On July 1, 2016, at least five Islamist militants stormed into Holey Artisan Bakery, an upscale restaurant in the Gulshan neighborhood of Dhaka, and detonated explosives before separating the Muslim and local Bangladeshi hostages from the non-Muslims and foreigners. After a 12-hour siege, Bangladeshi security forces stormed the restaurant in the early hours of July 2 and freed 13 hostages. The officials found 20 hostages hacked and stabbed to death, including Italian, Japanese, Indian, and U.S. citizens. Four militants and two police officers were killed over the course of the incident, and one militant was arrested. (Sources: Reuters, Dhaka Tribune, CNN, BBC News, BBC News)

The July 1 restaurant attack reportedly was the 24th ISIS attack in Bangladesh since September 2015, and the most deadly in a spate of terror attacks in Bangladesh in 2016. Though ISIS claimed responsibility, some U.S. officials said that the assault bore the hallmark of al-Qaeda’s regional affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. In October 2016, ISIS released an article reiterating its claim of responsibility and providing its own narrative of the attacks. Bangladeshi authorities reportedly have evidence of communications between the architect of the attack and Abu Terek Mohammad Tajuddin Kausar, an ISIS militant born in Bangladesh but living in Australia. Kausar is said to have approved the attack and ordered the assailants to specifically target non-Muslim foreigners and expatriates. (Sources: Guardian, Dhaka Tribune, NPR, Times of India, CNN, Hindu BusinessLine, Dhaka Tribune, Reuters, Reuters, New York Times)

Bangladeshi officials nonetheless claim that ISIS does not maintain a presence in the country. The government has instead blamed the attacks on local militant groups or banned Islamist organizations with ties to, or inspiration from, foreign militant organizations. (Sources: Guardian, Dhaka Tribune, NPR)

Overview

Bangladesh—a secular, Muslim-majority country—has struggled with violent Islamist groups since the country fought an eight-month war for independence from West Pakistan in 1971. (Source: U.S. Department of State)

Bangladesh—previously known as East Pakistan—was linguistically and culturally distinct from West Pakistan (now Pakistan). Bangladeshi secularists at the time agitated for greater independence, while the Islamists—led by the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) party—aggressively fought fellow Bangladeshis with the support of the Pakistani military. The JeI is believed to have committed serious war crimes during the war for independence in 1971, and has since continued to use militant groups to commit violence in the country and disrupt the secular government. (Sources: BBC News, U.S. Department of State)

Militants have murdered at least 40 pro-secular writers and activists since 2013.

Today, domestic Islamist extremist groups like al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS)—as well as pro-ISIS supporters—are believed to use domestic terror affiliates to spread propaganda online and on the streets of Bangladesh as well as recruit foreign fighters and launch domestic attacks. Since 2013, a variety of local Islamist groups are believed to be responsible for the murders of at least 40 pro-secular writers and activists, members of religious minorities, and foreigners. Among those killed in 2016 were U.S. embassy employee and LGBT activist Xulhaz Mannan, secular English professor Rezaul Karim Siddique, and law student Nazimuddin Samad. Among those killed in 2015 were bloggers Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman, liberal professors Mohammad Shakil Auj and Shafiul Islam, and secular books publisher Faisal Arefin Dipon. (Sources: Long War Journal, BBC News, NTVBD, SITE Intelligence, CNN, BBC News, Reuters, East Asia Forum, Guardian, Dhaka Tribune, NPR, Reuters)

Bangladesh is also host to a number of Islamist political parties and organizations, including banned groups JeI and Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT). While some previous Bangladeshi administrations have made concessions to Islamist organizations in an attempt to win their support, the current government under Sheikh Hasina Wazed has cracked down on Islamist outfits. Beginning in 2013, Hasina inaugurated a new court to arrest and prosecute members of the JeI, which was reportedly responsible for war crimes during the time of the country’s independence in 1971. Since then, the Hasina government has sentenced a number of these men to death. Since the July 2016 Dhaka attack, Bangladeshi security forces have also cracked down on Islamist militants. Police have conducted a series of raids on suspect extremist hideouts in Bangladesh, collectively killing around 50 militants. (Sources: New York Times, Combatting Terrorism Center, Indian Express, Astro Awani)

In the government’s efforts to crack down on Islamist activity, Bangladesh has increased its cooperation with India and the United States. Conversely, ties with Pakistan remain strained due to its suspected tolerance of individuals with ties to Bangladeshi extremism. For example, in December 2015, a Pakistani diplomat was asked to leave Bangladesh after she was accused of smuggling money into the country to benefit extremists. (Sources: Dawn, Indian Express

Radicalization and Foreign Fighters

Radicalization

Bangladesh is not a major source of foreign fighters. As of October 2015, fewer than 40 Bangladeshis were believed to have joined or attempted to join ISIS in the Middle East. Instead, Bangladeshi Islamist groups primarily recruit members to engage in local Islamist activity or domestic attacks. (Sources: New York Times, Stratfor, Dhaka Tribune)

