Law enforcement agency officials affiliated with the anti-militant drive and investigation said the new militant outfit started getting organised in 2017. It was an initiative by the former activists of three banned militant outfits – Ansar Al Islam, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Harkatul Jihad. They named the organisation as Jama'atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya in 2019. By that time, they had already started recruiting new members from different areas.

A source familiar with the matter said that in order to train members, this militant group established contact with the new militant outfit in the hills named Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF). In exchange of money, KNF contracted to train members of Jamaatul Ansar in their camps in Ruma, Thanchi of Bandarbanan and Bilaichari upazila of Rangamati.

KNF is comparatively a new militant outfit in the hills. Although it was formed at the initiative of a faction of the small ethnic group Bawm, it now claims to represent at least six small ethnic groups.

According to sources concerned, training of these new militants started at the camp of KNF at the end of 2021. The training was on operating weapons, creating bombs, guerilla attacks and ambushing. According to the documents recovered in the recent drives at the KNF camps, an agreement that was signed between the KNF and Jaamatul Ansar for training the new militant was valid till 2023. So far, some 55 new members have been sent to the hills for training in three batches.

The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) got to know about this new militant group, who are followers of Al Qaeda, while searching for the seven youths who went missing simultaneously from Cumilla.

Later in October, RAB published a report of 55 missing persons. Some of these persons were arrested later. RAB also started conducting raids at training centres in remote hill areas of Bandarban and Rangamati in October last year with the help of law enforcement agencies.

According to sources, there were 53 members of KNF hideout at hill during the operation. Five of them were arrested in hill area, two in Cox’s Bazar and another in Dhaka. The remaining operatives went into hiding in the hills and manhunt is underway to detain them.

RAB legal and media wing director commander Khandaker Al Moin said on Tuesday that so far 38 members of this outfit have been arrested.

The outfit’s military wing chief, Mashukur Rahman alias Ranbir and his associate Abul Bashar Mridha alias Alam were arrested from Ukhiya of Cox’s Bazar on early Monday, the RAB official said adding, a mobile phone containing a video message on training of their members in the hills was seized from the possession of Masukur Rahman.

The RAB released a video documentary at its media centre in the capital's Karwan Bazar area on Tuesday. The video shows a group of 22-23 people in military uniform receiving training with AK-22 rifles and shotguns. The RAB has identified almost all of them.

Jama'atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya ameer Anisur Rahman alias Mahmud, its so-called military commander Shibbir Ahmed alias Hamid Karche, publicity wing chief Abdullah Maimun were also seen in the video. The first and the second batches of militants sent to the hill for training were seen in the video. Though the outfit’s military wing chief, Mashukur Rahman alias Ranbir was not seen in the video, his associate Abul Bashar Mridha alias Alam arrested from Cox’s Bazar was seen in it. RAB said Abul Bashar Mridha is a powerful leader of the outfit and a bomb maker.

At press conference, RAB spokesperson Khandaker Al Moin said the seized video showed several military training camp, namely Jordan camp, Dr Ahmed camp, Retlang camp and Ramzudan camp beneath Ramzudan hill. All these camps are located in remote area of Bandarban. Jama'atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya ameer Anisur Rahman alias Mahmud was seen at the beginning of the video and a trainer of CHT armed group Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) was also seen behind the militant outfit’s chief.

The video showed two members tasked with the responsibility of military activities or overall training at the camp, the RAB official said adding, Shibbir Ahmed alias Hamid Karche and Md Didar alias Champai were also seen in the video and these two were given two separate responsibilities while Mashukur Rahman supervised entire military affairs. Two more persons namely Saleh and Al-Amin were also seen in the video and Saleh disclosed the location of the grave of two members of Jama'atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya in Babdarban several days ago.

Commander Khandaker Al Moin said Jama'atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya military wing chief Mashukur Rahman was quizzed on the reason for making this video and Mashukur stated they made video on war strategy, carrying arms, situation during patrol and blockade, 360-dgree position of their members during raid at enemy’s camp and exercise on attack.

Asked on the motive of the video, Khandaker Al Moin said the video was mainly made to further encourage the outfit members staying in CHT and receiving training as well as to explain the responsibility of the members who will join its military wing. Another motive of the video was to inspire people living in plain land.

Sources familiar with militancy related investigation said the militant outfit wanted to release this video when it wanted to reveal itself by launching a big attack. They also wanted to build a website to draw the attention of international military organisation.

Previously, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) launched a bomb attack and distributed leaflets in 63 districts across the country simultaneously on 17 August 2005 to reveal itself. A neo militant group claiming to be Islamic State launched the Holey Artisan Bakery attack in Dhaka in 2016 and took the responsibility of the attack releasing photos online. Both outfits, however, became dysfunctional in face of non-stop raid by law enforcement agencies.

Wishing anonymity, an official attending the raid this time said many youths inspired by the ideology of IS left home in the name of ‘hizrat’ before the Holey Artisan attack and they took part in many frightening attack later. This time, if the general diary regarding missing of these seven youths from Cumilla was not taken seriously, an extreme danger might take place, the official said claiming they would be able to bring this neo militant group under control soon.

*report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu and Hasanul Banna