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Bangladesh: Will the government nationwide crackdown on the Muslim far-right put an end to the deadly attacks on secularists and minorities?

Sunday 12 June 2016, by siawi3


12:00 AM, June 07, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:20 AM, June 07, 2016

Militants grow in silence
Two local terror groups spreading fast their tentacles; 47 killings in 18 months

Zayadul Ahsan

While the government was taking pride in containing militancy by cracking down on Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) over the last several years, two new radical Islamist groups have built up an extensive network that remained relatively unnoticed until late last year.

One group is leaning towards al-Qaeda while the other influenced by Islamic State (IS).

The pro-Qaeda outfit is called Ansar Al Islam. Major (dismissed) Syed M Ziaul Haq, who made headlines by trying to engineer a military coup in 2012, is its military commander.

Around 200 trained members are active in the country to execute the plans of Ziaul Haq, detectives say based on statements of some of its arrested members.

Ansar Al Islam was previously called Ansarullah Bangla Team.

As a rising militant outfit, Ansarullah wanted to launch al-Qaeda in Bangladesh (AQIB) like al-Qaeda in Indian Sub-Continent (AQIS). But the AQIS headquarters in Pakistan did not approve the idea and suggested Ansarullah be renamed Ansar Al Islam and work as the Bangladesh branch of AQIS.

This group began gaining strength in 2013-14 — especially in northern regions. It recruits from JMB, Ahle Hadith, Hefazat-e Islam, different madrasas and financially vulnerable families.

The other group, which is leaning towards IS, is being led by a Bangladeshi-Canadian named Tamim Chowdhury, who identifies himself as Shaykh Abu Ibrahim Al-Hanif, according to the IS mouthpiece Dabiq. It recruits from physicians, engineers, technologists, architects and educated people. Its members are comparatively affluent.

Tamim, in the latest issue of Dabiq, claimed that a section of Shibir, the student front Jamaat-e-Islami, is also working for his group in Bangladesh.

Some of its arrested members include sons of a former Supreme Court judge, former military official, former bureaucrat and an adviser to a former caretaker government.

According to statements of the arrested members of this group, some of its militants are Syrian war returnees. About a hundred such militants, including women, are now fighting in Syria. Some others have died. The IS mouthpiece Dabiq has published an obituary for one such militant.

The IS-influenced group has two main wings — the southern wing based in Mirpur and the northern in Gazipur. Its operational headquarters are in Savar and Tongi while its training centre is in Mirpur. Detectives are now trying to pinpoint these locations.

In the last 18 months, militants have killed 47 persons. Responsibility for 28 of these killings was reportedly claimed by so-called Islamic State (IS) and eight by Ansar Al Islam.

Analysing the pattern, it can be said that Ansar Al Islam mostly targets secularist writers or bloggers and gay rights activists. They pick victims who can be labelled as anti-Islam and as such way would not gain sympathy from common men.

Targets of the so-called IS includes a wide-spectrum of people — Hindu, Christian, Buddhist or Bahá’í leaders, spiritual leaders or pirs, members of Shia sect, university teachers, religious convert and foreigner, among others.

Detectives also claim to have arrested about 150 members of the two organisations and recorded statements from about 50. Seven have been killed in “crossfire”.

These militants are mostly new and not necessarily JMB bred, according to well-placed police sources. They have developed own messaging software so that police could not intercept their communications through mobile phones or the internet.

These new breed of terrorists are efficient and highly educated and they maintain close contacts with international terrorist organisations.

“Pre-occupied with curbing the JMB activities, we failed to notice that the local pro-IS group was developing an extensive network. We had a glimpse of its full network in last November,” said a top detective official.

“Detectives have brought JMB under control. The IS-influenced group will also come under control. But it will take time,” he said, “Because they are more organised than any other militant groups — dedicated, smart and suicidal. Before they embark on any operation, they have their last prayer and bid final farewell to their comrades. They assume that they would certainly die if they get arrested.”

Detectives claim to have foiled a number of big plans of the so-called IS and Ansar Al Islam. One such plan was attacking an embassy of a western country. Upon learning about this plan, the detectives recovered huge arms and ammunition capable of blowing up a big multi-storey building.

A detective official said it was the threat of the militants that prompted the police to restrict the Pahela Baishakh festivity.

Investigators learned that the militants have plans to attack important installations and persons. They had even planned to attack and occupy a private television channel and televise their messages for a while — just to draw the attention of the world.

On May 22, Amir Hossain Amu, chief of the cabinet committee on law and order maintenance, told the press that JMB was directly involved in 25 recent killings, Ansarullah Bangla Team (renamed Ansar Al Islam) in eight and other militant groups in four.

Amu claimed no connection of IS was found with these killings.

As per his statements, all the killings reportedly claimed by the IS were actually done by the JMB. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal also said that there was no IS presence in the country and all the killings were targeted.

Detectives say it was pointless to argue whether there was IS in Bangladesh or not, as the threat of these militant groups was real. These groups would continue to gain strength unless the government adopts a new strategy to curb militancy.

Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit chief Monirul Islam said, “As the situation of militant organisations based in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan has become fragile due to the global situation, they are now more interested in the sub-continent.”

Those who nurture the jihadi ideology were getting involved with these militant groups, he said. "Islamic State and al-Qaeda are releasing videos online. These are inspiring some people to join these militant groups.”