The unifying aim of Islamist organizations in Bangladesh is to establish a state ruled by sharia (Islamic law). While Islamist organizations like HT focus on establishing Islamic law in Bangladesh under the country’s current borders, other groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS aspire to establish a broader South Asian caliphate. The idea of a South Asian caliphate itself appears to be drawn from a much debated hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) known as Ghazwa-e-Hind. According to some interpretations, Ghazwa-e-Hind envisions a unified region—including modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, India, and Bangladesh—under Islamic law. (Sources: Hudson Institute, Indian Defense Review, MEMRI Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor)

In recent years, the number of suspected Islamist attacks has increased. Attacks have also apparently become more indiscriminate, with assailants targeting not only individuals accused of speaking out against Islam, but also religious minorities and foreigners. Transnational militant groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda have also reportedly linked up with local groups—Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), respectively—to carry out attacks. (Sources: Hudson InstituteCNN)

In a January 2017 essay, an academic at Bangladesh’s North South University attributed the country’s growing ranks of young extremists to three factors: a demographic youth bulge, a changing social landscape characterized by rapid urbanization and digitization, and a lack of democracy. Defeating extremism in Bangladesh, he said, will require exposing youths to means of political expression, economic opportunity, and launching “a massive online campaign to deter extremist propaganda.” Other analysts agree that defeating extremism in Bangladesh depends, in part, on “equipping credible messengers to challenge extremist narratives online.” (Source: Conversation, Religion and Geopolitics Online)

Terrorist Organizations

ISIS and al-Qaeda both claim a presence in Bangladesh, and are believed to be cooperating with local terror groups in order to recruit and carry out domestic attacks. Local terror groups operating in Bangladesh include the ISIS-affiliated JMB, a Bangladeshi terror group founded in 1998, as well as the al-Qaeda affiliated Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), formed in 2007.

ISIS

ISIS announced its presence in Bangladesh in November 2015.

ISIS formally announced its presence in Bangladesh in the November 2015 issue of Dabiq, its online English-language magazine. The issue included an interview with Sheikh Abu al-Hanif, purportedly the head of ISIS operations in Bangladesh. (Source: Dabiq)

In the article, “The Revival of Jihad in Bengal,” Hanif lauded Bangladesh’s JMB terror group for its ability to resist “the effect of both European colonization and Hindu cultural invasion.” The article also referenced the murder of an Italian aid worker and a Japanese citizen in September and October 2015, respectively, calling the murders “blessed back-to-back attacks” which “caused havoc among the citizens of the crusader nations and their allies” and “forced their diplomats, tourists, and expats to… live in a constant state of fear.” (Sources: Dabiq, New York Times, Al Jazeera)

Although ISIS formally introduced its Bangladeshi operation in November of 2015, the group had been working to lure Bangladeshi citizens to its cause since 2014. In August of 2014, ISIS released a Bengali-language video showing various individuals pledging their support for the so-called caliphate. The following month, 24-year-old British citizen Samiun Rahman was arrested in the capital city of Dhaka, one of multiple British-born individuals reportedly recruiting for ISIS in Bangladesh. In 2015, another nine individuals were arrested in Bangladesh and accused of planning the overthrow of the government in order to establish a caliphate. (Sources: Dhaka Tribune, Telegraph)

In 2014, authorities arrested Hifzur Rahman, a student member of the ISIS-affiliated JMB. Though ISIS had not formally announced its Bangladeshi presence in 2014, Rahman said he was affiliated with ISIS and was attempting to recruit foreign fighters across the country on behalf of the global terror group, particularly from the northern Bangladeshi district of Sylhet. Rahman also reportedly claimed that ISIS was recruiting online via a Facebook page titled “ISIS Bangladesh.” (Source: Jamestown Foundation)

Despite the arrests of individuals who were—according to media reports—affiliated with ISIS, the government has repeatedly denied that ISIS maintains a formal presence in the country. When questioned by the media after the restaurant hostage crisis on July 2, 2016, Bangladesh’s Information Minister, Hasanul Haq Inu, blamed local actors, stating, “The answer is very simple, the producer is the BNP [Bangladesh National Party]. The Director is J[e]I. The small actors on the ground are ABT, JMB, and other militant Islamist networks.” (Sources: Telegraph, Dhaka Tribune)

Jamaat-ul-Mujahideenn Bangladesh

Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) is a violent Islamist group affiliated with ISIS. Founded by Abdur Rahman in 1998, the group seeks to establish a Bangladeshi state governed by Islamic law. The group was formally banned in 2005, and its leader hanged in 2007 after being found guilty for the murder of two judges in Dhaka. The Bangladeshi government has accordingly cracked down on the group, reportedly arresting and even killing dozens of its members, including its former leader, Tamim Chowdhury. Despite the ban and crackdown, JMB is believed to remain active within Bangladesh and is known to have coordinated with ISIS. (Sources: CNN, Asia News, Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, West Point Combating Terrorism Center, Dhaka Tribune, Independent)

