By S. Binodkumar Singh*
On September 6, 2017, remains of seven dead bodies were recovered from a Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) hideout in the capital Dhaka city’s Darus Salam area after the terrorists blew themselves up, ignoring the Rapid Action Battalion’s (RAB’s) repeated calls to surrender. A large quantity of bombs and bomb making materials, including 24 high-impact explosive devices, 60 improvised hand grenades, 70 chemical bombs, 15 kilograms of splinters, nine empty cages, 20 kilograms of charcoal, and 1,500 pieces of igniting cord were also recovered.
On August 27, 2017, a JMB terrorist was killed in an explosion while making bombs at a house in the Kashor area of Mymensingh District. Police recovered four bombs and more than eight kilograms of gunpowder from the house. Of the four bombs, two were pressure cooker bombs, each weighing around 2-2.5 kilograms, and two hand grenades.
On August 25, 2017, a Neo-JMB militant was killed in a gunfight with the Police in Boalia village of Kushtia District. Police recovered a foreign pistol, two bullets and three sharp weapons from the spot.
On August 15, 2017, a Neo-JMB militant was killed by the Police during an operation codenamed ‘Operation August Bite’ at a suspected hideout near the Square Hospital in Dhaka city.
Indeed, Security Forces (SFs) are continuing their unremitting efforts against terrorist formations in Bangladesh. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since the Gulshan Cafe attack on July 1, 2016, 103 Islamist terrorists have been killed and another 1,284 arrested across Bangladesh. Prominent among those killed were the Neo-JMB leader and mastermind of the Gulshan Cafe attack, Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury aka Shaykh Abu Ibrahim Al Hanif aka Amir (30); the JMB ‘military commander’ for the northern region Khaled Hasan aka Badar Mama (30); Neo-JMB ‘military commander’ Murad aka Jahangir Alam aka Omar; JMB ‘regional commander’ Tulu Mollah (33); JMB ‘regional coordinator’ Abu Musa aka Abujar; Neo-JMB ‘military chief’ Aminur Islam aka Alam (23); Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) ‘chief’ Mufti Abdul Hannan; and HUJI-B ‘regional commander’ Tajul Islam Mahmud aka Mama Hujur (46) (data till September 17, 2017).
Claiming that there will be no major militant attack in Bangladesh at this moment, Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) Chief Monirul Islam disclosed on August 8, 2017,
We’ve been able to successfully destroy the operational capacity of the militants. The militants’ operational capacity increased last year, but they don’t have that capacity any more. We’ve destroyed it by carrying out anti-militancy drives across the country. The militants have no capacity to launch any more big attack right now.
Likewise, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Commissioner Mohamad Asaduzzaman Mia claimed, on August 16, 2017, that there was no threat of any major terrorist attack or security risk in the country, as the organizational capability of terrorist formations such as Neo-JMB and Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) had waned.
Further, to boost the anti-terrorism drives, CTTC Additional Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Sanowar Hossain on August 11, 2017, noted, bomb disposal robots were increasingly being introduced to deal with explosives:
We have been using people instead of bomb disposal robots, which was very risky. The robots will be controllable at a safe distance from the operation sites. They can move swiftly on land and waterways, and can blast open the entrances of locked or barricaded militant hideouts. The robots can send instant pictures of 360-degree views of the hideout. After getting all the information from the robots, the main CTTC team will begin the operation. The robots will be imported from the United States at an estimated cost of BDT 1 crore, and will lead from the front of the CTTC team during anti-militant operations. The procedure of procurement has already begun.
Notably, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, talking to reporters after a meeting of the National Committee on Militancy, Resistance and Prevention at his Ministry on August 21, 2017, observed that intelligence agencies were closely monitoring Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and other social media to control all sorts of cyber based militant activities. Separately, Chittagong Metropolitan Police (CMP) officials on September 9, 2017, disclosed that, as with the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), CPM was going to introduce a full-fledged counter terrorism (CT) unit for the Chittagong region with the aim to expedite the ongoing drives against terrorists and terrorism-related activities. CMP officials said that forming a full-fledged CT unit was a timely move, as Chittagong was geographically vulnerable to terrorism.
