By S. Binodkumar Singh*
On September 4, 2021, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested four Neo-Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (Neo-JMB) cadres following an exchange of fire in Mymensingh District. RAB recovered arms and ammunition from their possession during the operation.
On August 10, 2021, the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit arrested three Neo-JMB cadres from the Kafrul area of Dhaka city. The arrestees were Jahid Hasan Raju aka Ismail aka Furkan, the group’s ‘military wing chief and bomb expert’ and his two associates Saiful Islam Maruf aka Bashira and Rumman Hossain aka Fahad.
Again, on August 10, 2021, Police arrested a Neo-JMB cadre from the Khilgaon area of Dhaka city. The arrestee, identified as Nazmus Shakib, was accused in a case filed for injuring a Policeman and involvement in anti-Government activities.
On August 1, 2021, a team of the Special Action Group (SAG) arrested two Neo-JMB cadres, identified as Shafiqur Rahman Ridoy aka Baitullah Mehsud aka Captain Khattab and Khalid Hossain Bhuiyan aka Afnan, from the Jatrabari area of Dhaka city. Bomb-making manuals, explosives and materials, including remote control devices, were recovered from their possession.
On July 11, 2021, a CTTC unit arrested, ‘Major’ Osama aka Nayeem, a member of the Neo-JMB ‘military wing,’ from a house in the Madanpur area of Narayanganj District. Three bombs, four remote control devices, bomb-making materials and a large number of jihadi books were recovered during the raid.
On July 11, 2021, a CTTC unit arrested Abdullah Al Mamun aka Debit Kinara aka Akin Al Bengali, a Neo-JMB cadre from the Jatrabari area of Dhaka city. Mamun, who used to work as a muezzin (a man who calls Muslims to prayer) in a mosque in the area and also worked in an orphanage, was involved in making Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
According to partial data collected by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of 27 Neo-JMB terrorists have been arrested from across Bangladesh since the beginning of the current year (data till September 5, 2021).
Neo-JMB is believed to have been established in 2014. The outfit, however, came into prominence only after it took responsibility for the July 1, 2016, Holey Artisan Bakery attack in which 20 hostages, including 17 foreigners, were slaughtered. However, the incident also proved disastrous for the outfit.
Since the Holey Artisan Bakery attack, Security Forces (SFs) have killed a total of 47 Neo-JMB terrorists, including almost all the top leaders (data till September 5, 2021). Prominent among those killed were: Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, the then ‘chief’ of Neo-JMB and ‘mastermind’ of the Gulshan attack (August 26, 2016); Murad aka Jahangir Alam aka Omar, its then ‘military commander’ (September 2, 2016); Nazmul Haque aka Abdur Rahman, its then ‘financier’ (October 8, 2016); Nurul Islam Marzan, the then ‘deputy chief’ (January 6, 2017); Aminur Islam aka Alam (23), its then ‘military chief’ (March 2, 2017).
Another 263 cadres have been arrested across Bangladesh in different raids since the Holey Artisan Bakery attack. Prominent among those arrests were: Imam Mehedi Hasan (29), ‘commander’ of Neo-JMB’s ‘Dar-e-Kutni Brigade’ (September 21, 2017); Babul Akter aka Babul Master (45), ‘military commander’ of the group’s Northern Districts (December 6, 2017); Asmani Khatun aka Asma (28), the then ‘chief’ of the female wing (February 4, 2020); Shirina Khatun aka Tahsin Abdullah (23), ‘second in command’ of the female wing (March 19, 2020); Sheikh Sultan Mohammad Naimuzzaman (26), ‘regional commander’ (August 11, 2020); Sibbir Ahmed (22), ‘fundraiser’ (August 27, 2020); Jakaria Jamil (31), ‘head of the media wing’ (November 7, 2020); Jewel Ali aka Habibullah aka Mahmud (33), ‘regional commander’ (November 19, 2020); ‘Major’ Osama aka Nayeem, ‘bomb expert’ (July 11, 2021); and Jahid Hasan Raju aka Ismail aka Furkan, ‘military wing chief and bomb expert’ (August 10, 2021).