Before the JMB linked up with ISIS, one of the group’s most notorious acts of terror occurred on August 17, 2005, when JMB members detonated 459 bombs in 63 of Bangladesh’s 64 districts, killing two people and wounding more than 100 others. (Sources: National Interest, Deutsche Welle)

Investigations immediately after the August 2005 JMB attack resulted in more than 700 arrests of JMB members or members of its affiliate, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB). JMB leaders Siddique ul-Islam and Shaykh Abdur Rahman were held responsible for organizing the attacks. Both were captured in March 2006 and executed on March 30, 2007. After further investigations, law enforcement officials stated that the JMB had more than 8,000 members or sympathizers in Bangladesh, including a suicide squad of 2,000 individuals. (Source: Combatting Terrorism Center)

Since the 2005 attack, JMB members have continued to be implicated in domestic terror attacks. In 2007, another six JMB members were executed on charges of killing two Bangladeshi judges. JMB also took credit for the October 2015 murder of a Japanese citizen. Arrests of JMB members are ongoing. In June 2016, three JMB members were arrested as part of a national raid on Islamist militants. On February 28, 2017, five JMB militants were sentenced to death for the October 2015 murder. (Source: Fox News, Combatting Terrorism Center, National Interest, Deutsche Welle, PTI)

JMB’s reported connections to the JeI political party raises further concern. On November 26, 2015, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Joint Commissioner Monirul Islam stated, “At least one-fourth of banned militant outfit JMB members are former Jamaat-e-Islami members and are now involved in acts of destruction across the country.” Islam went on to say that “new members are also reportedly financing JMB’s terror and criminal acts” and that “JMB members are using the money to buy motorcycles, explosives and ammunition to commit crimes.” (Source: Eurasia Review)

According to reports, JMB members have also coordinated with the Pakistani-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Reports indicate that JMB members have moved from Bangladesh into Pakistan in order to receive LeT training. Bangladeshis also have a history of supporting al-Qaeda, a history which dates back to 1998, when the leader of Bangladesh’s Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami (HuJI) included his signature in Osama Bin Laden’s second anti-West fatwa. On December 2, 2016, Bangladesh’s highest court upheld the death sentence given to HuJI leader Abdul Hannan and two associates for a 2004 attack on the British ambassador that left three people dead. Hannan is believed to have left Bangladesh in the 1980s to study at a madrassa in Pakistan and later to have fought in the Afghan war. He has been linked to at least two other deadly attacks in Bangladesh since 2001. (Sources: Diplomat, Stratfor, Christian Science Monitor, Stanford University, Jamestown Foundation, Daily Mail)

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) is al-Qaeda’s fifth official branch. The group was founded in September 2014 at the behest of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who appointed Asim Omar as emir (commander or prince) of the new affiliate. Like its parent group, AQIS seeks to wage jihad in order to establish governance by Islamic law. The affiliate allegedly operates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Burma, Bangladesh, and Kashmir. Zawahiri stated that AQIS seeks to “rescue” the subcontinent’s Muslim population from “injustice, oppression, persecution, and suffering.” In Bangladesh, AQIS reportedly operates with local terror group ABT. (Sources: New York Times, Long War Journal, CNN)

After the killing of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda’s new chief al-Zawahri started the reorganization of al Qaeda, with its main focus on South Asia.Unnamed jihadist close to AQIS

AQIS was formed after a two-year effort to consolidate jihadist factions on the Indian subcontinent, according to Zawahiri, who announced the affiliate’s creation in a video dated September 3, 2014. Included in the new group’s ranks are Taliban fighters loyal to both Zawahiri and the leadership of the Taliban in Afghanistan. (Sources: Long War Journal, Independent, Reuters)

Analysts generally believe that Zawahiri created AQIS in order to steal the limelight from an expanding ISIS and therefore promote al-Qaeda’s brand. The Diplomat’s Jordan Olmstead asserts that “AQIS isn’t about India—it’s about preserving al-Qaeda’s safe havens in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” especially amid rivalries with ISIS and the Pakistani army for influence and control over the Af-Pak region. Flashpoint Global Partners senior analyst Laith Alkhouri called the group’s formation “a serious counternarrative to the ISIS expansion.” (Sources: Diplomat, New York Times)

However, an unnamed jihadist close to AQIS told Reuters, “After the killing of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda’s new chief al-Zawahri started the reorganization of al Qaeda, with its main focus on South Asia.” Sources close to AQIS emir Asim Omar told Reuters that Omar has eyed the Indian subcontinent for many years, and has released videos propagandizing to Kashmiri Muslims in a hope to recruit them to fight the secular governments. (Source: Reuters)

