The Daily Mail reports that on 22 March, suspected Islamist militants in Kurigram town ambushed and hacked to death 68-year-old Hossain Ali, a Christian convert since 1999. Ali was on his regular morning walk down a busy street when two men waylaid him, stabbing him in the neck. Ali died quickly, and his attackers smashed a Molotov cocktail on the street as they egressed on a motorcycle.
Some Bangladeshi police suspect Islamist militants were responsible, specifically, Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). It has carried out identical violence in the recent past.
The Indian Express reports that ISIS claimed responsibility for murdering a Shia convert from Sunni Islam in Kaliganj on 14 March. While walking home at night, assailants emerged from the darkness to assail Abdur Razzak in a knife attack. Razzak was a well-known Shia preacher, headmaster of a secondary school, and a homeopathic doctor. He died at the hospital. The Daily Star said that ISIS claimed responsibility, but the police denied it.
On 21 February, reports Reuters, five or six people attacked Hindu priest, Jogeshwar Roy, at Deviganj temple near Panchagar. They slit his throat, and when one of his aids rushed to help Roy, the attackers shot and wounded him. ISIS claimed responsibility via twitter, saying:
“In a security operation facilitated by the almighty God, soldiers of the Caliphate liquidated the priest Jogeshwar Roy, the founder and the head of the Deviganj temple that belongs to the infidel Hindus. One of his companions was hurt after being targeted with light weapons in the area of Panchagar in Northern Bangladesh, and the Mujahideen returned to their positions unharmed, and all praise be to God.”
Police said ISIS was not involved and arrested suspects belonging to JMB. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly said that ISIS has no influence in Bangladesh.
Aside from these murders, Reuters reports that Bangladeshi authorities arrested five JMB terrorists on 21 March for planning attacks on Bangladeshi New Year’s celebrations, which happen in April. An intelligence source warned of the pending attacks, and an arrest team swooped in on the terrorists’ hideout, an apartment outside Dhaka. There, police found an explosive gel compound and bomb making materials. Bangladeshi New Year has been targeted by JMB before. In 2005, the group detonated 500 bombs in one day all over the country.
There are several takeaways from these murders and the arrests. First, Bangladesh is in the midst of a low level war, an insurgency, with Islamist jihadists as the main antagonists. There have been scores of murders and several bombings against the same target sets: religious minorities and secular pundits.
Second, is it JMB, or ISIS, or something else? Given that JMB has reportedly pledged support for ISIS, it’s the first two, combined. And this is logical. One of ISIS’ key strategies is to make contact with Islamist insurgencies and terror groups all over the world and co-opt them into its movement to make it one, large, global Islamist revolution.
Third, given the infusion of ISIS’ blood thirsty mentality into Bangladesh’s main rebel movement – if it truly takes root – the war there might intensify.
Fourth, JMB/ISIS forces have a demonstrated and proven targeting/direct action network in place. In other words, they have spies and assassins working together to eliminate their enemies. Islamist jihadists have been suspected of, or definitively involved in, at least nine murders of religious minorities and secular bloggers in recent months in Bangladesh. So far, however, they’ve been soft targets, unsuspecting and docile civilians. The JMB targeting-assassination network remains unproven against harder police and military targets. If it expands to these latter target sets, then it will be a sign that JMB will have professionalized to a higher degree, and the war will escalate.
As an aside, an ISIS-influenced JMB is likely to begin to target foreign entities, or at least facilitate outside ISIS teams that might enter Bangladesh to strike foreign entities.
Fifth, JMB/ISIS are trying to change Bangladeshi society with their violence. The most extreme Islamist jihadists believe in “purifying” local Sunni Muslim communities by ridding them of secularists and other religions, including other Muslims – Shia and the like. Purification is necessary so the Islamist jihadist version of the caliphate can operate as a “clean” religious entity without impediments or blemishes.
Ultimately, these issues spell trouble for Bangladesh. ISIS-fueled radicalization there will, in all probability, grow, as it is growing in similar irregular warfare zones around the globe. Bangladeshi security forces have so far done an excellent job of keeping Islamist jihadist violence to a minimum, but they will have to increase their efforts to stay ahead of the current threat trajectory.
Sources and further reading:
“Islamic militants hack Christian convert to death in Bangladesh: Killers slash victim’s throat in busy street attack,” Daily Mail, 22 March 2016.
“ISIS threat in India emerges not from Pakistan, but Bangladesh and West Bengal,” One India, 16 March 2016.
“Bangladesh: Top Shia preacher killed in attack claimed by IS,” Indian Express, 15 March 2016.
“Bangladesh arrests Islamist militants over bomb plot, seizes explosives,” Reuters, 14 March 2016.
“Hindu priest killed in Bangladesh,” Reuters, 21 February 2016.
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