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Bangladesh’s War on Terror Unlikely to End Soon
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Binodkumar Singh | Date:19 Jan , 2018 0 Comments
Binodkumar Singh
is a Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s Awami League-led government, which retained power winning the 10th general elections on January 5, 2014, consolidated its secular commitments through 2017, reining in Islamist extremist groups and targeting the country’s Left Wing Extremist (LWE) movement.  

Data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal shows that 52 Islamist terrorists were killed and 906 arrested in raids across Bangladesh in 2017. These included cadres of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Chhatra Shibir, Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Neo-Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (Neo-JMB), Ansar al-Islam, Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B), Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Jamaat-e-Taliban and Allah’r Dal. A total of 74 Islamist terrorists were killed in 2016 and 31 in 2015. 

15 LWE-linked fatalities were recorded, all of terrorists, in 2017. These included operatives of the Purbo Banglar Communist Party and Purbo Banglar Sarbahara Party. In 2016, there were 18 LWE fatalities, all of terrorists, and 17 in 2015. 

Meanwhile, the War Crimes Trials, which began proceedings on March 25, 2010, have so far indicted 89 leaders, including 44 from Jamaat-e-Islami;16 from the Muslim League; five from Nezam-e-Islami; four from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP); two each from the Jatiya Party (JP) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); 15 former Razakars (a prominent pro-Pakistan militia); and one former Al-Badr member.

Verdicts have been delivered against 59 accused, including 37 death penalties and 22 life sentences. Six of the 37 people awarded the death sentence have been hanged; 18 are absconding and another 13 cases are pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. 

On March 11, 2017, the Bangladesh Parliament unanimously adopted a resolution to observe March 25 as ‘Genocide Day’, marking the brutality carried out by the Pakistani Army and its collaborators on unarmed Bengalis on the night of March 25, 1971. The Pakistani Army launched ‘Operation Searchlight’ that evening and an estimated 7,000 people were killed and 3,000 arrested in one night.

A new security dilemma for Bangladesh in 2017 was created by Rohingya refugees from the Rakhine State of Myanmar. A new wave of refugees swept in after the incident of August 25, 2017, in which hundreds of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army insurgents, armed with machetes and rifles, attacked 30 security posts in the Rakhine state, killing 12 policemen, a soldier and an immigration officer. In response, the Myanmar military unleashed what it called “clearance operations” to root out the insurgents. On December 24, 2017, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) stated that in four months since the influx of Rohingyas began, 655,000 people had arrived in Bangladesh, bringing the estimated total number of Rohingyas in the country to 867,500. 

Disturbingly, terrorist outfits have tried to take advantage of the Rohingya crisis. In a video message released by al Qaeda’s al-Malahem Media Foundation on September 3, 2017, Khaled Batarfi called on Muslims in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Malaysia to support their Rohingya Muslim brethren against the “enemies of Allah.” Similarly, on September 12, 2017, Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) Chief Maulana Masood Azhar declared, “All of us must do whatever we can for the Myanmar Muslims.” 

On December 19, 2017, Bangladesh Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu warned that the influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh could fuel terrorism and the movement of illegal drugs. 

Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement on November 23, 2017, for the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh to escape violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. 

The development came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in a written statement, declared, “After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.” Earlier, United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, slammed Myanmar for conducting a “cruel military operation” against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, branding it “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. 

According to the agreement signed between Dhaka and Naypyitaw on November 23, the repatriation process must start within two months of its signing; from January 22, 2018. However, it is unclear how many Rohingyas will be repatriated in the first phase as the joint working group has not yet completed the physical arrangements. 

A startling revelation by Anti-Terrorism Unit (ATU) officials on October 1 disclosed that terrorist outfits have become tech-savvy, and are increasingly using encrypted communications applications (apps) to maintain communications online, making it harder for law enforcement agencies to trace them. They noted that terrorists initially used popular apps like Facebook and Messenger, and Google Hangouts to communicate, but had begun shifting to encrypted messaging apps like Threema, Telegram and Wickr to maintain secrecy. Terrorists also use WhatsApp, Viber, Tango, Hike and several other similar apps, which also have the encryption facility, but they rapidly switch platforms to avoid detection. They are likely to move to the more advanced Silent Circle, Signal, Chat Secure, OS Tel or Red Phone, which are more privacy-conscious. If they do this, tracing their secret and online networks will prove even more challenging. 

Bangladesh has taken giant strides to root out terrorism after the country suffered its worst terrorist attack on July 1, 2016 and shown determined and relentless action against terrorist formations through 2017. By bringing the perpetrators of war crimes to justice, Dhaka has also succeeded in minimizing the threat of Islamist extremists within the country, both because they have become conscious of the clear intent of the incumbent government, and because many of their top leaders are among those arraigned or convicted for war crimes. 

However, as terrorists adapt, exploiting new technologies and new tactics, the challenge remains strong. Additionally, the scope for a coalition of terrorists with radicalised elements among the Rohingyas forced across the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, could create new challenges. Bangladesh’s “war on terror” is unlikely to end soon.


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