Bangladesh: JAFHS Emerging Challenge – Analysis


By Afsara Shaheen

On May 16, 2024, the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) arrested Abdur Rahim, who supplied arms and ammunition to the Jamatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya (JAFHS), from the Gazipur District of Dhaka Division. Following his arrest, CTTC chief Mohammad Asaduzzaman disclosed that a subsequent operation in the Naikhongchhari Upazila (Sub-District) of Bandarban District led to the recovery of a foreign pistol, nine locally-made firearms, and bomb-making chemicals and equipment.

On May 14, 2024, three operatives of JAFHS, including its ‘chief recruiter’ identified as Rana Sheikh, aka Amir Hossain, and two of his associates, Habibur Rahman and Moshiur Rahman aka Milan Talukder, were arrested by the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Detective Branch (DB) at the Kallyanpur bus stand area in Mohammadpur in the Dhaka District of Dhaka Division. The DB chief said that, during the arrest, three smartphones and two button phones were seized, containing videos of militant training and records of money sent to the Kuki-Chin National Army (KNA).

According to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, 70 JAFHS operatives have been arrested since the formation of the outfit in 2017, while five operatives have surrendered. Further, JAFHS linked violence has resulted in one (terrorist) fatality when, on January 14, 2023, JAFHS cadres killed a fellow operative due to an internal dispute, in Bandarban District.

JAFHS was formed in 2017 by former members of three banned militant organizations in Bangladesh: Ansar Al Islam, Neo-Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (Neo-JMB), and the Bangladesh chapter of the Pakistan-based Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami – (HuJI-B) . The formation of this outfit was planned in jail by leaders of the three groups, who had been arrested years earlier. The group adopted the name Jamatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya or JAFHS in 2019. Two years later, after the group established itself, its leaders teamed up with the separatist Kuki-Chin National Front (KCNF) in Bandarban, to train their cadres in the use of assault rifles and the construction of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

JAFHS shares objectives with the parent HuJI and Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). According to the Police, the new al-Qaeda-inspired organisation is funded by Syed Ziaul Haque, the former ‘army major’ and ‘head’ of Ansar al-Islam’s military section. 

The leader (Amir) of the organization is Anisur Rahman aka Mahmud. The ‘head’ of the organization’s dawat or recruiting and preaching division, is Abdullah Maimun. Masukur Rahman aka Ranbir is the ‘head’ of the military wing and a member of the group’s Shura, or decision-making body. On January 23, 2023, Ranbir was arrested in a raid by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in the Kutupalong Rohingya camp in Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar. His associate, bomb expert Abu Bashar, was also arrested in the same raid.

The RAB discovered evidence of JAFHS’s operations in October 2022, while investigating the disappearance of seven youth from the Cumilla District. A list of 55 trainees was later found, most of them students from across Bangladesh. 

In January 2023, a RAB officer asserted, “With motivation, determination and combat training, Jama’atul Ansar is the biggest militant threat Bangladesh has ever faced from militants.”

On June 23, 2023, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police CTTC arrested Shamin Mahfuz, the founder of JAFHS, along with his wife, giving a blow to the outfit. 

CTTC chief Mohammad Asaduzzaman revealed that JAFHS members propagated militancy by pretending to be madrasa administrators, converting non-Muslims to Islam, and teaching Islam. The group also intended to launch assaults on significant targets and figures in India, Pakistan, and Myanmar, in order to establish a caliphate in Bangladesh through armed conflict. To reach their goals, the group recruited young men, took them to the hills, and made them go through rigorous combat training, provided by KCNF.

Sources disclosed, further, that constructing a secure haven and training grounds in the hills was JAFHS strategic objective. Since it is difficult for security forces to monitor this terrain, coordination with organizations occupying the hills was necessary, as a result, rapport was established with KCNF. In 2020, a formal agreement was reached between the two organizations.

