabir, a former Bangladeshi ambassador to the US, said that Pompeo might have been expressing a “personal opinion.”

“As a precaution, Bangladesh needs to find out the reason for the comment. What prompted Pompeo to comment? Why did he mention Bangladesh? We should find the answers,” Kabir told Arab News.

Security analyst Air Cdre (rtd) Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury rejected the suggestion of an Al-Qaeda presence in Bangladesh.

“Every country has some security threat. But we don’t have any special threat regarding Al-Qaeda at this moment,” he said. “To me, Pompeo’s comment on Bangladesh is something like a drowning man clutching at a straw.”

Prof. Amena Mohsin, of the University of Dhaka’s international relations department, said that Pompeo is using Bangladesh as a “soft target” to divert attention from the “domestic security threats” facing the US.

With Washington preparing for a new administration, the remarks are unlikely to have any impact on US-Bangladeshi ties, she added.

Mohsin told Arab News that Bangladesh has good global counterterrorism indicators and should not be “labeled in connection with any terrorist organization.”

“Bangladesh has secured a very good position on the Global Terrorism Index, even better than neighboring India and Pakistan,” she said.

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