AQIS has claimed responsibility for the murders of a number of secular activists. For example, in May 2015, the group murdered atheist bloggers Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman in Bangladesh and liberal professors Mohammad Shakil Auj and Shafiul Islam in Pakistan. In October 2015, AQIS’s Bangladeshi branch, known as Ansar al Islam, claimed responsibility for the killing of Faisal Arefin Dipon, a Bangladeshi publisher of secular books. Another publisher, Ahmedur Rashid Tutul, was also targeted but not killed. In April 2016, Ansar al Islam claimed responsibility for the murders of secular campaigner Nazimuddin Samad, and the editors of an LGBT magazine, Xulhaz Mannan and Tanay Mojumdar. In March 2017, the Bangladeshi government banned Ansar al Islam. The Public Security Division of the Home Ministry stated, “The activities of Ansar al-Islam threaten peace and stability in Bangladesh. All activities of this group stand banned because they constitute a threat to public order.” (Sources: Long War Journal, BBC News, NTVBD, SITE Intelligence, CNN, bdnews24.com)

Ansarullah Bangla Team

Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) was formed in 2007, and is currently affiliated with al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, AQIS. The group has been banned since 2015, but has nonetheless claimed responsibility for at least seven murders of liberal writers, academics, and bloggers. Three of the claimed victims—Avijit Roy, Anant Bijoy Das, and Washiqur Rahman—reportedly became ABT targets due to their criticism of fundamentalist Islam. (Sources: Global Security, Jamestown Foundation, CNN)

ABT spreads pro-ISIS and pro-al-Qaeda material both in person and online. According to reports, the group has previously uploaded Bengali-language versions of ISIS’s Dabiq magazine and al-Qaeda’s Inspire. Videos reportedly uploaded by ABT have included explicit references to potential targets, including Bangladesh’s parliament building. The group has also reportedly published videos with bomb-making instructions. (Source: Global Security, Jamestown Foundation)

Since its ban in 2015, a number of ABT members have been arrested on murder-related charges. ABT cleric Jashimuddin Rahmani was one of seven defendants found guilty in December 2015 of the murder of blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider. Accused ABT members have also been arrested for links to the murder of liberal blogger Niloy Neel. At least one ABT member was reportedly arrested on undisclosed charges after carrying out pro-ISIS recruitment in the country. On June 16, 2016, police arrested Islamist militant Suman Hossain Patowari who, they said, admitted to participating in a hacking attack on publisher Ahmedur Rashid Tutul and two associates in October 2015. Police said that Patowari belonged to ABT and that Ansar al-Islam and ABT “are the same people” but that neither group has proven links to al-Qaeda. (Sources: CNN, Dhaka Tribune, Wall Street Journal, East Asia Forum, Daily Mail)

Islamist Parties and Organizations

Bangladesh is home to a number of banned Islamist organizations, including HT and the JeI. The country has also been home to a coalition of Islamist organizations known as Hefazat-e-Islam.

Jamaat-e-Islami

Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) is a banned Islamist party that has been linked to numerous terrorist attacks and war crimes in Bangladesh. The party itself predates the country’s independence. The JeI originated as a political movement in South Asia at a time when much of the region was a British colony. Seeking to protect Muslims from discrimination, Muslim nationalists advocated for a separate nation for Muslims under Islamic law. As a result, when Hindu-majority India gained independence in August 1947, East and West Pakistan also gained independence, as one non-contiguous, Muslim-majority country. During the subsequent two decades, East Pakistan agitated for independence due to issues born from cultural and linguistic differences between East and West Pakistan. An eight-month war ensued between the two states in 1971, resulting in East Pakistan’s independence and its name-change to Bangladesh. West Pakistan became what we now know as Pakistan. (Source: Indian Express)

The war that preceded Bangladesh’s independence was fraught with violence. With the purported help of the Pakistani military, members of the JeI were accused of raping and murdering hundreds of people in an effort to prevent the state from becoming independent. (Source: Indian Express)

Following the war, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (father of current Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina) established the first independent government, as well as the secular Awami League political party and banned the use of religion in politics. The JeI was consequently no longer recognized as a legal political party. In 1979, however, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) came into power and lifted the ban, reintroducing the JeI into Bangladeshi politics. (Source: Indian Express)

Since its reinstatement in 1979, the JeI has remained active as a political party, often aligning itself with the BNP. In that time, members known to be associated with the JeI have held various offices in government, including cabinet positions. (Sources: Diplomat, Indian Express)

In 1996 and again in 2008, the secular Awami League came into power, led by Sheikh Hasina. Following her return to power in 2008, Hasina promised prosecutions against those who had committed war crimes in 1971, including JeI leadership. In 2009, Hasina’s government accordingly established the International War Crimes Tribunal (ICT) in Bangladesh. The government has since carried out numerous trials of JeI members, convicting many and sentencing several to death. (Sources: BBC News, Diplomat, Indian Express, Eurasia Review)

