Islamic Militancy: a continuous threat in Bangladesh

Report: By Sazzad Haider

Bangladeshi police recently arrested Maulana Abul Kashem, a spiritual leader of Neo Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (Neo-JMB) recently from a hideout in Dhaka. According to the police, Maulana Kashem is suspected of being the mastermind behind the attack on the Holy Artisan restaurant in Dhaka last year, killing 22 people, including Japanese and Italian citizens.

Despite some success in curbing Islamic extremism, the activities of militants remain a threat to the stability and development of Bangladesh. The world-wide activities of the so-called IS have been declining in recent years but Bangladesh is used as a launching pad for Jihadism in South Asia, particularly in India and Myanmar. Militant groups in Bangladesh are believed to connect with the Middle East based IS. The Terrorist groups have gradually changed their organisational doctrine, operational tactics and targets.

On Christmas Eve, the Bangladeshi people were completely stunned to hear of unprecedented terrorist activity by the so called ‘Neo JMB’. This group had planned to blow up famous churches in Dhaka during the festive celebrations. Prior to their offensive, Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies thwarted the execution of this latest attempt to target Christian minorities.

During the police drive at a militant hideout near Dhaka airport on 24 December 2016, an alleged female militant using a suicide vest blew herself up dramatically in front of several hundred officers. Another accomplice’s baby-girl was critically injured in her self-triggered grenade attack.

On Saturday mid-night (24 December) police besieged a house in Ashkona, a densely populated residential area, identified as a hideout of Neo-JMB. In response to the police call, two women, Jebunahar Shila and ‘Trisha, surrendered along with two children.

The final dramatic episode occurred after a fifteen-hour siege, ‘Shakira’ (a suicidal militant) walked out of the den slowly with a baby-girl. Ignoring a police order to raise her hands and surrender, she sped up and detonated her suicide vest.  A few steps from the officers, the suspected female militant, Shakira, died in the blast with parts of her body being damaged. The baby girl, Sabina, remarkably survived with serious injuries. A fourteen-year old Afif Kaderi also refused to surrender and was killed in the incident.

Following the incident, police recovered seven grenades and three suicide vests containing twelve bombs. Two 9mm pistols with two live rounds, and a huge quantity of bomb-making materials were also found at the scene.

According to police the militant group used women as “sex slaves” and forced their involvement. Neo-JMB members can have multiple wives and often use women to avoid direct danger. In the Ashkona incident, the militants provoked their wives to commit suicide attacks as police besieged the hide-out.

Earlier in 2016, the Neo JMB committed a series of brutal murders in a café on 1 st July in Dhaka. They indiscriminately killed around twenty-two persons (mostly Japanese and Italian citizens). Following this hideous killing, law officers have conducted several operations to hunt the militants. At least twenty-six suspected JMB affiliates were killed including coordinator Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, one of the masterminds of the café attack.

Neo-JMB emerged from the original Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) , which had been operating since 1998 in the country. The activities of JMB had gradually decreased following the execution of six masterminds of JMB by hanging for killing of two judges and country wide bombing.

The original JMB acted through ambitions analogous to the Taliban of Afghanistan, aiming to replace the government of Bangladesh with an Islamic state based on Sharia. The Neo-JMB has instead looked to IS for inspiration. While the former used the students of Madrassas, the latter has worked with the students of sophisticated colleges and universities in Dhaka. Some Western-educated professionals such as teachers and IT specialists have been recruited to their cause. Neo-JMB is capable of attaining and operating sophisticated arms and ammunition while also having access to advanced communications.

According to intelligence reports the Neo-JMB leaders have decided to target foreigners, believing this will destabilize the country and tarnish the image of the Government.

In 2012, Ziaul-Haque, a Major of the Bangladeshi Army, tried to stage a military coup against the Government. He failed yet managed to escape the authorities. Subsequently he has joined Neo-JMB and become an integral part of their training programme. He is also suspected of planning the killing of secular bloggers.

On the other hand, some European and North American citizens of Bangladeshi origin have become involved with the Neo-JMB through previous affiliation with IS. This connection potentially allows for IS to reassemble themselves through the Neo-JMB’s presence in Bangladesh, following their impending defeat in Iraq.

Therefore, it is a difficult task ahead for Bangladesh’s Law Enforcement authorities to combat the reemergence of Jihadist militancy.

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