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Over the past two months, CTTC arrested seven members of Ansar Al Islam and one extremist. They include a former student of a medical college, a private university student, government college students and madrasah students.

Deputy commissioner of CTTC Abdul Mannan told Prothom Alo, information collected during recent police drives indicate that Ansar Al Islam is now focusing on building up a strong support group. They are basically using social media for the purpose. They say that at the moment 80 per cent of their activities are to do with their media unit.

Sources say that that Ansar Al Islam follows Al Qaeda’s ideology and instructions. They aim at mobilising public opinion on issues pertaining to common grievances of the people, forming support groups from where they will select activists, and targeting madrasah and university students for recruitment

Law enforcement sources have said that the country coordinator of Ansar Al Islam is Syed Ziaul Haque, an army major who had been dismissed from the armed forces. This organisation emerged in 2013 with the hacking to death of blogger Rajib Haider. From then till 2016, the organisation was involved in nine killings. On April 2016, members of the group entered a house in Kalabagan of the capital city and killed USAID employee Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi.

According to the police, Ziaul Huq sends messages to the activists three or four times a year. His last message was sent on 29 Ramadan last year.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, CTTC additional deputy commissioner Ahmedul Islam said that they had arrested Baqi Billah and Ariful Islam, two members who kept in contact with the dismissed army major Syed Ziaul Huq. Baqi Billah had been a student of Rajshahi Medical College but had not completed his studies. However, he was extremely skilled in the use of technology.

In 2013, Al Qaeda had published ‘General Guidelines for Jihad’. The guidelines instructed members not to isolate themselves from society. Sources say that that Ansar Al Islam follows Al Qaeda’s ideology and instructions. They aim at mobilising public opinion on issues pertaining to common grievances of the people, forming support groups from where they will select activists, and targeting madrasah and university students for recruitment. They also plan to form an alliance with the alems within the country. They are particularly interested in persons with IT expertise.

During interrogations, Baqi Billah told police that he had started up a tail operating system for Ansar Al Islam. Pen drives are used for this. Once the pen drive is removed from the device used for communication, there is no trace left on the device. They had been trying to create a software that can evade surveillance and had even proceeded quite far. But then they were caught.

Police have come to know that Syed Ziaul Huq told his members that he was attaching priority to security and secrecy. Recruitment was not their objective at the moment. This would not be a sustainable move.

International relations teacher at Dhaka University, ASM Ali Ashraf, speaking to Prothom Alo, said that verdicts had been passed in the writer Avijit Roy and publisher Faisal Arefin’s murder cases. Police were steadily making arrests. That is why Ansar Al Islam has taken a step back and moved away somewhat from its militant attacks. So they would probably now be focusing recruiting members, publicity, fund raising and networking.

From 2013 till 2016, this Al-Qaeda oriented organisation, Ansar Al Islam, have been involved in nine killings.

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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