By Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Three years after an elaborately planned terrorist attack left 29 dead at a Dhaka café, militants have become active again in Bangladesh but reduced to mounting low-intensity, “lone-wolf” attacks that target police, analysts say.
Since late April, a series of bomb explosions in the Bangladeshi capital have injured at least nine officers, authorities said, although the government had declared that it had crushed militancy in the country through a bloody crackdown that followed the café attack.
Instead of large-scale organized attacks, militant outfits are now planting improvised explosive devices (IED) targeting police vehicles, call boxes and other locations where police gather, security experts said.
The perpetrators are using remote controls, mobile phones or timers to set them off, according to the analysts.
“In such attacks, the militants plant IEDs or time bombs in advance and cause an explosion when the maximum number of personnel gather,” retired Brig. Sakhawat Hossain told BenarNews.
“Police have crushed the networks Neo-JMB and other outfits through massive pre-emptive operations. But they are not finished and have altered their strategy of attacking,” Hossain said.
He was referring to a local militant group that declared allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group, which claimed responsibility for an overnight siege by terrorists at the Holey Artisan Bakery, an upscale café in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter, in July 2016.
“After a hibernation of nearly three years following the Holey Artisan attack, they have started attacking police with the IS model of ‘lone-wolf,’” the security analyst said, explaining that the model relied on individual militants instead of organized attacks.
Another security analyst, retired Air Commodore Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury, said the shift in tactics occurred as the number of militants fell.
“They are not in a position to carry out organized attacks like that of the Holey Artisan café attack,” Choudhury told BenarNews.
“Attacking police personnel through remote-controlled bombs is a new approach as the militants seek to reassert their presence,” he said, adding that police were having a tough time deterring these bombings.
“I think this type of attack is a new challenge,” he said, adding police could face more of these attacks in the future.
“To deter such attacks, police and other law enforcing agencies need to strengthen intelligence networks,” Choudhury said.
Police have been the targets of a series attacks since April 29, when suspected militants set off an IED at a police duty box at the Gulistan intersection in Dhaka, injuring at least three on-duty police personnel, officials said.
About four weeks later, on May 26, an IED planted on a police vehicle exploded, injuring three officers, including a policewoman.
More recently, police recovered and diffused two bombs at police call boxes in Dhaka’s Khamarbari and Paltan precincts on July 23.
On Aug. 31, an IED exploded at a police call box on Dhaka’s Elephant road several meters from a car carrying local government Minister Tajul Islam. An on-duty police officer in charge of the minister’s security and two other officers were injured.
Islam told journalists that the officer left the minister’s car because of a traffic jam and headed to the call box when it exploded.
The Bangladeshi police’s counter-terrorism division has been investigating the attacks, officials told BenarNews.
“We have yet to determine who carried out the attacks, but we suspect militants,” said Saiful Islam, a deputy commissioner of the division.
“All of the bombs were IEDs, but the ammunition was low grade and the level of damage was not high,” he said.
“Police have been their targets because officers crushed their terrorist networks and many of their leaders were killed in police operations,” he added.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Masudur Rahman said high-level police officials met on Monday to discuss the attacks.
“The militants want to dent the morale of the police,” he said. “We have instructed officers to maintain additional ‘precaution’ while on duty, and increased the number of police check posts in Dhaka.”
Rahman announced that counter terror unit chief Monirul Islam would lead an eight-member team of experienced officers to investigate the attacks.
On Thursday, Monirul Islam told the state news service BSS that militants were using online apps to aid them in planning attacks.
IS has claimed responsibility for all of the recent small-scale bomb attacks in Dhaka, but Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal and other government officials have continued to deny that extremist group exists in Bangladesh.