With the uptick in violent Islamist attacks since 2013, and the JeI’s reported connections to militant groups, the JeI has continued to be excluded from political affairs. In April 2016, the country’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Shahriar Alam, advocated for a permanent ban on the group, calling the JeI is a “full-terrorist organisation” and saying that as such, the group should not “be allowed to conduct normal political activities in the country.” The group is linked to terrorist attacks by the banned JMB terror group, affiliated with ISIS. (Sources: Hindu, Eurasia Review)

The JeI’s student wing—the Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS)—has also been implicated for links to terrorist violence. From 2013 to 2014, the Bangladeshi government arrested nearly 6,000 JeI members and students from ICS. Despite these arrests, the ICS is not banned in Bangladesh. (Sources: News Bangladesh, South Asian Terrorism Portal, Diplomat, Indian Express, Eurasia Review, India Times)

Hefazat-e-Islam

Hefazat-e-Islam (HeI) is a coalition of about a dozen Islamist groups that formed in 2010 to protest against secularism and women’s rights. (Source: BBC News)

Led by elderly cleric Shah Ahmad Shafi, the group is perhaps best known for its 2013 Dhaka demonstration, in which HeI gathered approximately 500,000 people in support of its list of demands, including the death penalty for so-called blasphemers and the demand that certain Muslim minority groups in Bangladesh—like the Ahmadis—be declared non-Muslim. (Source: BBC News)

As part of the demonstration, HeI also denounced “foreign cultural influence” in the country, which the group blames for the purportedly undesirable “free-mixing of men and women.” Among the groups that supported HeI was the banned JeI party, which asserted that “the country’s Islam-loving people have become united against the anti-Islamic government and its patronized atheist people.” (Sources: BBC News, Guardian, Jamaat-e-Islami)

HeI’s leader has a reportedly broad influence in Bangladesh, heading the Bangladeshi Qaumi Madrassah Education Board, which runs more than 25,000 madrassas nationwide. According to reports, many of the madrassas under Shafi’s purview teach a fundamentalist and Islamist interpretation of Islam, and advocate for Islamic law in Bangladesh. (Sources: BBC News, Al Jazeera)

Despite being marginalized by the Hasina administration, HeI is believed to have the support of some government-affiliated agencies. According to reports, the Bangladesh Railway offered HeI 40 acres of land in Chittagong in 2015. (Sources: BBC News, Al Jazeera, Hindu BusinessLine)

Hizb ut-Tahrir

Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) is a global Islamist movement that purports to be non-violent, but which is perceived by some analysts as a “conveyer belt” for Islamist violence. In Bangladesh, the group recruits online and in person, handing out leaflets and organizing events at local universities in an effort to attract new members. (Source: Hudson Institute)

HT was banned in Bangladesh in 2009.

HT was banned in Bangladesh in 2009. Since then, the group has continued to operate, with local law enforcement arresting approximately 600 HT members since the group’s ban in 2009. On September 4, 2015, Bangladeshi law enforcement monitored an online HT conference, which was virtually attended by as many as 10,000 men and women. (Sources: Guardian, Dhaka Tribune)

Since its ban in 2009, HT has also been implicated in several violent attacks. Along with other Islamist groups, HT was implicated in connection to the failed 2011 coup attempt led by Major Syed Md Ziaul Haque. In another HT-related incident following the 2009 ban, suspected HT member Farabi Shafiur Rahman was believed to be behind the March 2015 hacking murder of secular blogger Avijit Roy. (Sources: Hindu BusinessLine, Hudson Institute, Dhaka Tribune, Telegraph India, Guardian)

Major Extremist and Terrorist Incidents

July 2016 Hostage Crisis

On the evening of July 1, 2016, five Islamist militants stormed into Holey Artisan Bakery, an upscale restaurant in the Gulshan neighborhood of Dhaka, and detonated explosives before separating the Muslim and local Bangladeshi hostages from the non-Muslims and foreigners. After a 12-hour siege, Bangladeshi security forces stormed the restaurant in the early hours of July 2 and freed 13 hostages. The officials found 20 hostages hacked and stabbed to death, including Italian, Japanese, Indian, and U.S. citizens. Four militants and two police officers were killed over the course of the incident, and one militant was arrested. (Sources: Reuters, Dhaka Tribune, CNN, BBC News, BBC News)

The July 1 restaurant attack is reportedly the 24th ISIS attack in Bangladesh since September 2015, and the most deadly in a spate of terror attacks in Bangladesh this year. Some U.S. officials claimed that the assault bore the hallmark of al-Qaeda’s regional affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. In October 2016, ISIS released an online article providing a detailed narrative of the attack in its Rumiyah magazine. The article—claimed to be penned by ISIS’s deceased leader in Bangladesh—referred to the assailants as “five shahadah knights” and the bakery as a “Crusader-owned restaurant.” (Sources: Guardian, Dhaka Tribune, NPR, Times of India, CNN, Hindu BusinessLine, Dhaka Tribune, Reuters, Rumiyah)

