Where are the 'missing' youths?

(Clockwise) Md Nesar Uddin, Ibrahim, Md Miraz, Md Hossain, Rakib Hasnat, Md Sabith, Zahed chowdhury and Roman Shikder

The number of youths, who left their houses in the name of ‘hijrat’ after being involved in militancy, is on the rise. There are reports of more than 50 youths from different parts of the country leaving their houses for ‘hijrat’.

Some six years after the horrifying militant attack at Gulshan's upscale Holey Artisan Bakery, such a trend of leaving homes motivated by militancy among the youths is quite alarming, say the experts.

It has been learned that a certain militant outfits started training youths in different militant hideouts early this year. According to a source, the ideology of this militant outfit is different from the IS (Islamic State) ideologues, who carried out the Holey Artisan attack in 2016. The activity of this militant group is similar to that of Ansar Al Islam, which follows Al Qaeda from an ideological point of view.

Late last month, the issue of 'hijrat' (migration or moving from one place to another) came to the attention of the law enforcement agencies after starting the investigation into the disappearance of seven college students from Cumilla. After that, seven more people from Patuakhali, Dhaka, Narayanganj and Gopalganj were reported to be missing for two to three months.

Besides, four youths from Sylhet have been missing since 15 November last year. They are -- Sheikh Ahmed Mamun, 23, Md Hasan Sayeed, 24, Saiful Islam Tuhin, 24 and Md Sadiqur Rahman, 33. Teams of police and Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) are working to find them.

According to RAB sources, they have information that the missing reports of youths from Cumilla, Sylhet and lastly from Patuakhali are interconnected.

A source relevant to the law enforcement agency says after launching the investigation into the disappearance of youths from the three districts, they have found information about more than 50 youths, who left their home the similar way.

Asked about this, commander Khandaker Al Moin, director of RAB’s media wing, told Prothom Alo that after getting the information about the disappearance of seven youths from Cumilla, RAB started vigilance on another four persons based on intelligence information. They were also trying to leave for hijrat. RAB took them into custody and later handed over them to their families. Those four informed RAB that several other youths were preparing to leave for hijrat. According to different sources and intelligence information, a number of youths are in hijrat at the moment.

He said, “Many families try to hide information or do not want to disclose anything about it. It becomes quite difficult to find the youths who left for hijrat when the families deny providing any information.”

Apart from Sylhet and Cumilla, those who left home in the name of hijrat are – Al-Amin, 22, Md Miraz, 25 and Ibrahim, 19 from Laukathi village of Patuakhali Sadar, Md Sabith from Ander Char village under Rangabali police station, Md Hossain from Dobasipara village in Kuakata, Roman Sikder, 23 from Gopalganj, Rakib Hasnat, 28 from Sutrapur area in Puran Dhaka and Zahed Chowdhury alias Jamil, 24 from Sanarpara area in Narayanganj.

Of them, Miraz has completed his honours from Dhaka College, according to his brother Md Milon. He runs a business in Laukathi. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said Miraz left home on 16 July saying he would take part in three ‘chillas’ (1 chilla is equal to 40 days) under Tablighi Jamaat. His phone has been found switched off since then. Lastly, Miraz talked to his aunt on ‘imo’ last month.

Al-Amin, a student of Patuakhali Polytechnic Institute, left home in the third week of July. His family doesn’t know about his whereabouts at the moment. His father Forkan Fakir told Prothom Alo, “Al-Amin had sold his phone before leaving the house. He called his mother on imo before Eid-ul-Azha (before 10 July). He said he would take part in Tabligh and was in Dhaka. But he didn’t say anything about his whereabouts. The imo ID he used had Arabic initials and it didn’t show any number.”

Speaking to Prothom Alo on Friday, Forkan Fakir said, “Al-Amin called his sister on imo last week. He told her, ‘Complete the SSC exams well. I will call you after the exam. You will have to take admission in a madrasah, not in a college.’”

Ibrahim from the same area was studying kariyana at a madrasah in Kuakata after passing SSC. His father Nuruzzaman said, “Some 8-10 days after leaving home, Ibrahim called his mother over the phone and told her that he was in Dhaka with somebody. He said he would take admission in a madrasah there. I said come home and I will get you admitted to a madrasah. He has not contacted anymore after that.”

Al-Amin, Ibrahim and Miraz went on Tablig together. Al-Amin left home three months ago while the other two left home two months ago. The families are not sure whether the three are in collusion or not.

Meanwhile, Md Nesar Uddin, an official of the Agricultural Research Institute in Barishal, went missing after the investigation into the disappearance of seven youths from Cumilla started. He is also from the same area as the three. Ibrahim’s father Nuruzzaman said Nesar knew his son and got acquainted with Ibrahim through Tabligh.

However, a source affiliated with the investigation said a number of youths, who left home for hijrat, were encouraged by Nesar Uddin.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, his wife Sonia Begum said she had no idea about the whereabouts of his husband. He used to live in Bhola at his workplace. He used to come home on weekends.

Hasan Mir, father of missing Sabith from Ander Char in Patuakhali, said Sabit left home around two months ago. Later, he called over the phone and said he had taken a job at Al-Amin’s electric goods shop in the capital’s Mohammadpur area. He said he was living in the Shyamoli area in the capital. However, he denied giving his address. He used to call sometimes. He contacted her elder sister on 16 September. He didn’t contact us after that.

Md Hossain of Dobasipara in Kuakata left home some one and a half months ago. His father Harunur Rashid told Prothom Alo, “He didn’t say anything in this regard before leaving. Later, he called and said he was in Dhaka. However, he didn’t disclose his address.

He said Hossain knew Ibrahim. Ibrahim was lodging in the village while studying in a madrassah in Kuakata. However, Hossain was more close to Rakib Hasan from the Puran Dhaka area in the capital. Rakib also studied in that madrassah in Kuakata for some time as well. He used to lodge in a house in Hossain’s village. He even visited Dhaka with Rakib.

However, Rakib’s mother Rashida Hasnat told Prothom Alo that nobody named Hossain had ever come to their house with her son. She too does not know about his son’s whereabouts.

She said Rakib didn’t have any fixed job. He used to leave the house for months with no contact with the family often. Rakib has been missing for one and a half months.

Zahed Chowdhury alias Jamil of Narayanganz had a tailor shop. He has been missing for two months. When contacted over the phone on Wednesday, his brother Md Masud said, “Everyone in the house knows that Jamil left the house for Tablig. We don’t know anything else.”

However, according to the law enforcement agencies, Jamil has left along with the seven missing youths of Cumilla.

Meanwhile, Shah Mohammad Habibullah, imam of Masjide Qoba in the area, has been missing since the start of the investigation into the disappearance of seven youths.

RAB says Habibullah has encouraged a number of youth, aged between 17 to 22 years, in radicalism.

Commander Khandker Al Moin, director of RABs legal and media wing says this trend of leaving the house motivated by militancy among the youth is quite alarming.

He said, “The attackers of the Holey Artisan massacre also had left their home the same way. Now the trend of leaving for hijrat has returned again. It will be a matter of great concern if we cannot find them. They may carry out any kind of sabotage.”

*This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu