Travel permit restrictions to prevent return of militants

Rozina Islam . Dhaka | Update:

Militant illustrationIn order to prevent the return of Bangladeshi militants who joined wars in Syria and Iraq, the home ministry has issued directives to Bangladesh embassies abroad not to issue travel permits without the ministry's approval.

This decision was reportedly taken at a recent meeting between the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the top officials of home ministry.

The home ministry’s immigration department under the security services division sent a letter to the foreign ministry on 16 May, stating that security threats had increased recently due to militant activities in the international arena. Granting travel permits without proper verification could pose as a threat to the country's security, the letter said.

Militants might conceal their identity and enter the country, the letter added, asking the foreign ministry to issue directives in this regard to Bangladesh's diplomatic missions abroad.

Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the airports have also been alerted about militants entering the country. The airports have been provided details of militants with Bangladeshi passports, he added.

"The US has said certain militants who were Bangladeshi-origin US citizens, were also trying to enter Bangladesh. The agencies in Bangladesh do not have much information about the matter. As they did not have passports, they might try to get travel permits from the embassies and enter Bangladesh. That is why it has been decided to verify everyone's identity before they enter the ocuntry. Anyone with a travel permit can return to the country as soon as the home ministry gives its approval," the minister said.

While asked whether this decision may hamper the return of immigrant Bangladeshi workers who had lost their passports for various reasons, Asaduzzaman said, "We will speedily send them approval by e-mail or fax."

According to sources in the law enforcement, many have gone to Syria and Iraq from Bangladesh, influenced by Islamic State (ISIS) ideology. The authorities do not have information on the exact numbers of these militants, whether they are dead or alive, or their whereabouts.

The law enforcement sources referred to a foreign terrorist fighters' list prepared by a certain western country, which said over 40 Bangladeshis went to Syria from Bangladesh in 2014-15. Many of them were killed and several landed in prisons in Syria and Iraq after being detained. Many Bangladeshi-origin citizens from other countries also went to Syria.

Several other countries have already taken cautionary steps against militants of their respective countries from returning after the fall of ISIS in Syria.

Officers of Dhaka Metropolitan Police CTTC (Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime) unit stressed the need to verify the identities of the people coming from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, and Lebanon as they may be militants returning from these countries.

According to several sources, Mutaz Abdul Majid, a youth born and brought up in Saudi Arabia, came to Bangladesh from Turkey last February. He was taken into custody at the airport and later shown arrested.

Mutaz had taken his passport from the Bangladesh embassy in Saudi Arabia and went to Turkey using the passport in 2016. Later, the Turkish police detained him and sent him to Bangladesh. However, the law enforcement here could not verify as yet whether Mutaz fought in Syria on any militant front.

Militants have been blacklisted in many countries, and so will try to enter any country with a travel pass, CTTC chief Monirul Islam said.

Fast travel passes are often sought to send back illegal workers. Militants may try to use such travels passes to return to the country and so the home ministry has issued the alert in this regard.

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