On March 2, 2017, Bangladeshi police arrested the head of a militant Islamic group believed to be responsible for inspiring the perpetrators of the July 2016 Dhaka attack. Shaikh Mohammad Abul Kashem, who founded an offshoot of the larger JMB group, is said to have worked alongside the two men accused of masterminding the attack. (Source: Reuters)

Murders of Secular Bloggers and Activists

Since 2013, assailants—often operating on behalf of local al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliates—have murdered dozens of activists, secular bloggers, religious minorities, and foreigners. Many of these attacks have been carried out by machete or other sharp weapons, according to police and witness accounts. In some cases, assailants are believed to have used guns to murder their targets. (Sources: CNN, Guardian, VICE News, New York Times)

In 2016 alone, there have already been several high-profile murders claimed by al-Qaeda or ISIS.

The first such murder dates back to February 2013, when assailants killed Bangladeshi blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider. At the time, Haider had been covering the Shahbag protests, wherein an estimated 100,000-500,000 Bangladeshis gathered in Dhaka’s Shahbag square to call for the death sentence for Abdul Quader Molla, an Islamist war criminal and former member of the JeI party. On February 15, 2013, Haider—who was known to criticize Islam under the pen name Thaba Baba—was found murdered near his home in Dhaka, his body littered by machete wounds, according to Bangladeshi police. (Sources: Guardian, Guardian)

On February 20, 2017, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police counterterrorism unit arrested 34-year-old Redwanul Azad Rana, a former student at the country’s top North South University and an alleged accomplice in connection to Haider’s murder. Rana had been sentenced to death in absentia in connection to the murder. (Source: Indian Express)

Since the Shahbag protests, the country has witnessed dozens of murders targeting secular bloggers, activists, religious minorities, and foreigners. In September 2015, the AQIS-affiliated ABT group issued a hit list on secular bloggers, writers, and activists, which included both domestic and foreign-based targets, including nine bloggers based in the United Kingdom, seven in Germany, two in the United States, one in Canada, and one in Sweden. (Source: Guardian)

Since January 2015, police say there have been more than 40 such murders. In 2016 alone, several high-profile murders were claimed by al-Qaeda or ISIS. These include the July 1 murder of Hindu priest Shyamanondo Das, the April 25 murders of U.S. embassy employee and LGBT activist Xulhaz Mannan and his colleague Mahbub Tonoy, and the May 6 murder of Sufi leader Mohammad Shahidullah, among others. In addition to the spate of hacking murders, the country has also experienced a series of bomb, hostage, and other terrorist attacks, often carried out by local terror groups claiming affiliation with al-Qaeda or ISIS. (Sources: Guardian, Dhaka Tribune, NPR, CNN, Guardian, BBC News, Guardian)

 

Domestic Counter-Extremism

Bangladesh pursues multiple strategies in an effort to address the threat of domestic extremism and terrorism. With the help of international organizations and local religious scholars, the Hasina government has also launched grassroots and counter-narrative programs at the community level. (Sources: New York Times, Guardian, Dhaka Tribune, Jamestown Foundation)

Legislation and Law Enforcement

Bangladeshi law enforcement has primary responsibility for thwarting extremist and terrorist activity in the country. Mass arrests after terrorist incidents have allowed law enforcement to gain intelligence and arrest suspected terrorist operatives. These arrests have often targeted suspected members of violent extremist groups—including the JMB and ABT—as well as banned Islamist organizations—including the JeI and HT. On June 13, 2016, Bangladeshi law enforcement conducted a massive series of arrests in response to murders targeting secularists, religious minorities, and foreigners. As many as 14,000 individuals were detained in the sweep. (Sources: New York Times, Guardian, Dhaka Tribune, Diplomat)

Bangladeshi police have since continued to conduct arrests and raids targeting domestic terrorists. On July 26, 2016, Bangladeshi forces arrested one Islamist militant and killed nine others during a raid in Dhaka’s Kalyanpur area. On August 27, police raided a JMB safe house in the Paikpara area of Narayanganj district, killing three Islamist militants, including the allegedly mastermind of the July 1, 2016, attack in Gulshan. On October 8, members of a Bangladeshi counterterrorism unit killed at least seven JMB Islamists residing in a two-story building in the Patartek area of Gazipur district. (Sources: Daily Star, South Asia Terrorism Portal, Daily Star, Dhaka Tribune, South Asia Terrorism Portal, Astro Awani)

In January 2017, Bangladeshi forces arrested Jahangir Alam, suspected of being a key planner of the Dhaka attack, a week after another planner, Nurul Islam Marzan, was killed in a shootout with police. In February 2017, police raided a house in the northern city of Bogra and killed Abu Musa (alias Abu Jar), believed to have been a close aide to one of the masterminds of the Dhaka attack. Musa was also wanted for the murders of two businessmen, one a Muslim and the other Christian, claimed by ISIS. Later in the month, police targeted and killed Aminur Islam, the northern regional commander of JMB’s military wing who was alleged to have previously stabbed two police officers. (Sources: PTI, Indian Express, CNN, New York Times)

