B’desh comes to grips with terrorism

DHAKA, BANGLADESH - 2016/07/03: Bangladeshi cultural activists and other community people attend a candle-light tribute to the people who have been killed in a terrorists attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Bangladesh authorities have disclosed the identity of the 22 dead people of whom nine were Italian, seven Japanese, one Indian and five Bangladeshi including one US-born. (Photo by K M Asad/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Between July 2 and December 2016, Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) stuck six times in what was no more than a display of their resurgence in Bangladesh.  Most of these strikes took place in or around the capital Dhaka in what was apparently an attempt to send shock waves beyond the borders.

But as the year ended it became more or less clear that the security forces have checkmated JMB and eliminated some high profile terrorists.

Just a day ahead of Christmas, the police ops, code named, Ripple 24, saw the elimination of two JMB terrorists at Ashkona in the Dakhkhin Khan area of Dhaka. And Lt Col Anwar Latif Khan, the Additional Director General (Ops) of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), declared: “Our sustained drive has created a severe man power crunch for the JMB and its allies”.

On 8th Oct, seven JMB terrorists were killed in their two- two-storey hideout in the Patartek area in Gazipur District.  A month earlier on 2nd September, Jebunnahar Shila, wife of ex-army Major Zahid was killed in a ‘gunfight’ with law enforcers at Roopnagar in the capital even as Trishna, wife of absconding JMB leader Musa, surrendered along with her two children.

On 27th August, Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, the mastermind of Gulshan attack and his two close aides were eliminated in a Police raid on JMB den in Paikpara area under Narayanganj District.  And in a special drive in Dhaka’s Kalyanpur area on 26th July, nine JMB terrorists were killed. Two black flags with Arabic letters, and several weapons were recovered from the site.

From all accounts Dhaka was unprepared a hostage crisis in the Gulshan diplomatic avenue that took everyone by surprise.  But it was quickly resolved with commandos storming the Holey Artisan Bakery, a Spanish restaurant that turned into a living hell for the diners. In this 2nd July ops, six terrorists and two Police officers were killed. 20 civilians lost their lives. A pistol used by the terrorists, a folded butt AK 22 rifle, IEDs, a walkie-talkie set and a large number of locally made sharp weapons were recovered from the spot.

Bangladesh police claimed big trophies during the year.  Undoubtedly the biggest trophy was JMB’s national operations commander, Abdullah aka Noman (35). Other trophies were Dhaka regional commander Kamal aka Hiran (30), military and IT trainer Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) Shariful aka Arif, Neo-JMB leader and mastermind of Gulshan attack Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury (30), who was also known as Shaykh Abu Ibrahim Al Hanif and Amir, military commander for the northern region, Khaled Hasan alias Badar Mama (30), Neo-JMB military commander Murad aka Jahangir Alam alias Omar; and JMB regional commander Tulu Mollah (33).

In all police operations eliminated in 2016 as many as 74 Islamist terrorists – up from 31 and 22 in 2015 and 2014 respectively. Another 1,227 terrorists of varying hues were arrested across the country last year.

The year also saw the elimination of 18 LWE (Left Wing Extremist) -linked terrorists (as against 17 in 2015 and 16 in 2014).  Anwar Hossain (40), Al Amin Hossain (35), Asadul Islam Fakir (39) and Mozaffar Sana (40) all regional leaders of Purbo Banglar Communist Party, (PBCP) were killed along with the while Gano Bahini regional leader Amirul Islam.

The police success rate included nine PBCP cadres; three Gono Mukti Fauj (GMF- ‘People’s Freedom Army) workers, and one Biplobi Communist Party (BCP) activist. Some 14 LW extremists were arrested. Amongst them were BCP regional leader Badsha Mallik (45), eight PBCP workers, four BCP members, and one Sarbohara Party activist.

Going by media reports and the police-speak, the terrorist outfits are working overtime to regain their striking power by broad basing their reach. The recent phenomenon of missing youth is a result of terrorists’ drive for new faces though police are also being accused of ‘picking’ up suspects at random.

Global jihad is finding young recruits in Bangladesh and this development has contributed no less to a spurt in radicalisation with one in every 10 university students supporting terrorism. Most of these supporters are from well- off families, according to a study conducted by Dhaka’s East West University.

Equally disturbing is the findings of Shopner Desh, a NGO. It study shows that most rural students believe terrorist propaganda. Disturbingly, some 26 per cent of rural students have received offers to join terrorist outfits. And 87 per cent of them think that terrorist activities are justified.

While the number of women joining JMB, Neo-JMB, and Hizb-ut-Tahrir is unknown, these outfits are said to be a big draw for Bangladesh women. This is clear from the recent arrest of some 20 women on terrorism charges from across the country.  “Couple Module” is a new in thing with the terrorist groups pairing up a female and a male member as the strike unit.

The Awami League government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has directed the law enforcement machinery to deal with militancy with an iron hand. “Strictly maintain peace, law and order and stability by eliminating militancy, terrorism and communalism, and ensuring that people are not harassed and deprived while receiving government services”, the government said in a 19-point decree to the heads of all districts issued on July 26, 2016.

“There would be no place of terrorism and militancy on Bangladesh’s soil”, Prime Minister Hasina declared on 8th Oct.  “Our Government has always taken stern action against terrorism and militancy and would continue to curb the twin demons with an iron hand”.  And as the year was drawing to a close, she reaffirmed her firm stance against extremism on 29th Dec saying “We want peace and there will be no development without peace”.

Clearly terrorism menace is far from over in Bangladesh. The country is paying the price for the patronage given to radical and Islamist parties and groups by successive governments both as a matter of state policy and as political expediency.

The situation calls for sustained efforts with people mobilised to wage a social movement against terrorism and extremism.   As Prime Minister Hasina points out, “Islam is the path of peace and there’s no place for terrorism and extremism in it”.