Saifullah Ozaki, who would recruit members for the ISIS from Bangladesh and send them to Syria, has been traced. He is in a jail at the Iraqi Kurdistan city of Sulaimaniyah.
Ozaki surrendered to the CTG (Kurdistan Counter Terrorism Group) two months ago, according to a Bangladeshi intelligence agency.
Confirming the news, a senior official of the intelligence agency told Prothom Alo, nine Bangladeshi militants either surrendered or were arrested after the fall of the last Syrian ISIS (Islamic State) hideout in Baghouz. Three among the nine were identified.
Zunaid Hassan and Tahmid Shafi were the two others. They were detained by US-backed Syrian Democratic Force. Zunaid was detained from Syria's Deir al-Zor on 13 March.
An investigation officer at the DMP Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit told Prothom Alo, they received information that Zunaid's brother Ibrahim Hossain Khan was killed in a drone attack on an ISIS hideaway in Syria in February.
The officer, on condition of anonymity, said they recently received a message, sent to the US from Kurdistan CTG, saying Ozaki surrendered to the Kurdi forces in Baghouz, Syria on 15 March. He was then transferred to the Solaimaniyah prison.
The message also stated that Ozaki went to Bulgaria from Japan via Syria with his family in 2015. Later, his wife and two children, Muhammad and Umme, were killed in an air attack later. Three of his children, Isha, 7, Yousuf, 3, and Sarah, 1, are still in Syria.
The DMP CTTC unit head Manirul Islam told Prothom Alo that the there was no scope to receive information from Syria, officially, but they would look into the matter. Earlier, they were informed through Japanese intelligence that Ozaki was staying in Bulgaria, but they did not have any updates over his whereabouts, he added.
According to the law enforcement and Ozaki's family, Saifullah Ozaki was originally Hindu by religion. His original name was Sujit Debnath and his father Janardan Debnath comes from village Koroi in Nabinagar, Brahmanbaria. He passed the higher secondary exams from Sylhet Cadet College in 2001. He went to study at Asia Pacific University in Japan with a scholarship from the Japan government in 2002.
Ozaki’s father thinks he might have taken up the new name, Saifullah Ozaki, after being converted to Islam in Japan before being granted citizenship there and marrying a Japanese girl.
According to the Japanese media, Ozaki earned his PhD degree in 2011 and joined Ritsumeikan University as a teacher. The university authority fired him in March 2016 as he was absent without permission since January that year.
Sources said a large section of the Bangladeshis who went to Syria, inspired towards militancy, did so through Ozaki. Most of them studied at cadet colleges in Bangladesh.
CTTC unit head Monirul Islam in a press briefing on 29 July 2017, said they first learnt about Ozaki after detaining Aminul Islam Begh from the capital's Uttara in 2015.
A case was filed against eight persons including Aminul Islam Begh, a former Barishal Cadet College student, and Saifullah Ozaki, with the Uttara (west) police station on 24 May 2015.
The CTTC unit, on 25 March this year, submitted a charge sheet of the case before the chief judicial magistrate court in Dhaka. The charge sheet stated that the defendants led in setting up militant organisations along with recruiting members and conducting terrorist activities in Bangladesh, in communication with ISIS.
Ozaki spread ISIS ideology through a Facebook page titled 'Ex-cadet Islamic Learning Forum' and financed sabotage in the country along with other assignments of ISIS, the charge sheet added.
The exact number of Bangladeshis going to Syria through Ozaki is unknown. Earlier, Gazi Kamrus Salam aka Sohan, ex cadet college student and an engineer, was detained in the country in 2016 after returning home from Syria. During interrogation, Kamrus told the law enforcement that Md Mohibur Rahman, former Sylhet Cadet College student, and Nazibullah Ansari, former Rajshahi Cadet College student and an engineer, went to Syria through Ozaki.
Janardan Debnath said they first come to know about his son Ozaki being involved in militancy when the local police came to their house in 2015. Janardan talked to his son over phone, who at that time was in Japan. Ozaki claimed he donated the money not for militancy but for orphans. This was the last communication between the two.
Bangladesh does not have the statistics regarding the number of persons who went to Syria including the number of deaths or other details.
A law enforcement source in Dhaka referred to a foreign terrorist fighters list prepared by a certain western country, which said over 40 Bangladeshis went to Syria from Bangladesh during 2014-15.
* This piece appeared online in Prothom Alo in Bangla and has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin