Crackdown Not Enough: Bangladesh Needs to Neutralize Sources Of Militant Support – Analysis
By S. Binodkumar Singh*
On October 8, 2016, in a series of anti-militancy crackdowns, 12 Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) militants were killed in Gazipur, Tangail and Dhaka districts. Seven of them were killed in Harinal area under Gazipur city of Gazipur district in an operation codenamed ‘Operation Spate 8’ conducted jointly by the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team and Gazipur police. Police recovered three small arms and locally-made sharp weapons from the site. Two others were killed during an operation by Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) at a JMB den in Lebubagan area of Gazipur district. One AK 22 rifle, bomb making materials, one laptop, a locally-made sharp weapon and some bullets were recovered from the den. In another raid carried out by RAB, two other militants were killed in a three-storey building in Mirzamath area of Tangail town in Tangail district. One pistol, one revolver, 11 sharp weapons, 12 bullets, two laptops and BDT 64,362 were recovered from the ground floor of the flat. Separately, in Dhaka district, Nazmul Haque alias Abdur Rahman, the financier of JMB died after he jumped off from his flat in the fourth floor to flee during a raid by RAB in Savar upazila (sub-district). RAB recovered a firearm, ammunition, sharp weapons, a mobile jammer and a huge number of Jihadi books from his flat.
On September 11, 2016, one JMB militant was killed and three others were injured during a police raid at a house in Lalbagh area of capital Dhaka city. During the raid, five Policemen were also injured as the militants attacked them with sharp weapons.
On September 2, 2016, Murad alias Jahangir Alam alias Omar alias Major Shaheb’, the ‘military commander’ of JMB was killed during a raid in Dhaka city’s Mirpur area. Before being shot dead, Murad indiscriminately stabbed three Policemen trying to capture him.
On August 29, 2016, Khaled Hasan alias Badar Mama (30), the ‘military commander’ of the northern region of JMB and Ripon alias Golam Tareque alias Abu Ibrahim (29), the ‘chief of Ansar Rajshahi’, a splinter group of JMB were killed in a gunfight with Police in Bogra district. Two constables Babul Akhtar and Abdul Mottalleb suffered injuries in the incident. A foreign-made pistol, four bullets, two homemade bombs, bomb-making materials and a knife were also recovered from the spot.
On August 27, 2016, three JMB militants including Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, the mastermind of Gulshan attack [LINK SAIR: 15.1] and his two close aides were killed in a Police raid in a JMB den in Paikpara area under Narayanganj district. Police recovered an AK-22 rifle, one pistol, several magazines and four live grenades from the den.
According to partial data collected by Institute for Conflict Management, since July 1, 2016, Gulshan attack a total of 41 JMB terrorists have been killed and 80 others have been arrested across Bangladesh in different raids (data till October 17, 2016). Prominent among those killed were: ‘financier’ Nazmul Haque alias Abdur Rahman, ‘military commander’ of the northern region Ripon alias Golam Tareque alias Abu Ibrahim (29), mastermind of Gulshan attack Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, ‘military commander’ Murad alias Jahangir Alam alias Omar alias Major Shaheb.
JMB was founded in 1998 by Sheikh Abdur Rahman, with the objective of establishing Islamic rule in Bangladesh and to replace the current State and Constitution. It opposes the existing political system and seeks to “build a society based on the Islamic model laid out in Holy Quran-Hadith.” It opposes democracy, socialism as well as cultural functions, cinema halls, shrines and NGOs. The government did not realize the gravity of JMB’s agenda until the terror group triggered a countrywide serial bombing [LINK SAIR: 4.6] on August 17, 2005. 459 explosions had occurred in 63 of Bangladesh’s 64 districts (excluding Munshiganj) killing three and injuring more than 100 people.
In the crackdown that followed after the synchronized bomb explosions, according to an estimate of the police headquarters, a total of 160 cases were filed across the country and 1,157 JMB leaders and cadres were made accused. Of the accused, law enforcers arrested 960 militants. Remarkably, two top leaders of the group, Sheikh Abdur Rahman and Sidiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhati, were executed on March 30, 2007. That was the end of the first phase of JMB.
Before the crackdown, the JMB was led by a seven-member Majlis-e-Shura, comprising its top leadership, including Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai. The group had 16 ‘regional commanders’ and 64 ‘district heads’, besides hundreds of ‘operational commanders’. The cadre was organized in three tiers. The first tier was known as Eshar, where the 200 members were full-timers and reported directly to the central committee. The second tier was Gayeri Easher and had about 10,000 members. The third tier was Sathis or Sudhis consisting of younger foot soldiers. For operational requirements, the group divided the country into nine divisions – one division each in Khulna, Barisal, Sylhet and Chittagong, two each in Dhaka and Rajshahi. The JMB also had a suicide squad called Shahid Nasirullah Arafat Brigade. The members had an ‘insurance policy’ from the group.
The JMB took only nine years to reorganize. This time, the born-again militant outfit, Neo JMB, as called by law enforcers, is far more radicalized and fearsome. The Neo JMB is now inspired by the ideology of Islamic State (IS), skilled in modern technology and equipped with sophisticated firearms capable of causing damage more than the old JMB which a decade ago carried out suicide bombing and synchronized blasts across the country. Emerged in 2014, the Neo JMB drew law enforcers’ attention only after committing Bangladesh Commerce Bank Limited (BCBL) robbery in Ashulia, a suburban area near Dhaka city on April 21, 2015, leaving eight people dead. The Neo JMB is responsible for the July 1, 2016, Gulshan attack in which 20 hostages, including 17 foreigners, was killed. The armed attack launched near the historic Sholakia Eidgah on the July 7, 2016, leading to the death of two Policemen, a housewife and a militant, was also an act of Neo JMB.
Notably, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who has consolidated Bangladesh’s secular commitments reining in [LINK SAIR: 11.23] the Islamist extremist groups during a visit to Dhakeshwari National Temple in Dhaka city on October 8, 2016, said “Our government has always taken stern action against terrorism and militancy and would continue to curb the twin demons with an iron hand…. There would be no place of terrorism and militancy on Bangladesh’s soil.” Earlier on September 3, 2016, asking the terrorists and militants to surrender by showing honor to the call of the government or face dire consequence, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said “If you do not give yourself up to the law enforcement agencies, you will face what your accomplices have experienced in the immediate past operations.”
Indeed, the re-surfacing of JMB in the form of neo-JMB, mainly consisting of tech-savvy youngsters, has surprised Bangladesh’s security forces, who are finding it difficult to detect their motives and future plans. No doubt, Bangladesh’s law-enforcement agencies have neutralized a number of hardcore JMB militants who posed a serious security threat to the country. Despite the successes, law enforcers must be on their guard as the militant groups are still gaining fresh recruits. Law enforcers should address how these organisations are being funded as the weapons collected from the dead militants suggest that they continue to receive substantial external assistance. If the source of their support can be identified and neutralized, the security forces can deal a substantial blow to their activities.
*Dr. S. Binodkumar Singh is a Research Associate at the Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent on: [email protected]