By S. Binodkumar Singh*
On October 8, 2016, in an anti-terrorism crackdown, 12 Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) terrorists were killed in Gazipur, Tangail and Dhaka Districts. Seven of them were killed in the Harinal area in Gazipur City under ‘Operation Spate 8’ conducted jointly by the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team and Gazipur Police. Police recovered three small arms and locally-made sharp weapons from the site. Two others were killed during an operation by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) at a JMB den in the Lebubagan area of Gazipur District. One AK 22 rifle, bomb making materials, one laptop, a locally-made sharp weapon and some bullets were recovered. In another raid carried out by RAB, two terrorists were killed in a three-storey building in the Mirzamath area of Tangail town. One pistol, one revolver, 11 sharp weapons, 12 bullets, two laptops and BDT 64,362 were recovered from the ground floor of the flat. Separately, in Dhaka District, Nazmul Haque aka Abdur Rahman, the financier of JMB died after he jumped from his flat on the fourth floor to flee during a raid by RAB in Savar upazila (sub-District). RAB recovered a firearm, ammunition, sharp weapons, a mobile jammer and a huge number of Jihadi books from his flat.
On September 11, 2016, one JMB terrorist was killed and three were injured during a Police raid at a house in the Lalbagh area of capital Dhaka. During the raid, five Policemen were also injured as the terrorists attacked them with sharp weapons.
On September 2, 2016, Murad aka Jahangir Alam aka Omar aka Major Shaheb, the JMB ‘military commander’, was killed during a raid in Dhaka city’s Mirpur area. Before being shot dead, Murad stabbed three Policemen trying to capture him.
On August 29, 2016, Khaled Hasan aka Badar Mama (30), the ‘military commander’ of the northern region of JMB, and Ripon aka Golam Tareque aka Abu Ibrahim (29), the ‘chief of Ansar Rajshahi’, a JMB splinter group, were killed in a gunfight with the Police in Bogra District. Two constables Babul Akhtar and Abdul Mottalleb suffered injuries in the incident. A foreign-made pistol, four bullets, two homemade bombs, bomb-making materials and a knife were recovered from the spot.
On August 27, 2016, three JMB terrorists including, Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, the ‘mastermind’ of the Gulshan (Holey Artisan bakery) attack and two close aides were killed in a Police raid on a JMB den in the Paikpara area under Narayanganj District. Police recovered an AK-22 rifle, one pistol, several magazines and four live grenades. Chowdhury was the purported ‘amir’ of the Islamic State (Daesh) in Bangladesh.
According to partial data collected by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since the July 1, 2016, Gulshan attack, a total of 41 JMB terrorists have been killed and another 80 have been arrested across Bangladesh in different raids (data till October 16, 2016). Prominent among those killed were: ‘financier’ Nazmul Haque; ‘military commander’ of the northern region, Khaled Hasan; Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, allegedly responsible for the Gulshan attack; and ‘military commander’ Murad.
JMB was founded in 1998 by Sheikh Abdur Rahman, with the objective of establishing Islamic rule in Bangladesh and to replace the current State and Constitution. It opposes the existing political system and seeks to “build a society based on the Islamic model laid out in Holy Quran-Hadith.” It opposes democracy, socialism as well as cultural functions, cinema halls, shrines and NGOs. The Government did not realize the gravity of JMB’s agenda until the terror group triggered countrywide serial bombings on August 17, 2005. 459 low intensity explosions occurred in 63 of Bangladesh’s 64 Districts (excluding Munshiganj, where the bombs failed to explode) killing three and injuring more than 100 people.
In the crackdown that followed after the synchronized bomb explosions, according to the Police, a total of 160 cases were filed across the country and1,157 JMB leaders and cadres were indicted. Of the accused, 960 terrorists were arrested. Two top leaders of the group, Sheikh Abdur Rahman and Sidiqul Islam aka Bangla Bhai, were executed on March 30, 2007. That was the end of the first phase of JMB.
Before that crackdown, JMB was led by a seven-member Majlis-e-Shura, comprising its top leadership, including Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai. The group had 16 ‘regional commanders’ and 64 ‘district heads’, besides hundreds of ‘operational commanders’. The cadre was organized in three tiers. Eashar (key members), comprising 200 full time members, which reported directly to the Central Committee; Gayeri Easher (mid-level members), with an estimated 10,000 members; and the Sathis or Sudhis (companions), consisting of younger foot soldiers (cadre strength unknown). For operational requirements, the group divided the country into nine ‘divisions’– one each in Khulna, Barisal, Sylhet and Chittagong; and two each in Dhaka and Rajshahi. The JMB also had a suicide squad called the Shahid Nasirullah Arafat Brigade. The members had an ‘insurance policy’ from the group.
The JMB took only nine years to reorganize. This time, the born-again terrorist outfit, referred to as Neo-JMB by law enforcers, is far more radicalized. The Neo-JMB now claims affiliation to Daesh (Islamic State, IS) and its ideology, is relatively skilled in modern technology and equipped with firearms, and is capable of causing greater damage than the old JMB which, a decade ago, carried out suicide bombings and synchronized blasts across the country. Re-emerged in 2014, Neo-JMB drew the attention of law enforcers only after committing the Bangladesh Commerce Bank Limited (BCBL) robbery in Ashulia, a suburban area near Dhaka city, on April 21,2015, an incident in which eight persons were killed. Neo JMB was also responsible for the July 1, 2016, Gulshan attack in which 20 hostages, including 17 foreigners, was killed. The armed attack launched near the historic Sholakia Eidgah on the July 7, 2016, leading to the death of two Policemen, a housewife and a terrorist, was also attributed to the Neo-JMB.
Significantly, on December 14, 2015, India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) warned, “They (JMB) hatched a conspiracy wherein the main purpose was to establish Sharia Law in Bangladesh by toppling the democratically elected government and to spread tentacles in India for the furtherance of their goal. “Confirming the reality of the threat, on July 17, 2016, Bangladesh Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu observed, “Even today, the JMB is plotting to kill her (Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed). But, people are with us. Our Prime Minister has worked hard to upgrade the Bangladesh Army. We are also getting support from the Indian Government. We finished most of those based in Bangladesh. Some are still in our jails, waiting for conviction. But a good number of leaders are abroad, including in Pakistan and the Middle East. We have also alerted many European countries regarding this.”
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has consolidated Bangladesh’s secular commitments reining in the Islamist extremist groups, stated, during a visit to Dhakeshwari National Temple in Dhaka city on October 8, 2016, “Our Government has always taken stern action against terrorism and militancy and would continue to curb the twin demons with an iron hand…. There would be no place for terrorism and militancy on Bangladesh’s soil.” Earlier, on September 3, 2016, asking the terrorists and their leaders to surrender in response to the Government’s call, or to face dire consequence, Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan warned, “If you do not give yourself up to the law enforcement agencies, you will face what your accomplices have experienced in the immediate past operations.”
The re-surfaced Neo-JMB mainly consists of tech-savvy youngsters, a fact that as surprised Bangladesh’s security forces, who are finding it difficult to detect their motives and future plans. Despite the fact that Bangladesh’s law enforcement agencies have neutralized a number of hardcore JMB terrorists, significant risks persists, as the terrorist group continues to attract fresh recruits, as evidenced by the fact that, in the recent encounters, several of the terrorists killed and arrested had allegedly joined the group very recently. The weapons and resources recovered during the recent raids also suggest that there are significant flows of resources to the group, and it is imperative that these sources of assistance be identified and neutralized, if the group is to be finally neutralized.
* S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management