By Shailaja Neelakantan
Bangladesh strongly rejected U.S. charges this week that al-Qaeda cells had committed attacks on the South Asian nation, although the U.S. State Department had documented such incidents in its annual reports on terrorism around the world.
In a talk in Washington on Tuesday on al-Qaeda’s “new home base in Iran,” U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that if Iran were to give the terror group support and access to satellite networks, it could “increase turmoil in places like Bangladesh, where al-Qaeda cells have carried out attacks.”
Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry issued a sharp rebuttal the following day.
“Mr. Pompeo mentioned Bangladesh as a place where the terrorist group al-Qaeda carried out attacks, falsely apprehending similar terrorist attacks in future,” it said in a statement.
“Such irresponsible comments by a senior leader are very unfortunate and unacceptable. Bangladesh strongly rejects these kinds of baseless remarks and falsification,” the ministry said.
Asked to respond to the ministry’s comment, a State Department spokesperson chose to highlight counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries.
“The United States and Bangladesh collaborate on a range of shared priorities, including counterterrorism. We appreciate our close counterterrorism cooperation with the Government of Bangladesh.”
Each year the U.S. State Department is required by law to report to Congress how countries around the world are faring in efforts to defeat international terrorist groups.
Its “Country Reports on Terrorism” note that Bangladesh consistently denies the presence of transnational terrorist groups on its soil, as well as ties between such groups and Bangladesh-based militants.
“While the Bangladeshi government often attributed terrorist violence to local militants, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and ISIS have together claimed responsibility for nearly 40 attacks in Bangladesh since 2015,” said the Country Reports on Terrorism 2018.
“Bangladeshi militants have been featured in multiple publications, videos, and websites associated with ISIS and AQIS,” it said.
ISIS is another acronym for the so-called Islamic State group, a terrorist network that emerged in the past decade as a rival to al-Qaeda.
An AQIS-affiliated group attacked writer Zafar Iqbal in 2018 after branding him an “enemy of Islam,” and the group was also suspected in the murder of secular writer and political activist Shahzahan Bachchu the same year, according to State Department reports.
AQIS claimed two attacks in 2016, including the April 25 murder of U.S. embassy local employee Xulhaz Mannan and his friend K. Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy. “In both cases, the assailants used machetes,” the State Department reported that year.
Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) and Ansar al-Islam, groups affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), claimed responsibility for the brutal murders of several secular writers and bloggers between 2013 and 2016, BenarNews reported at the time.
For instance, the South Asian branch of al-Qaeda claimed it carried out the machete-killing of secular blogger Niladri Chottopaddhya after breaking into his home in the suburbs of Dhaka in August 2015.
“We declare war against these worst enemies of Allah and His messenger,” Mufti Abdullah Ashraf, who claimed to be the group’s spokesman, said in an email sent to news outlets after the murder.
“If your ‘Freedom of Speech’ maintains no limits, then widen your chests for ‘Freedom of our Machetes’,” the email concluded.