The international terrorist organisation Islamic State (IS) earlier issued travel alerts to COVID-19 affected regions after the pandemic had broken out in Europe. The organisation has currently changed their strategy.
The militant group says the national and international forces that cornered them, are now under pressure. Social instability and economic crises are inevitable in many countries and this is an opportunity.
The militant organisations went into hiding in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, but they did not stop their activities.
Militancy is psychological. Militancy is not halted during the coronavirus outbreak. The coronavirus pandemic has not been able to remove extremism from those who are already been motivated. It is not that the militants carry out attacks all the time. So the law enforcing agencies should remain alert round the clock.Imtiaz Ahmed, international relations professor at Dhaka University
Sources in the law enforcing agencies said the militants are using this time during the pandemic to collect members online. After the end of the general holiday, spokesmen of militant organisations have opened channels in encrypted apps and are preaching their ideology. Chief of Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) of police, Monirul Islam, said there is no fear of big militant attacks at this moment. After the terrorist attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan, CTTC conducted six operations in Dhaka and more operations in 11 districts. Neo Jamaatul Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB) carried out attacks on police in Dhaka, Khulna and Chattogram last year. But police arrested them. Ansar al-Islam has no activities in the field.
At that time operations were carried out at 17 militant hideouts. As many as 998 suspected militants were arrested. Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) law and media wing director Sarwar Bin Kashem said some 60 people have been arrested on suspicion of militancy during the lockdown.
According to the intelligence information, the militants are making efforts to reorganise. Preferring not to be identified, officials said the militants have been able to inspire many to involve in militant activities using their weakness for religion.
Five people have gone to Saudi Arabia from Bangladesh Agriculture University. Eight more people have been arrested from Dhaka while going to Saudi Arabia. Seven to eight people are still missing. Most of them are engineers. Instigators motivated them saying that COVID-19 is a sign of destruction of the world. Now it is the time to leave the country to become followers of Imam Mahdi.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, international relations professor at Dhaka University, Imtiaz Ahmed, said militancy is psychological. Militancy has not halted during the coronavirus outbreak. The coronavirus pandemic has not been able to remove extremism from those who have already been motivated. It is not that the militants carry out attacks all the time. So the law enforcing agencies should remain alert round the clock.
Not everything about the militant activities could be known. So far it is learnt the militants have changed their strategies. They are using dark webs. There is little scope to monitor that.Shahab Enam Khan, professor of international relations at Jahangirnagar University
Militancy started in Bangladesh with the emergence of Muslim Millat in 1986. The organisation launched its violent acts by carrying out an attack on a meeting of Udichi in Jashore in 1992. They killed 145 people by carrying out 16 attacks including at Ramna Batomol in 2001 and a rally of Awami League on 21 August 2004.
The militants are launching campaigns by opening channels in different apps.
Jamaatul Mujahidin Bangladesh (which is called old JMB) formed in 2000, Neo JMB, Ansar al-Islam and Hizb ut-Tahrir are now active. These four organisations follow the ideology of international militant organisations. So analysts do not think Bangladesh is free of risk.
What is the plan?
IS mouthpiece Al-Naba unveiled their next plan at the end of March. International Crisis Group analysed the report published in Al-Naba. The crisis group said the target of attack is the western world and in the words of IS, the Muslim states are run by the atheist western governments. The crisis group is a platform of 47 members from 30 countries. This group analyses different issues in the world. Former prime ministers, foreign ministers, diplomats and officials are the members.
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres has also expressed apprehension that the militants may become active again due to weaknesses and lack of preparation of the states.
CTTC chief Monirul Islam said Ansar al-Islam secretly became very powerful. But they have lost that power due to regular security operations.
Historically the militant activities in Bangladesh depend on the activities of militants in foreign countries. Militants in Bangladesh tried to become active after the attacks on the mosque in New Zealand and Sri Lanka. There is no alternative to remaining alert, the official said.
Professor of international relations at Jahangirnagar University, Shahab Enam Khan said not everything about the militant activities could be known. So far it is learnt the militants have changed their strategies. They are using dark webs. There is little scope to monitor that.
Sources at the law enforcing agencies said a portion of virtual communication is being controlled from outside of the country. The intelligence agencies have heard both the groups talking in Bangla. Earlier, the militant organisations operated activities in only telegram apps. Now they have launched channels in Hup and Tam Tam apps. Persons in charge of media wing are conducting these. They are uploading contents of their own or translated from foreign languages. They are contacting individually after analysing reactions. They are recruiting members of their choice.
The militants have chosen public interest issues for launching campaigns. An official of CCTC said they have analysed 100 leaflets of Ansar al-Islam and 30 per cent of it is against the democratic institutions in western countries. And 25 per cent of the contents are against the activities of Bangladesh government. 25 per cent are against the corruption and misuse of law. 20 per cent of the contents depict the torture of Muslims in different countries.
The militant groups selected these issues to attract people to engage with them. These issues are related to general people. They consider democracy 'kufri' and instigate general people by presenting negative aspects of the government. They are discussing the weaknesses of the health sector during the pandemic.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.