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Threats emerge in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is no exception despite the well known fact that Prime Minister Hasina is determined to uproot the slightest trace of terror and goes all out to crush terrorism.

Shantanu Mukharji | New Delhi |

Even in the holy month of Ramadan, there is no let up in the terrorist activities killing innocents particularly in Pakistan and Afghanistan. With the start of the period, we saw terror strikes at a Sufi shrine in Lahore and earlier this week the Taliban carried out an attack in Afghanistan killing 18 members of the security forces who were guarding a UNESCO world heritage site – the revered 12th century Minaret of Jam near Ghor in Afghanistan.

Bangladesh is no exception despite the well known fact that Prime Minister Hasina is determined to uproot the slightest trace of terror and goes all out to crush terrorism. Her actions in the past towards her resolve are enough to substantiate this. However, in the recent past and during Ramadan, the notorious banned Islamic religious outfit, the Hizb ut Tahrir (HT) has stepped up its activities especially in the port city of Chittagong targeting students, professors and various academics in an attempt to woo them for the outfit’s cause of proliferating radical Islam.

They have been noticed distributing pamphlets and propaganda literature and have established active contacts with several NGOs and some social organisations. In a related development, a Polish citizen of Bangladesh origin, Fazle Rahman recently located himself in Chittagong and is believed to have remitted huge sums of money through mobile banking for the HT cause.

On 15 May, abundant incriminating material including jihadi literature and sensational documents were seized from the city’s Bayezid Bostami area. Crucially, the plans for carrying out cocktail bombings in capital Dhaka’s Malibagh and Gulshan areas targeting the police on May 26, were also seized.

Acting swiftly, the police arrested HT’s principal organiser, Shawkat Ahmad. Some police sources do not rule out ISIS inspired attempts to terrorise the Bangladesh police which is all out to combat terrorism. Meanwhile, intelligence sources in Bangladesh have confided that HT activists have been regularly visiting a large number of mosques exhorting the devotees to pursue a definite Islamic agenda meeting zealots’ demands.

Their modus operandi is seen to be on the same lines as of Islami Chatra Shibir (ICS) the proscribed wing of banned Jamat-e-Islami which has been systematically targeting students on campus and eventually indoctrinating them with venomous ideas. Further, the HT has intensified it’s linkages with other Bangladesh-based terror groups including the Jamaitul Mujahdeen Bangladesh ( JMB), Ansar ul Islam, Ansarullah Bangla etc.

To put things in perspective, it would be imperative to know more about the HT. Its origins can be traced to 1993, when a Dr Golam Moula visited the UK for his academic pursuits and came into contact with Gani and Kawsar Shahnawaz and got thoroughly inspired. On return to Bangladesh, a local chapter of HT was opened in Dhaka. For sometime, their activities were intermittent but critical action was noticed when they openly threatened to kill the seculars in 2013 and daringly clashed with the police in 2014.

Later, around 650 HT activists were arrested by the authorities. Also, earlier, a Dhaka university teacher and then the chief coordinator of HT, Mohiuddin Ahmad was dismissed from service in 2009 for his anti-national activities and was even tried in 2015 under the provisions of the Anti Terrorism Act. Another HT worker, Shafiur Rahman Farabi was charged for murder of blogger and secular minority activist, Ananta Bijoy Das in March 2017. However, the most disturbing turning point of HT activities came to the fore when it made an open appeal to the Bangladesh armed forces to take on the Myanmar army for the latter’s alleged persecution of the Rohingyas.

This was seen as alarming by the BD security agencies leading them to step up their vigil. The recent covert activities by the HT including attempts to get money remitted from Non Resident Bangladeshis for subversive causes are being tackled seriously. With a tainted past record, HT is perhaps trying to resurrect itself. This trend needs to be curbed immediately.

It needs a very delicate handling as the HT is suspected to have sympathisers within the armed forces, in government circles and even inside the security agencies. Any nexus, if found, must be severed. In addition to the HT menace, the Rohingyas also are becoming a headache for the Bangladesh authorities. A large number of them particularly women and children are being trafficked to Middle Eastern and other countries. Many of them are undergoing ‘crash courses’ in preparation of fake passports and false visas. A kind of racketeering is going on. A big syndicate is at work.

There have been several arrests of Rohingya women in the recent past. The security division of the Bangladesh Home Ministry is concerned about increasing Rohingya activities. Some experts reckon that the huge number of Rohingyas being unwieldy is slowly going out of control. Their being trafficked outside Bangladesh can at best be overlooked but what merits attention is that none of them get radicalised thus becoming a security risk to Bangladesh and to neighbouring India.

By being tough on terror, PM Sheikh Hasina has raised her level of credibility. This week she is travelling and meeting a number of important leaders including Mahathir Mohamed of Malaysia. In the interest of global security and to keep the sub-continent safe from hate and acrimonious speeches, it would augur well if she prevails upon Mohammad to deport Zakir Naik to India.

Now that South Asia is reeling under terror threats, a joint effort to rein in elements like Zakir Naik is called for. Just as terrorists do not respect geographical boundaries and strike at targets of their choice at will, countries opposed to terror and their counter-terror forces must evolve an effective strategy to hit terrorists and their cohorts across frontiers.

Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday bombings have given us a wake-up call and it’s time to meet the security challenges in the aftermath of this tragedy.

(The writer is a retired IPS officer and a security analyst. The views expressed are personal.)