In 2015, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina attempted to push the U.K. government to act against British-based recruiters and facilitators with ties to Bangladeshi terror groups. The Prime Minister said that the “Jamaat -e-Islami [Bangladesh’s leading Islamist party] has a strong influence in east London. That’s true. They are collecting money, they are sending money” to Bangladesh. (Source: Guardian)

In addition to prosecutorial efforts to counter violent extremism, Bangladesh also addresses extremism using legislation and enhanced border security. The government has also instated new terror financing laws to curb money flowing to extremist organizations in the country. (Source: Awami League)

In 2009, the newly elected Awami League party, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, created a 17-member umbrella organization known as the National Committee on Militancy Resistance and Prevention. The committee, which sought to drum up public support against extremism, was led by the State Minister for Home Affairs, and included members from various ministries and security agencies. (Source: Awami League)

Bangladesh’s focus on countering extremism has resulted in the dismantling of some extremist training camps along the Indian border.

The Community Support Mechanism was formed in 2015 through the Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience (GCERF). The GCERF is a public-private global fund that helps to finance grassroots counter violent extremism (CVE) efforts. GCERF supported the CSM program in Bangladesh by funding a program that allowed local imams and religious scholars to create public awareness programs against extremism with the country’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and National Committee on Militancy Resistance and Prevention. According to a report by the U.S. State Department, counter-narrative messaging from religious leaders has also helped police develop a plan to counter extremist propaganda. (Source: 2015 U.S. State Department Country Report)

Bangladesh’s focus on countering extremism has resulted in the dismantling of some extremist training camps along the Indian border. Authorities have also continued to arrest suspected foreign terrorists who were allegedly attempting to enter Bangladesh, including purported JMB leaders. The Bangladeshi government hopes that without its key leaders, the JMB will become too weak to continue engaging in violence in the country. (Sources: South Asian Terrorism Portal, U.S. State Department Country Report)

Bangladesh continues to implement new standards to its criminal justice system based on the 2012 and 2013 amendments to its Antiterrorism Act of 2009 (ATA). Bangladesh does not legally prohibit “recruitment and travel in furtherance of terrorism,” but the U.S. State Department notes that the ATA, as written, does provide “several mechanisms” for Bangladesh to enforce UN Security Council resolutions that address combatting terrorism. (Source: 2015 U.S. State Department Country Report)

The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of Bangladesh

In 2009, Prime Minister Hasina created the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of Bangladesh to prosecute war crimes committed by violent Islamists during the country’s 1971 war for independence. Since 2009, the court has indicted 10 individuals on charges of various war crimes, including rape, murder, and crimes against humanity. Eight of these men are alleged leaders of the JeI, four of whom were hanged between 2013 and 2016. (Sources: Indian Express, Guardian)

Since 2009, the court has indicted 10 individuals on charges of various war crimes, including rape, murder, and crimes against humanity.

In January 2013, JeI cleric and televangelist Abul Kalam Azad (also known as Bachchu Razakar) became the first person in Bangladesh to be convicted on the ICT’s charges of crimes against humanity. Having fled Bangladesh for Pakistan, Azad was tried in absentia by the ICT and sentenced to hang. His sentence has not been carried out. (Source: Dhaka Tribune, BDNews24.com)

The first to be hanged as a result of the tribunals was JeI politician Abdul Quader Molla. Molla was hanged in December 2013, after originally receiving a life sentence for his role in the 1971 murder of more than 350 civilians. The change in Molla’s sentencing has been credited to the popular Shahbag protests of February 2013, wherein thousands of attendants met in Dhaka’s Shabag square to demand that Molla be hanged for his crimes. Protest leaders also demanded a ban of the JeI and its student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), and called for amendments to the ICT Act to prohibit presidential pardons for those convicted by the ICT. Though the ICT has not been banned, JeI was banned in August of 2013, six months after the protests first erupted. (Sources: BBC News, East Asia Forum, Dhaka Tribune, Bangladesh Awami League)

There were four others sentenced to death for war crimes by the ICT since its inception in 2009. They are:

  • Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, sentenced to death on May 9, 2013 on five counts, including mass murder, rape and torture and hanged on April 11, 2015. (Source: Guardian)
  • Ali Ahsan Mujahid, sentenced to death on July 17, 2013 and hanged on November 22, 2015. (Source: Al Jazeera)
  • Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, sentenced to death on October, 1, 2013 and hanged on November 22, 2015. (Source: Al Jazeera)
  • Motiur Rahman Nizami, head of the JeI, sentenced to death on May 11, 2016. (Source: Al Jazeera)

International Counter-Extremism

Bangladesh has worked on the international arena to counter extremism. The country is a signatory to 14 U.N. Anti-Terrorism Conventions and Protocols, as well as the U.N. Convention against Transnational Crime, and the U.N. Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy signed in 2006. Bangladesh has also implemented domestic laws and policies to conform with U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1267, 1373, and 1455, which sanction organizations and individuals associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In 2012, Bangladesh passed the Money Laundering Prevention Act, which also sought to counter terrorist financing. (Source: Daily Observer)

The United States and Bangladesh signed a Counterterrorism Cooperation Initiative on October 22, 2013.

