It has happened again! In the wake of the latest rounds of ISIS terror attacks in Bangladesh, authorities in the country have again started denying the existence of any ISIS terror network there. Rejecting any ISIS involvement in terror attacks in Bangladesh as “propaganda”, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Kamal poses the question: “Why will the ISIS come here?” One wonders if leaders in any terror-infested country would ever ask a similar question! We know ISIS is a global terrorist outfit waging a total war against everyone, Muslim or non-Muslim.
It’s noteworthy, politicians and law-enforcers in Bangladesh either cry wolf about “impending terror attacks” in the country; or they cry hoarse denying the existence of any international terrorist group in the country. One recalls as to how the Government’s alarmist statements about the existence of al Qaeda operatives in Bangladesh led to the cancellation of a scheduled road-trip from Dhaka to its outskirts by the visiting US President Bill Clinton, in early 2000. Lest his motorcade came under terrorist attack!
One also recalls coloured printed pictures that appeared on Dhaka city walls, days after 9/11 attacks and on the eve of the Parliamentary Elections in Bangladesh (held in October 2001). Pictures of a leading opposition leader and Osama bin Laden appeared side by side, as if both of them represented al Qaeda and terrorism!
Then again, one recalls as to how the authorities here reacted to al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s podcast about Bangladesh in mid 2013. He urged Bangladeshi Muslims to avenge the killings of “thousands of Islamic scholars by their Government”. The authorities in Bangladesh claimed the podcast was fake, not made by al Zawahiri. This ambivalence is silly, counterproductive, and unacceptable!
After the well-publicized July 1st (2016) ISIS attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery Café in Dhaka, which killed 29 people – including the five gunmen – the Government flatly denied any ISIS involvement in the attack. Interestingly, the ISIS owned the attack, and published pictures of several dead victims while the gunmen were still holding hostages inside the café, in its propaganda news website Amaq al-Akhbariyah. And despite ISIS claims, the Government again denied any ISIS involvement in the recent terror attacks in the country since March 17th.
Two days after two militants had blown themselves up to evade arrest at Sitakundu in Chittagong, a suicide bomber – believed to be an ISIS activist – on March 17th, blew himself up near a camp of the Rapid Action Battalion at Ashkona in Dhaka. On March 24th, another suicide bomber attacked a police box and blew himself up in Uttara, near Dhaka Airport. On the same day, the army, police, and RAB begun operation at a suspected den of banned Islamist militant Jama’atul Mujahedeen Bangladesh (JMB) at a house in Shibbari area of Sylhet city in northeastern Bangladesh. By March 26th, six people, including two policemen, got killed in terrorist bomb blasts and grenade attacks in Sylhet; and later two terrorists blew themselves up. The ISIS has owned all these attacks.
Meanwhile, the RAB had done what members of this elite force do quite frequently. RAB claims, it arrested one Hanif Mridha, near the Ashkona camp soon after the suicide attack on March 17th, and he died in custody the next day. His family members claim, he was an innocent victim of extortion, picked up by RAB on February 27th, three weeks before he died in custody [DS, “‘Hanif picked up on Feb 27’: Claims Family”]. This incident suggests as to how law-enforcers stage false flag operations and “cross-fires”, in the name of counterterrorism, grossly violating human rights with absolute impunity.
Contrary to popular assumptions, neither the police nor armed forces are the most effective antidotes to terrorism. Since the police are mainly trained to maintain law and order, and prevent crime; and the military to defend the country from internal and external enemies, they have very limited understanding and role in counterterrorism (CT) operations. Even insurgencies, which are apparently war-like, are different from warfare. However, the police and military in most countries work as auxiliary elements to help CT and counterinsurgency (COIN) operations. Countries where the police and military play the main role in CT/COIN operations, fail in the long run.
Law-enforcers can neither be the main CT/COIN operators, nor can they decide whether particular genres of terrorists are homegrown, or in cahoots with transnational terror groups like al Qaeda and ISIS. The Inspector General of Police (IGP) AKM Shahidul Haque believes any claim about ISIS presence in Bangladesh is “baseless propaganda”. “What we call militants are actually homegrown who might have been embodied with IS philosophy and ideology. But they don’t have any link with the IS”, he insists. Rejecting security analyst Rohan Gunaratna’s claim that the ISIS was behind the Gulshan café attack last year, the IGP asserts: “Rohan is not a police officer, nor a military officer. He does not deal with any security issue. He is an academician, a professor of a university…. does not have experience of the real issue of Bangladesh” [DS, March 14].
However, we know security analysts and academics can be CT and COIN experts as well; and at times, they know much more about terrorism and insurgency than what the brightest police or military officers have any clues about. While the police deal with crime and criminals, the armed forces deal with war and war-like situation. Neither terrorism is similar to violent crime – armed robbery, arson, or killing of victims for some personal reasons – nor is it synonymous with warfare. The so-called “War on Terror” is a grotesque, simply a grossly misleading concept developed by George W. Bush and his surrogates. And terrorism and insurgency are ideology-driven political problems, can only be resolved politically, not merely by police or military action.
We know the JMB is in league with the so-called Islamic State, which is a transnational terrorist-cum-insurgent group, mainly based in war-torn Syria and Iraq. By now the ISIS has spread its tentacles in all the continents. Khalid Masood, the 52-year-old British terrorist who on March 22 killed several people in London and got killed by police, was an ISIS recruit. Unlike Bangladeshi politicians and law-enforcers, their British counterparts didn’t challenge the ISIS claim. BNP’s State-Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar rejected the presence of any Islamist terror group in Bangladesh soon after the JMB had detonated 500 bombs at 300 locations in Bangladesh in 2005. He, however, later apologized for his misstatement. Some Bangladeshi politicians frequently denigrate their political rivals as “terrorist sympathisers”.
Of late, various sources have revealed the strength of the JMB, which by 2007 had more than 10,000 members across Bangladesh [Adam Stahl, “Challenges Facing Bangladesh”, International Institute for Counter-Terrorism”, 16/07/2007]. The JMB is also closely linked with the ISIS; its support is growing; and according to some Bangladeshi intelligence report, is also capable of making improvised explosive device (IED). In this backdrop, one wonders, if we could be as complacent as the Home Minister seems to be. He claims: “The militants are under our control” [ Bangla Tribune, March 27].
So far so good, but there’s no room for any complacency. We can’t be fully secure without the elimination of the root causes of terrorism. Unaccountable governance, corruption, and massive youth unemployment – around 40 per cent of Bangladeshi youths don’t have any regular employment – lead to social unrest, which is the mother of terrorism. In sum, Bangladesh will have to learn to live with terrorism, which is the “new normal” across the world. While hundreds of Bangladeshi youths, including girls, have joined the ISIS in Syria and Iraq – on March 16th one Neaz Morshed Raja of Bangladesh died as a suicide bomber in Tikrit, Iraq – denying any ISIS threat in Bangladesh is an extravagant denial of the truth.
The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University. He is the author of several books, including his latest, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan (Sage, 2014). Email: [email protected]