At 8:45 pm on 1 July in Dhaka, Bangladesh, reports CNN, eight or nine ISIS terrorists raided the Holey Artisan Bakery, initially killing several people and then taking more than 20 hostages. An eyewitness told the press that the attackers entered the venue with pistols, crude bombs, and edged weapons shouting, “Allahu akhbar!” as they took over. The BBC reports that “the victims had been ‘brutally’ attacked with sharp weapons,” and that the terrorists killed those who could not recite passages from the Koran. The indication is that people were slashed and stabbed to death, and maybe even beheaded. These are common Islamist jihadist killing tactics in Bangladesh.
At 12:56 am, authorities tried to negotiate with the terrorists, but to no avail. Not long after, commandos stormed the restaurant, killing all but one of the attackers. Initial reports said the commandos numbered about 100. If true, this is an unusually high number of troopers for a hostage rescue operation in a restaurant.
The casualty count as of 2 July was 20 civilians killed, 6 attackers killed, and 1 attacker arrested. At the beginning of the attack, 2 policemen were reported killed. The wounded count was approximately 30.
The dead restaurant patrons included one American, one Indian, seven Japanese, and nine Italians, reports the BBC.
ISIS’s media wing, Amaq News Agency, directly claimed responsibility for the attack and published pictures of the slaughtered hostages as proof. The government of Bangladesh has rejected this, saying ISIS was not involved.
The Holey Artisan Bakery is a café by day and restaurant by night in a protected, upscale neighborhood with embassies and the like.
This attack happened soon after the government arrested as many as 11,000 militant suspects possibly linked to Islamist jihadist groups. The Indian Express reports that the government had also recently kicked out of the country several Pakistani diplomats accused of arming militants, but offered few more details.
Most of these attacks seem to have been perpetrated by Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). It and ISIS appear to be working in concert, indicating that ISIS has included Bangladesh as a co-opt target country to include in its global caliphate.
It is important to note that al-Qaeda in the Indian Sub-Continent has also claimed attacks in country, as has Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamist group.
At any rate, the Holey Artisan Bakery attack came on the heels of several high profile, global Islamist jihadist attacks. Some of them include:
30 June, two Taliban suicide bombers attacked a police cadet bus on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, killing 30 and wounding 58. The tactic used appears to have been a “double tap,” where, 1) a suicide car bomber detonated on the convoy, and then as first responders arrived, 2) a suicide bomber on foot detonated, adding to the carnage. (Washington Post)
29 June, three ISIS suicide bombers attacked Istanbul Ataturk Airport, killing 41 and wounding 230. One bomber apparently detonated at or near curbside check in, and the other two penetrated the airport with firearms and suicide vests. Once inside, they exchanged fire with security, and then detonated their explosives. (The Telegraph)
27 June, at least four men blew themselves up in the Christian village of Qaa, Lebanon, near the border of Syria, after being questioned by an alert security guard at 4:00 am local time. The guard, who knew his neighborhood well, did not recognize the men, and as he called out to them, they initiated their attack. He managed to shoot one of the attackers before they detonated their bombs, which killed 15. ISIS is suspected of being behind the attack. (Associated Press)
26 June, al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked insurgent group – and being aggressively courted by ISIS – attacked the Nasa Hablod hotel in Mogadishu with a car bomb and follow on gunmen who breached the hotel. (Muir Analytics calls this tactic the “Mogadishu special” because of its frequent use, especially against hotels.) Afterward, the attackers shot hotel patrons and staff, and then fought to the death against Somalia security forces. The attack killed at least 15. (Al Jazeera)
These are only some of the most recent attacks. USA Today has a list of multiple other attacks here. While some of these have happened in ongoing war zones such as Somalia, others have occurred in non-conflict countries that ISIS and al Qaeda have targeted. Then there has been other, smaller attacks barely mentioned in the press such as a recent, small in Bahrain, culprits unknown.
There are six main takeaways from these attacks.
First, from a global perspective, most of the above mentioned attacks stem from Islamist jihadist fighters believing that operations carried out during Ramadan wash away all of their sins and guarantee them a place in heaven (For most Muslim communities, Ramadan this year is from 6 June-6 July.)
It is critical to note that moderate Muslims believe that the Ramadan attack issue is a most serious blasphemy against God and all of mankind, and they fervently reject these notions. To them, attacks during Ramadan are forbidden.