However, a new security dilemma for Bangladesh is the problem created by Rohingya refugees. At least 74,000 Rohingyas crossed the border into Bangladesh after Myanmar began a military crackdown in northern Rakhine State. The crackdown followed attacks on border guards on October 9, 2016, in which nine Myanmar Policemen were killed and four were injured when hundreds of armed Rohingya men with knives, slingshots and rifles attacked three separate police posts along the Rakhine border with Bangladesh. Highlighting the Rohingya crisis as an important issue, Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali stated in the Parliament on June 15, 2017, “Twenty to 25 percent people in Cox’s Bazar are now Rakhine Muslims. Such huge presence of Rakhine Muslims in the area will pose a threat to the national security in future. The Rakhine people have been engaged in various misdeeds, including drug smuggling on bordering areas and arms and human trafficking. They’ve become a national security concern for Bangladesh.” The Minister further noted that some 33,000 Rohingyas, registered as refugees, were living in two camps run by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cox’s Bazar. It is estimated that some three to four hundred thousand unregistered Myanmar citizens (Rohingyas) have been staying in five Bangladeshi Districts, including Cox’s Bazar.
A second wave of refugees swept in after the incident of August 25, 2017, in which hundreds of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) insurgents armed with machetes and rifles attacked 30 security posts in the Rakhine State, killing 12 Policemen, a soldier and an immigration officer. In response, the military unleashed what it called “clearance operations” to root out the insurgents. On September 14, 2017, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) claimed that up to 400,000 Rohingya had fled Myanmar for Bangladesh since August 25, 2017, with thousands more arriving every day. Separately, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner George Okoth-Obbo and International Organization for Migration (IOM) Director Mohammed Abdiker Mohamud in a joint press conference held in Dhaka on September 14, 2017, stated, “The Rohingya influx towards Bangladesh may reach 10 lakh (One million) this year if the refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State continues.”
Denouncing Myanmar for the atrocities and calling upon the international community to mount intensified pressure on Naypyidaw to stop the atrocities and take back the refugees, Bangladesh Parliament on September 11, 2017, passed a resolution:
A handful of people of a shadow group had staged the attack which we (Bangladesh) also condemned, but should the entire community of one million populations be punished for that?
Further, in a statement issued on September 13, 2017, the 15-member United Nations Security Council (UNSC) acknowledged the initial attacks on Myanmar Security Forces, but “condemned the subsequent violence,” and called for “immediate steps to end the violence in Rakhine, de-escalate the situation, re-establish law and order, and ensure the protection of civilians.”
Disturbingly, terrorist outfits are looking to cash in on the Rohingya crisis. The terrorist formations both at home and abroad are fishing in troubled waters, trying to provoke their followers to go to Myanmar and fight the country’s military in the name of ‘protecting Islam’ and saving the Rohingya people who face brutality at the hands of the Myanmar Army. On September 3, 2017, in a video message released by al Qaeda’s al-Malahem Media Foundation, Khaled Batarfi called on Muslims in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Malaysia to support their Rohingya Muslim brethren against the “enemies of Allah.” Similarly, on September 12, 2017, Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) Chief Maulana Masood Azhar declared, “All of us must do whatever we can for the Myanmar Muslims. Just say your prayers and get up to help them. You don’t need to show off what you are doing: just do it, and never stop.” On the home front, Hefazat-e-Islam (HeI) Secretary General Junaid Babunagari issuing an ultimatum on September 9, 2017, threatened to siege of the Myanmar Embassy at Dhaka on September 19, if the atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state of Myanmar continued. Similarly, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, pasted posters on the street walls in Dhaka, Chittagong and other cities of Bangladesh, condemning the oppression on Rohingyas and urging countrymen to raise their voice.
Bangladesh has taken giant strides against terrorism and Islamist extremism. However, the scope for a coalition of terrorists with the radicalized elements among the Rohingyas who have been forced across the Bangladesh-Myanmar border could create new headaches for authorities. The Rohingya crisis is no longer only a humanitarian calamity but a potential threat to the internal stability and security of Bangladesh as well.
*S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate; Institute for Conflict Management