By S. Binodkumar Singh*
On May 17, 2017, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested two Neo-Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (Neo-JMB) terrorists, Selim and Pranta, at village Chuadanga in Jhenaidah District. During the operation, RAB recovered 186 PVC circuit boards, 18 units of explosive-making gel, four drums of liquid chemicals, one anti-mine device, two suicidal vests, as well as some other explosive-making materials and electronics devices.
On May 11, 2017, five suspected terrorists were killed in a terrorist hideout in Benipur village of Rajshahi District. Police disclosed that they had asked the terrorists to surrender, but, they blew themselves up while coming out of the house. Fire-fighter Abdul Motin, who was injured in the explosion, died later at the Rajshahi Medical College Hospital. Locals claimed the militants were all involved with Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) politics.
On May 7, 2017, two Neo-JMB terrorists were killed and two Policemen were injured during an operation in Jhenidah District’s Maheshpur area. The terrorists, later identified as Tuhin and Abdullah, were killed in suicide bomb explosion.
On April 27, 2017, four Neo-JMB terrorists holed up at a den in Shibnagar Trimohoni of Chapainawabganj District were killed in suicide bomb explosions. Rafiqul Islam aka Abu was among the dead. The other three, believed to be Abu’s accomplices, were not identified. Abu’s pregnant wife Sumaiya Begum and their six-year-old daughter Khadiza were rescued from the den. Police recovered Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), bombs and pistols from the den.
On April 21, 2017, a Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit neutralized a Neo-JMB den in a house at Porahati village in Jhenidah District. Three suicide vests, one pressure cooker bomb, 20 plastic containers of bomb-making chemicals, IEDs, detonators and a 9mm pistol was recovered from the house. Later, CTTC disclosed that the location was a bomb-making factory from where explosives were supplied to other cells of the terrorist group. This was the largest bomb-making facility neutralized.
Significantly, Inspector General of Police (IGP) A.K.M. Shahidul Hoque, while addressing a community policing gathering in Lalbagh area in Dhaka city on May 13, 2017, disclosed that at least 65 terrorists had been killed in 15 recent anti-terrorism drives across the country. The IGP further stated that Police officials were working hard to identify and neutralize terrorist hideouts, and a ‘good number’ of terrorists had been arrested in the anti-militancy drive, he added.
Since the Gulshan Cafe attack on July 1, 2016, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), 92 Islamist terrorists have been killed and another 1,050 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 May 21, 2017).
However, warning that the terrorists were now shifting their hideouts outside the capital city, Dhaka, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia noted, April 29, 2017, “Now, we all are conscious enough about the militancy in Dhaka as a result terrorists are shifting their dens outside the capital.” Further, to combat militancy and terrorism anywhere in the country, CTTC officials stated, on April 30, 2017, that Police was going to get a full-fledged unit with jurisdiction to operate across the country. Currently, the CTTC unit of DMP is the only specialized Police counterterrorism unit. The unit has to step in to launch anti-militancy raids in areas even outside its jurisdiction, requiring special permission from the Police Headquarters for each such operation. Jurisdictional issues also arose in the investigation of terrorism-related crimes outside DMP areas. CTTC officials asserted that the new “Police Anti-Terrorism Unit” would enhance their capacity manifold in the fight against extremists.
A disturbing trend in Bangladesh has been the regrouping, to stage fresh attacks, by terrorists released on bail. An intelligence report submitted to the Home Ministry in August, 2016, revealed that, between February and June 2016, at least 28 terrorists had been released from jail, prominently including: Sikandar Naki, a JMB terrorist accused in a case under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) at the Turag Police Station, who was released from jail after securing bail from the court on June 2, 2016; Omar Sharif and Abu Bakkar, two terrorists of Hizb-ut-Tahrir accused in separate cases under the ATA filed with the Adabor and Hazaribagh Police stations, who obtained bail on May 2, 2016; Ashish, a terrorist of Hizb ut-Tahrir accused in a case filed with the Sobujbagh Police Station under ATA, who secured bail on April 16, 2016; Mominur Rahman, also a Hizb-ut-Tahrir terrorist accused in a case filed with Khilgaon Police Station under the ATA, who secured bail on April 15, 2016; another Hizb ut-Tahrir terrorist Sunny, accused in a case filed against him with Sabujbagh Police Station, obtained bail on April 14, 2016; JMB terrorist Shafiqul Islam, accused in several cases filed against him with Hazaribagh and Rampura Police Stations, secured bail on April 9, 2016; Raufur Rashid, a terrorist of Hizb-ut-Tahrir accused in a case filed against him with the capital’s Mohammmadpur Police Station, obtained bail on April 7, 2016; Shafayet Jamil, a JMB terrorist accused in a case under ATA filed with the Kalabagan Police Station, secured bail on March 31, 2016; Nurul Amin, another JMB terrorist accused in a case filed with the Paltan Police Station, obtained bail on March 29, 2016; Sadik Shajib, a Hizb-ut-Tahrir terrorist accused in a case filed against him with the Uttara Police Station, got bail on March 29, 2016; and HUJI-B terrorist Lipi, accused in a case against her with the Cantonment Police Station, obtained bail on February 9, 2016.
Warning that legal action would be taken against guarantors who gave their bond for terrorists to secure bail, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, after the 6th meeting of the Committee on Combating Militancy at the Secretariat in Dhaka city on April 12, 2017, stated, “We have decided to take legal action against the guarantors upon whose bond the terrorists were released on bails, if they fail to place the culprits in the court. There was an intelligence report that many of the terrorists have already left the country for which they could not appear before the court ignoring repeated summons…” Separately, suggesting immediate steps for de-radicalization of arrested terrorists, Aminul Islam, Joint Commissioner of the CTTC unit of DMP, in his presentation at the Quarterly Crime Conference of Police on April 24, 2017, observed, “The country lacks any mechanism for de-radicalization and counter-narratives for terrorists. After arrest, terrorists usually behave tough (sic), but slowly they become normal.”
Meanwhile, promising that the Government would help terrorists get back to normal lives after surrender, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed stated, at the RAB Headquarters on the elite force’s anniversary on April 26, 2017, “Terrorists and extremists, who want to get back to normal life shunning extremism, should be given support so that they can reintegrate into the society. The Government had made a list of all the terrorists who had laid down arms. We will provide them financial aid and assist them to jobs they want so that they can get back to normal lives.” Further, reiterating her Government’s zero tolerance policy against militancy and terrorism on May 3, 2017, Prime Minister Hasina declared, “We’ll root out militancy and terrorism from Bangladesh to ensure peace and security in public life.”
Dhaka has demonstrated the efficacy of determined and relentless action against terrorist formations. However, the weapons and resources recovered during recent raids suggest that the significant flows to these groups persist. Moreover, the involvement of women as combatants also has grave implications for the country. Bangladesh has taken giant strides against terrorism and Islamist extremism, but the latent threat persists.
* S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management