In the meantime, according to a July 6, 2021, report, CTTC officials disclosed that Neo-JMB, an Islamic State (IS)-inspired outfit, had recently formed a 20-member committee. The committee members, all from the ‘military wing’ of the outfit, named the committee ‘Islamic State of Bengal Province.’ Neo-JMB’s IED expert, Sabbir Hossain (26), also the ‘military wing commander’ of the outfit’s Mymensingh region unit, formed the committee. CTTC officials claimed to have collected information about Sabbir, also known as Bamchi Barak aka ‘Major’ Bamchi aka Abu Hafs al Bengali, tracking the Neo-JMB’s strategy.
Further, on July 12, 2021, CTTC officials stated that Neo-JMB tried to build a militant den in the hilly area of Bandarban District. Kawsar Hossain aka ‘Major’ Osama, a Neo-JMB explosives expert, tried to build a militant den in the hilly area of Bandarban to establish links with militants in Myanmar’s nearby Arakan region. He also wanted to use the den to recruit new operatives and train them to make IEDs. They gleaned this information after Osama’s arrest on July 11.
Alarmingly, on July 30, 2021, CTTC officials revealed that Jahid Hasan Raju aka Ismail aka Furkan, dubbed ‘explosives guru’ by the law enforcers, had been leading three cells with 20 members each since 2018 and training them online on how to make IEDs with materials easily available in the market. According to reports, after receiving an invitation from the Neo-JMB in 2016, he opened a Facebook ID under the name Ismail Hasan. He makes manuals and videos on manufacturing IEDs and then shares these with members of the cells through end-to-end encrypted applications. Explaining Furkan’s modus operandi for the IED manufacture training, a senior CTTC official, requesting anonymity, disclosed, on August 11, 2021,
When any member of Neo-JMB contacted Furkan about making IEDs, Furkan would open a new social media account to make video calls and train the member. Once the training was complete, Furkan closed the account and changed locations to remain traceless.
On August 14, 2021, CTTC officials discovered that Furkan was also involved in the group’s plan to make ‘chloroform bombs’ for which they had conducted tests on frogs, which swelled up and died. Neo-JMB was planning to use ‘chloroform bombs’ for carrying out attacks in buses, classrooms and at public places to ‘kill silently.’ The CTTC unit claimed to have unearthed the plans following the arrests and interrogation of several Neo-JMB bomb makers, including Furkan, on August 10.
Meanwhile, according to intelligence sources, the parent JMB, formed in 1998, and which carried out synchronized blasts across the country on August 17, 2005, killing three and injuring more than 100 people, and went dormant thereafter, is working with Ansar al-Islam, which claims to be the Bangladesh chapter of Al Qaeda in Indian Sub-continent (AQIS). Militants from both outfits (JMB and Ansar Al-Islam) were involved in the assassination of Shahjahan Bachchu on June 11, 2019, in Munshiganj District. Bachchu, a publisher and writer, was killed by JMB, which used information provided by Ansar al-Islam to plan the killing. Besides, JMB operatives were also found collaborating with Neo-JMB for various activities and operations. Mohamad Enayet, a member of the parent JMB, was arrested in 2006 by RAB in an explosives case filed against him with Gazipur Police Station. He is now in Kashimpur Jail. Enayet has now connected with Neo-JMB and is working to spread radicalization and militancy inside the jail.
Indeed, describing the possibilities of the growth of overall militancy in Bangladesh, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Commissioner Shafiqul Islam stated, on August 16, 2021, that the Taliban’s recapture of Afghanistan might encourage militancy in Bangladesh and other countries in the sub-continent. He added that a surge of militancy in Bangladesh had always been connected with such major international events, and that current developments in Afghanistan could encourage some youth in Bangladesh to get involved in extremism. The DMP chief also asserted that coordinated efforts by the Police and other state agencies would be essential to prevent any militant resurgence in the country.
Despite the ongoing counter-terrorism efforts in Bangladesh and the recent arrests of Neo-JMB cadres, their disclosures indicate that the group remains a key threat to Bangladesh’s internal security. While the overall capability of the group has dwindled, the residual capacity cannot be ignored, as Neo-JMB now mainly consists of tech-savvy youngsters, increasing the challenge for Bangladesh’s security forces.
*S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management