Second, and again from a global perspective, these multi-country attacks clearly demonstrate that Islamist jihadists movements have increased their mass and operational tempo. They are emboldened by the fact that the national armies they face and the coalitions arrayed against them are ineffectual in counter irregular warfare. The ISIS brand (and those similar to it) is a powerful motivator regarding terrorist organizing, planning, and killing. Without a central, global counter terrorism leadership mechanism to counter these forces, the growing global Islamist jihadist attack trend will continue.
Third, regarding Bangladesh, the restaurant attack was not surprising. Muir Analytics has followed the growing and bloody Islamist jihadist violence in Bangladesh here, here, and here, and it predicted that the violent trends would escalate, possibly with a “light infantry [attack] similar or identical to Paris…”
Fourth, with this heinous attack, Bangladesh’s previously low-key Islamist jihadist insurgency now must be categorized as a medium intensity insurgency and a new ISIS front. This is demonstrated by the insurgents’, a) targeting regimen, and b) upgrade in operational tactics.
Past targeting focused mostly individuals (primarily secular pundits) or religious minority groups. The targeting of the Holey Artisan Bakery, a high profile, foreign venue in the heart of the capital, just broke that mold. Going forward, the insurgents will, when it suits them, target foreigners, urban cosmopolitan gathering places, and larger groups of people in addition to their previous target sets.
Tactically, the Bangladeshi Islamist jihadists have increased their sophistication and effectiveness. Their intelligence assets have just proven that they are capable of reconnoitering not just unaware individuals for assassination and rural venues for small bombings, but urban establishments in protected areas for major assaults. Additionally, their operational planners are adroit enough to plan audacious and effective raids in the face of increased security and mass arrests (not that mass arrests are the best counterinsurgency method.) Finally, their fighters have demonstrated that they have the Islamist motivation, the assault skill sets, and will power to take a large number of people hostage and stab them to death while keeping security forces at bay.
Fifth, going forward, the government of Bangladesh will have to publicly face up to the fact that its country threat profile has intensified beyond its positive control, and that it has a significant Islamist jihadist insurgency on his hands. The government will have to apply a nationwide counterinsurgency campaign that will include the deployment of troops and police on a massive scale to facilitate enhanced physical security, carry out arrests of genuine suspects, and prosecute direct action missions. Intelligence will be critical at every juncture. Mass arrests of thousands will not suffice.
Sixth, as part of this counterinsurgency, the Bangladesh government will have to engage in a comprehensive counter political-religious warfare program in order to reduce the radical Islamist fervor that drives these people to commit mass murder.
This will be no small task. Intense Islamist jihadist friction festers in Bangladesh and has for years. Imam Fazlur Rahman, a Bangladeshi Islamist jihadist, was one of the co-signers of Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa announcing al Qaeda’s war against America, Saudi Arabia, and all infidel forces. What followed has been cataclysmic.
Additionally, during Bangladesh’s 1971 war for independence, Pakistan and its Bangladeshi militias murdered as many as 3 million people over religious and ethnic issues. It was genocide.
Quite obviously, ethno-religious conflict in Bangladesh can get massively out of hand. ISIS and its local cohorts, motivated by their doomsday bloodlust, are likely attracted to this possibility.
To defeat the jihadists and keep them from inciting mass violence, the Bangladeshi government will have to innovate far beyond its current national security efforts.
Sources and further reading:
“Before attacks, we threw out Pakistan diplomats ‘working undercover’: Bangladesh,” The Indian Express, 3 July 2016.
“Bangladesh siege: Twenty killed at Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka,” BBC, 2 July 2016.
“Dhaka cafe standoff: At least 13 hostages rescued as siege ends,” CNN, 2 July 2016.
“Officials: At least 30 Afghan police cadets killed in suicide bombings outside Kabul,” Washington Post, 30 June 2016.
“Major terrorist attacks this year,” USA Today, 29 June 2016.
“At least 5 killed, 15 wounded in suicide bombing in Lebanon village,” Fox News/AP, 27 June 2016.
“Istanbul Ataturk airport attack: 41 dead and 239 injured in ‘hideous’ suicide bombings in Turkey,” The Telegraph, 26 June 2016.
“Somalia: Al-Shabab attack at Nasa Hablod hotel kills 15,” Al Jazeera, 26 June 2016.
Copyright Muir Analytics 2016