Much has been written about the horrific terrorist attack in Dhaka on July 1 and what it portends for India. The ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack – was this claim genuine or an attempt by ISIS to steal the march over Al Qaeda has also been speculated upon. Why was Dhaka struck when India was comparatively quiet (was it?) so on and so forth. But before we get to the Dhaka massacre, it would be prudent remember what MK Dhar, former Joint Director IB scripted in his book ‘Open Secrets – India’s Intelligence unveiled’ wherein he said:
“Way back in 1992-93, the process of ‘transplanting armed modules’ in the heartland of India had started taking cognizable shape. Some of these cells were identified in Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Kota/Ajmer region of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala. SIMI had already started deputing ‘volunteers’ to Pakistan for training along with the mujahideen, Taliban and Al Qaeda cadres. They established firm linkages with Islamic Chhatra Shibir, Al Qaeda affiliated HUJI, Al Badr, Al Jihad and other organizations in Bangladesh and were trained in facilities located inside Bangladesh and under the very noses of DGFI and BDR.”
But in backdrop of the above, it is equally important to acknowledge the following: Pakistan’s ISI is inexorably linked to AHAB, ABT, JMB / JMJB and HUJI in Bangladesh; Pakistani terrorist Asim Umar heading Al Qaeda’s South Asia branch, tasked to cover the region from Afghanistan to Myanmar, sprouted from his mother organization HUJI that used to run branches in Kashmir, Bangladesh and Myanmar; in December last 2015, our media had quoted intelligence agencies assessing that there may be 23 Indians in Iraq and Syria fighting for the ISIS; the internet is being optimized for radicalization within India and abroad and needs to be monitored continuously; busting of three terror modules in recent months from Roorkee and Hyderabad had pan-India profiles, with one module in Hyderabad preparing the explosive traicetone triperoxide (TATP) used in the Paris and Brussels attacks; the JMB in Bangladesh has aligned with the ISIS with Shaykh Abu Ibrahim, JMB chief declaring ISIS intends to use fighters from Pakistan and Bangladesh to mount guerilla type of attacks, and; most significantly the China-Pakistan sub-conventional nexus will continue to encourage / use terrorism against India.
Coming to the Dhaka terrorist strike on July 1, at 21:20 hours local time, seven terrorists (all Bangladeshi citizens) armed with assault rifles, bombs and a sword attacked the Holey Artisan Bakery-cum-Café in the Gulshan area close to in the diplomatic enclave of Dhaka, Bangladesh firing indiscriminately, lobbing bombs, taking hostages and killing two police officers. Bangladesh’s army commandos stormed the scene next day at 7:40 in the morning killing six terrorists, capturing one terrorist alive and rescuing 13 hostages. Overall 28 people were killed; six terrorists, four Bangladeshis and 18 foreigners (nine Italians, seven Japanese, one Indian and one US national). Some 50 others were also reported injured – mostly police personnel. The terrorists had made following demands to release the hostages: Khaled Saifullah, leader of JuM be released from prison; safe exit of hostage takers, and; terrorist mission to establish extremist interpretation of Islam be recognized.
These demands were not accepted. As per media reports, the foreigners were put to the sword – throats slit brutally. The ISIS claimed responsibility of the attack albeit as per one media report the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam (also called Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) or Ansar Bangla) had announced the upcoming attack via a tweet almost 10 hours before the actual attack took place. Significantly, ABT is an al Qaeda front group that became active in Bangladesh during 2007 as the Jama’atul Muslemin funded by many NGOs, subsided when funding dried up, and resurfaced in 2010 as the ABT. ABT is a banned organization notorious for killing liberal bloggers, bank heists, and is reportedly linked to the Islami Chhatra Shibir; student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami party of Bangladesh.
The fact remains that while ISIS and Al Qaeda remain different organizations, their aims largely coalesce and many instances have been reported of their helping each other in the Iraq-Syria region. Very recently, Hasan ul-Haq, Bangladesh Information Minister had told journalists on April 14 that some 8,000 Bangladeshi youth had returned home after being trained by Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, adding:
“There is an alliance between the military forces (read Pakistani military-ISI), home-grown terrorists and international terror networks and we are fighting them.”
So, the linkage of Pakistan’s ISI and Pakistani terrorist heading Al Qaeda’s South Asia branch to the Dhaka terror attack too become apparent. Yes, the killing of Hindus in Bangladesh continues to occur but such incidences were much more in the past during the Khaleda Zia’s BNP regime when four major anti-India terrorist training camps were operating in Bangladesh with Al Qaeda and ISI instructors, with Hindus being killed by the dozens, raped and forced to flee leaving their properties behind. Ironically, the Indian media remained silent because of the ruling mafia. Little wonder that Khaleda Zia’s regime was wholly aligned with the China-Pakistan sub-conventional nexus, with Bangladeshi army also exercising its own version of ‘Cold Start’; get up and go to the Siliguri Corridor extending support to the China-Pakistan assisted terror groups operating in this narrow region.
It is true that Sheikh Hasina and her government have come down heavily on terrorism and radical organizations. So, the incidents like the recent terror attack in Dhak may recur to put pressure on her. It is to her credit that she did not bow to the terrorist demands. No doubt intelligence agencies had been warning of Dhaka like attacks but that has become routine in most parts of the world. While the world acknowledges there can be no fool-proof cyber security, same applies to terror strikes in democracies like India and Bangladesh.
Our counter-terrorism cooperation with the Sheikh Hasina government in Bangladesh must be sustained at the highest level. Reading between the lines, Bangladesh did not appear to be too happy in this context with the happenings in West Bengal some months back. Hopefully corrective action has been taken at the State level now that elections are over. At the same time, the politico-terror-narcotics nexus must be ruthlessly stamped out. In the ultimate analysis whether the Dhaka terror attack was the handiwork of ISIS or Al Qaeda or both, terrorism is one big radical mass that has developed guttural linkages with most terrorist organizations around the world, and the threat is increasing exponentially.
From media reports over the last few months, our NIA is has conducted itself professionally well by clamping down on terrorists, their modules and organizations. However, India will continue to be targeted by terrorist organizations especially with support being extended to them by our adversaries. The obvious need is to accord priority to ‘prevent’ terrorist acts and should an act take place with alacrity minimizing the losses. At the same time we need to monitor and minimize radicalization, which is the very basis on which terrorism and support to terrorism thrives.
Therefore, sustained de-radicalization plans need to be evolved and applied which must be specifically tailored for various sections of the society. Having been subjected to terror past two and a half decades plus, India must optimize counter-terrorism efforts internally, and globally in concert with its strategic and defence partners, countries facing similarly and like-minded countries.