CTTC chief Asaduzzaman claimed that JAFHS leader Shamin Mahfuz had plans to set up camps in the hills while he was a student at the University of Dhaka. He began his career as a teacher at Bangladesh Open University after completing his education. He eventually enrolled at Jahangirnagar University in a PhD. program. His research study was centred on the hill country’s ethnic minorities, a subject he chose so that he could go to the highlands and establish safe havens. Asaduzzaman further stated that, during his university years, Shamin Mahfuz developed a friendship with Nathan Bowm, who is the founder of KCNF. As a result of their relationship, Mahfuz engaged in discussions with Bowm about providing weapons training to the KCNF.

Due to the affinity between the commanders of the two militant groups, an agreement was reached in April 2020 at Hotel Bay Wonders in the Kolatoli region of Cox’s Bazar between Shamin Mahfuz and the KCNF, according to an officer involved in the investigation and questioning of the arrested JAFHS members. The agreement was signed on behalf of JAFHS by Myinul Islam, alias Roxy and Shamin Mahfuz. Nathan Bowm signed on behalf of the KCNF. Shamin Mahfuz drafted the agreement. Police later recovered the two-page agreement.

According to the terms of the agreement, KCNF received Taka 300,000 a month from JAFHS for training and housing of its cadres. In addition, JAFHS covered the 150 KCNF operators’ feeding costs. The training contract ran from November 2021 to 2023. The KCNF allied with JAFHS principally for this financial benefit.

According to CTTC, 55 JAFHS operatives had received training in three batches at the KCNF camp in Bandarban. Their training was supervised by KCNF ‘chief’ Nathan Bawm. JAFHS also bought some arms (15 AK-22 rifles and shotguns) from them, after receiving training from the KCNF in their camps. Some country-made guns were also bought. According to CTTC, JAFHS even attempted to purchase AK-47 rifles through the KCNF.

Interestingly, on July 24, 2023, Director of RAB’s legal and Media Wing Commander Khandaker Al Moin revealed that JAFHS ‘Ameer’ Mohammad Anisur Rahman, who was arrested on that date from Munshiganj District, had gone to Bandarban in 2020 for training, and had developed a good relationship with KCNF cadres.

On July 24, 2023, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) legal and media wing director Commander Khandaker AL Moin disclosed that JAFHS signed a formal agreement with another militant group, Ansar al-Islam, for ‘cooperation’. According to Khandaker, “Amir (Chief) Anisur Rahman alias Mahmud signed an agreement with the leaders of Ansar al-Islam at a meeting held in Kishoregonj District in 2022. Later, Ansar al-Islam provided BDT 1.5 million to JAFHS.”

Not surprisingly, on August 10, 2023, Deputy Secretary (Political Wing) of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Mohammad Rashed Hossain Chowdhury stated that the Bangladesh Government had banned JAFHS, citing its potential threat to public safety and law and order. The notification declared, “It appears to the Government that the declared activities of the militant group/organisation called Jamaat Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya are against the peace and order of the country. As the activities of the party/organisation have already been declared as a threat to public safety, its activities in Bangladesh have been banned.” 

On August 4, 2023, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) revealed that JAFHS planned to establish a naval unit in the Patuakhali District (Barisal Division) to provide refuge to any of its operatives who were dispersed and possessed military training. RAB stated that they assigned the responsibility of forming the naval unit to Kazi Saraz Uddin alias Siraz, a resident of Patuakhali who had joined JAFHS from HuJI-B. The financing for this naval unit was provided by Ansar al-Islam.

The cooperation between JAFHS and KCNF underlines a danger to Bangladesh’s sovereignty, which could spread to include other terrorist organizations with different ideologies and objectives. Although these groups had different goals in mind – to establish an autonomous ethnic zone or an Islamic state – they were united by their use of violence and their willingness to support one another with resources, infrastructure and training – taking the Government as their shared enemy.

  • Afsara Shaheen
    Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management


SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

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