By Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Afghan authorities have arrested a suspected pro-Islamic State Bangladeshi militant who is wanted in Dhaka for his alleged involvement in a foiled plot to bomb an event attended by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2017, police here confirmed on Wednesday.
Mohammad Tanvir, whom Afghan authorities have identified as a senior leader of the Islamic State terror group, was arrested recently with another suspected IS leader in northwestern Afghanistan, according to Khaama Press, which cited a statement from the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS). The outlet describes itself as Afghanistan’s largest English news service.
“Yes, we have received confirmation that Tanvir has been arrested in Afghanistan,” Saiful Islam, a deputy commissioner of the Bangladeshi police’s counter-terrorism and transnational crimes unit, told BenarNews.
Islam told BenarNews that a “foreign” intelligence agency called Bangladeshi police seven days ago seeking information about Tanvir, whose name is spelled as Tanweer (alias Omran, Ahmad or Nasir) in Afghanistan.
“We provided them the information,” Islam said, without elaborating. “Later, the agency confirmed to us that Tanvir was genuinely arrested in Afghanistan.”
In a separate report published online, Republic TV, an English news channel in India, said that NDS, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, had released a video of Tanvir and accused him of having links with a militant attack that killed 25 people in Kabul last month.
About 150 worshipers were inside the Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib shrine, a Sikh temple in the Afghan capital, when a gunman opened fire inside the complex early in the morning on March 25. The gunman was killed in an exchange of gunfire with security forces, authorities said.
The Islamic State group claimed it carried out the attack, according to BBC News.
The reports from Khaama Press and Republic TV did not mention when the Bangladeshi man’s arrest took place, but the Afghani news service posted what it claimed to be Tanvir’s picture during his interrogation by Kabul’s intelligence agents. The video-grab included a subtitle in which the photographed man allegedly said that his house was in Bangladesh.
Islam told BenarNews that Tanvir, an engineering graduate of Bangladesh University, fled to Afghanistan while trying to complete his master’s degree in business administration at Dhaka University.
“He had links with the militants who operate in Bangladesh under the banner of IS,” Islam said.
Islam said “Tanvir had communications” with a 21-year-old man also named Saiful Islam, who blew himself up in a Dhaka hotel room in August 2017, when officers confronted him as he was about to set off a bomb at the Hotel Olio International.
The hotel was in the Panthapath neighborhood, about 300 meters (984 feet) from a house in the adjacent Dhanmondi neighborhood where the country’s founding president, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and several members of his family were assassinated on Aug. 15, 1975.
Saiful, who was a madrassa student and a suspected member of militant group Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), had checked into the hotel armed with explosives, police told reporters.
August 15 is observed in Bangladesh as a national day of mourning to mark the anniversary of the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of Sheikh Hasina, who is now the prime minister. She was out of the country when the assassination took place.
The Hotel Olio explosion occurred about three hours after Hasina and President Abdul Hamid placed floral wreaths at the house, which is now a museum. The blast ripped an outside wall from the hotel and injured a security guard and a police officer.
On Dec. 9 last year, Bangladesh’s anti-terrorism tribunal filed charges against 14 Neo-JMB members including Tanvir, for taking part in the August 2017 terror plot, according to court documents.
Bangladesh has no extradition treaty with Afghanistan. As a result, Islam said, Dhaka would send a letter to the Afghan government through Interpol to get more information about Tanvir’s arrest.
Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen told BenarNews on Wednesday that he was aware that Tanvir had been arrested, although Afghan authorities have yet to formally inform Dhaka.
“Yes, we have come know to about the arrest of the Bangladeshi IS leader in Afghanistan from media reports,” he said. “The Afghan government has not officially informed us about his capture.”
The Afghan embassy in Dhaka was closed. BenarNews did not receive a response to an email sent to the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan.
Sakhawat Hossain, a security analyst and retired brigadier general, said it was difficult to determine the actual numbers of Bangladeshis who had joined the IS forces in Afghanistan.
“There is no official figure about them. But certainly there are Bangladeshis fighting for the IS in Afghanistan,” Hossain said. “This is because we saw in the past that Bangladeshis were captured in Afghanistan.”
Police have blamed a faction of JMB for carrying out a terrorist attack that killed 29 people at a local café, the Holey Artisan Bakery, in July 2016.
Since that overnight siege at the Dhaka café, Bangladeshi authorities have announced several arrests of suspected members of Neo-JMB, a local militant group aligned with Islamic State (IS). A couple of days after the café attack, the Islamic State released a video from Syria, praising the act.
Bangladeshi officials have long denied an IS presence in Bangladesh but acknowledged that a propaganda video that was released on Sept. 24 in 2016 was filmed in Bangladesh. The video included footage of the men who carried out the attack.