B'desh bought spying equipment from Israel, claims Gulf channel; Army says report 'ill-intended'

Anisur Rahman
·3-min read

Dhaka, Feb 2 (PTI) Bangladesh has bought Israeli-made surveillance equipment that can be used to monitor the mobile phones of hundreds of people simultaneously, a Gulf-based news channel claimed on Tuesday, prompting the country's army to describe the report as an 'ill-intended' move to destabilise the South Asian nation.

Citing documents and statements, Qatar-based Al Jazeera news channel's Investigative Unit claimed that the Bangladesh army purchased the Israeli equipment in 2018 using a Bangkok-based middleman and Bangladeshi military intelligence officers were trained in Hungary by Israeli intelligence experts.

The contract lists the condition that both parties to the sale sign a non-disclosure agreement, it said. It also lists the country of origin for the equipment as Hungary, although secret recordings by the channel show the middleman explicitly saying the equipment was from Israel.

Bangladesh – the world's fourth-largest Muslim population country - has no diplomatic ties with Israel and trade with it is prohibited. Officially, it has said it will not recognise Israel until there is an independent Palestinian state.

The report was part of the Al Jazeera investigation 'All the Prime Minister's Men', which exposes the close relationship between a powerful Bangladeshi crime family, which the country's army chief General Aziz Ahmed belongs to, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Commenting on the report, the defence ministry said it was actually part of a vested group design to destabilize the Bangladesh in the recent times.

'Bangladesh Army Headquarters condemns in the strongest possible words the concocted and ill intended report,' the army said in a statement.

The military statement said three controversial people appeared in the show as the main commentators while 'the nexus among the ill-motivated and vested personalities is clearly visible in their past credentials'.

The statement said one of the three people, British journalist David Bergman, was a convict of Bangladesh's International Crimes Tribunal (BD-ICT) for spreading misleading information over the 1971 massacres.

One of the two others was a military academy's ex-cadet who was expelled for drug addiction and the rest was the chief editor of 'infamous' Netra News portal based abroad.

'It is not clear how an international news channel like Al-Jazeera can associate itself with such an ill-intentioned group of people with criminal records,' the statement said.

It said Bangladesh army 'denounces the false information provided in the report with respect to procurement of the Mobile Interceptor Device from Israel' while the truth is the equipment was procured from Hungary for one of the army contingents heading to a UN peacekeeping mission.

It said there was no scope of defence co-operation/procurement from Israel since Bangladesh does not have any diplomatic relation with that country.

'Bangladesh Army is the most disciplined under the present Chain of Command and loyal to the constitution and the Government... (It) views the report as an attempt by the vested group to break the harmony among different government organs with a view to obstructing the growth and development of the country,' the statement said.

Earlier in the day, Bangladesh's foreign ministry in a statement described the Al Jazeera report as 'false and defamatory' and 'desperate smear campaign' instigated by 'extremists and their allies, working in London and elsewhere'.

'The report is nothing more than a misleading series of innuendos and insinuations in what is apparently a politically motivated 'smear campaign' by notorious individuals associated with the Jamaat-i-Islami extremist group,' the foreign office said.

It said Jamaat-i-Islami, which opposed Bangladesh's 1971 independence siding with Pakistani troops, was now opposing the country's progressive and secular principles since its very birth.

'There is not a shred of evidence linking the Prime Minister and other State Institutions of Bangladesh to this particular individual, and it is highly irresponsible for an international news channel to draw conclusions on the basis of the words of a mentally unstable person,' said the statement. PTI AR ZH ZH