Bangladesh has cooperated with foreign governments, including the United States and India, to improve its counter-extremism and counterterrorism policies. To that end, the United States and Bangladesh signed a Counterterrorism Cooperation Initiative on October 22, 2013. The Initiative formally enabled U.S. expertise to assist Bangladesh in its efforts to comply with international counterterrorism standards. (Sources: South Asian Terrorism Portal, 2014 U.S. State Department Country Report)

With U.S. cooperation, Bangladesh has enhanced its control over its border and continues to participate in U.S-led counter-terrorism programs. For example, Bangladeshi law enforcement officers continue to receive counterterrorism training through the U.S. State Department’s Antiterrorism Assistance program. Areas of training include aviation security, crisis response, and explosive ordnance disposal. (Source: 2015 U.S. State Department Country Report)

The U.S. State Department has also provided funding to help train members of Bangladesh’s judicial and law enforcement systems. As part of this effort, the United States has provided prosecutorial skills training and community-oriented police training. Moreover, U.S. Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC) continues to provide “security and stability training” to the Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Coast Guard, and Bangladesh’s Navy Special Warfare and Diving Salvage unit. In August 2016, former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Dhaka to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to supporting Bangladeshi counterterrorism effort and discuss ways to improve strategies and information-sharing. (Source: AsiaNews, Diplomat, 2015 U.S. State Department Country Report)

In February 2017, on the sidelines of the Indian Geo-economic Dialogue in Mumbai, the state ministers for foreign affairs of Bangladesh and India agreed upon “constant engagements” to tackle emerging threats, including terrorism and radicalization. In mid-March 2017, Dhaka hosted a three-day conference of international chiefs of police to discuss efforts to combat terrorist violence. Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said his government has a “zero tolerance” policy toward violence that had led to “tremendous success” dismantling extremists and home grown militants in a country-wide crackdown launched after the July 2016 Dhaka café attack. He said his government would “work in partnership with religious scholars to discourage faith-based radicalization and to urge community leaders to guide young people toward more constructive beliefs and ideas.” (Source: BSSNews.com, bdnews24.com, Daily Star)

On August 18, 2014, India’s Border Security Force (BSF) reportedly shared the location of 66 militant camps in Bangladesh with the country’s border control officials. India’s BSF claimed that these Bangladeshi-based camps were the launching pad for attacks into and against India. While specific Islamist groups are not mentioned in reference to the BSF allegations, other reports indicate that, since 2001, the small town of Ukhia in Chittagong, Bangladesh, has served as a safe haven for Islamist militant organizations.  (Sources: South Asian Terrorism Portal, 2014 U.S. State Department Country Report)

Following an October 2014 bomb explosion in an apartment in Burdwan, West Bengal, a Bangladeshi investigation exposed a JMB cell that was reportedly connected to Islamist militant networks in India. The incident was a major motivation for India and Bangladesh’s drafting the Coordinated Border Management Plan later that year. (Sources: South Asian Terrorism Portal, 2014 U.S. State Department Country Report)

Public Opinion

A 2015 poll of more than 2,000 Bangladeshis by the International Republican Institute found overall positive views of the country’s economic progress, support for democracy, and majority support for democracy generally, as well as the current pro-secular government specifically. Corruption and law and order ranked high on a list of concerns, while extremism came in at the bottom with only one percent of respondents citing it as a particular issue of interest. (Sources: BD News 24, International Republican Institute)

A subsequent poll in March 2016 found a nine percentage point increase in the number of Bangladeshis who felt their country was headed in the right direction. Eighty-three percent of respondents said that security conditions in Bangladesh were very good, although anxiety about the security situation had increased eight percentage points since 2015. For the first time, the poll tested Bangladeshi public opinion regarding extremism. Fifty-three percent of respondents said they felt political extremism was a “very big problem” in Bangladesh, and 44 percent felt that religious extremism was a “very big problem.” Only six percent of respondents said that religious extremism was the main cause of extremism, with “political differences” the most common (38 percent) response. (Source: International Republican Institute)

An earlier poll in 2009 concluded that approximately 38 percent of the 1,000 Bangladeshis believed that democracy is compatible with Islam. Sixty-six percent polled stated that if a law was democratically passed it should not be vetoed for religious reasons. Almost a third of those polled supported the existence of some type of religious body to veto a law deemed un-Islamic. (Sources: International Republican Institute, National Interest)