Monirul Islam pointed out that it would not be possible to completely uproot militants from the country in the current global situation. “But we are trying to contain it,” he said.

Zayadul Ahsan is a former chief reporter of The Daily Star and an expert on militancy issues.


The Daily Star
June 11, 2016

The killing of an ashram worker
Will special drives thwart further attacks?

Only two days after a 70-year-old Hindu priest was hacked to death in Jhenidah, we have been confronted with another brutal killing, this time a 60-year-old devotee of an ashram. Since May, eight people have been killed in a similar fashion which smacks of militant operations. The latest murder gives the chilling message that the nightmare is far from over.

It is quite apparent that certain categories of people have become the targets of militant attacks. This has sent a wave of fear among people, especially those belonging to different faiths and ideologies. Even families of law enforcers engaged in catching militants are in the radar of these extremists.

The police have announced a weeklong clamp down on militants from June 10 but this will not necessarily allay our fears if the real killers and those who have conspired to instruct them to kill, are not caught. Announcing the clamp down seems a little imprudent as it gives criminals the opportunity to disappear from the scene. Also, we are surprised that such drives in which field-level officers are being instructed to find out the whereabouts of suspected militants in their areas, have not been done before as the killing spree started long before June. Over the last two years or so, suspected militants have attacked and killed university professors, secular bloggers, publishers, LGBT rights activists, members of religious minorities including Shia and Sufi Muslims, Hindus and Christians. What have the law enforcers been waiting for?

We fervently hope that a coordinated effort of all the security agencies will bring positive results in terms of catching the real killers along with the masterminds instead of making wholesale arrests.



Bangladesh Detains Several Thousand in Drive Against Islamist Radicals
Bangladesh Detains 1,600 in Drive Against Islamist Radicals

By The Associated Press

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Jun 11, 2016, 6:44 AM ET

Authorities have rounded up about 1,600 criminal suspects, including a few dozen believed to be Islamist radicals, in a nationwide crackdown aimed at halting a wave of brutal attacks on minorities and activists in Bangladesh, police said Saturday.

The attacks — including two Hindus in the last week — have alarmed the international community and raised questions about whether Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s secular government can maintain security for minorities in the Sunni Muslim-majority country.

Police and paramilitary soldiers fanned out across the country Thursday night, raiding suspected militant hideouts and detaining about 1,600 people by Friday night, police said.

The majority of those detained, however, are described as petty criminals. Only 37 of them are suspected to be radical Islamist militants, according to police spokesman Kamrul Islam. Those include three charged with alleged membership in the banned militant outfit Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh.

None of those arrested is believed to be a high-level operator who might have organized or ordered attacks, police said. All the detainees are being held in jail.

Hasina’s government has faced criticism for failing to prosecute suspects for at least 18 killings carried out over the past two years. Victims include atheist bloggers, foreign aid workers, university professors, gay rights activists and religious minorities including Hindus, Christians and Shiite Muslims.

Hasina had announced the anti-militancy campaign after the wife of a police superintendent was shot and stabbed to death on June 5 as she was waiting with her son at a bus stop. The victim had been an ardent campaigner against Islamist militants, and her murder stunned the country’s establishment, many of whom considered the victim as one of their own.

Speaking to Parliament on Wednesday, Hasina vowed to root out radicals bent on spreading terror and violence in a bid to restore the country to Islamic rule.

"If they think they could turn Bangladesh upside down, they are wrong," she said. "They will be exposed to justice in the soil of Bangladesh and their patrons will also not be spared."

The attacks have followed a pattern: A group of young men wielding knives or machetes approach their victim as his or her guard is down, perhaps while strolling down the street or relaxing at home. The attackers spew hateful language, then hack and stab at the victim before disappearing, often without a trace. Many victims are killed with a machete blow to the back of the neck.

Authorities have arrested some suspects in some of the 18 attacks, mostly low-level operatives accused of following orders to carry out attacks, but none has been prosecuted. Police have said they are waiting until investigations are complete before taking any suspects to court.

Amnesty International has criticized the government for inaction, saying it is creating a culture of impunity. It also said authorities are failing to address increasing numbers of reports of people receiving threats.

"The brazen announcement by violent groups that they will continue targeting those they perceive as ’insulting Islam’ should shake the Bangladeshi authorities out of their complacency," Champa Patel, the right’s group’s director in South Asia, said in a statement. "Ignoring the problem is not a solution. The authorities must categorically condemn these killings, carry out a prompt, thorough, impartial and transparent investigation, deliver justice for the victims, hold the perpetrators accountable, and protect those still under threat."

Nearly all the attacks have been claimed by transnational Islamist extremist groups, including the Islamic State group and various affiliates of al-Qaida. The killing Friday morning of a Hindu ashram worker in northern Bangladesh was also claimed by the IS group, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist activity online and cited the Amaq News Agency.

Hasina’s government, however, says transnational terror groups have no presence in the South Asian nation of 160 million. It blames the attacks on domestic groups aligned with political opposition parties, though it has presented no evidence of such a campaign and the opposition denies the allegations.

On Friday, the opposition BNP party said it was worried the government campaign against extremists would lead to efforts to suppress opposition parties.

"The crackdown is a strategy which the government earlier used to suppress the people’s movement. We fear that they will again oppress the opposition in the name of conducting a crackdown," BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said.