Ansar Al Islam still active

Holey Artisan Bakery after the gruesome militant attackFile Photo

Four militant organisations were predominantly found to be involved in the militant attacks that took place in the country. Three of them have completely weakened while some of the organisations are just in operations in names. However, Ansar Al Islam Bangladesh is still active in the country.

Grabbing the opportunity of organisational weakness of other militant organisations, Ansar Al Islam have been trying to be more active at different levels, said people involved with observing and curbing militancy.

It has been running its activities forming “cells” in almost all areas of the country alongside inducting new members and imparting training regularly to tested older members, they said.

The law enforcement has been considering this organisation the biggest threat for militancy in the country.

The law enforcement agency members, who are working to uproot militancy in the country, said the activities of the militants have dropped significantly in eight years since the attack at Holey Artisan Bakery in the capital’s upscale Gulshan area. Twenty two people were killed in the attack by neo-JMB, an ideological brother of Islamic State, on 1 July 2016.

The law enforcement agencies carried out 15 raids where 64 members of neo-JMB were killed. Apart from this, most of their top leaders were arrested breaking the organisational structure. The activities of the ideological brothers of IS declined following the organisation’s fall in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the globe.

The chief of Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s (DMP) Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit Md. Asaduzzaman spoke about the risk of militancy in the country and their current activities on Saturday.

He said that there is still a risk of militancy in the country. Among the four organisations that carried out militant and sabotage activities in the country in the past, Ansar Al Islam is more active. Remaining three organisations - Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), neo-JMB and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) have weakened.

“Though there are no visible activities of the militants, they are active in cyberspace. They continue to collect members, although at a slower speed. This is our big challenge now though they no longer have the ability to carry out major attacks. Overall militancy is under control,” said this senior police official who works on militancy.

Worries about Ansar Al Islam

Ansar Al ISlam came to discussion around 2013 by carrying out several attacks on blogger Avijit Roy, Ahmed Rajib Haider, and several writers and rights activists. They were involved with 13 incidents regarding “soft targets” avoiding any large-scale violence.

In the latest incident, Anasar Al ISlam members killed same-sex rights activist Xulhaz Mannan and his friend theatre activist Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy breaking into their Kalabagan residence in the capital on 25 April 2016. Later, though the organisation’s name appeared in the killing of publisher and writer Shahjahan Bacchu of Munshiganj on 11 June 2019, it did not acknowledge the responsibility formally.

Law enforcement officials working on militancy say the organisation has followed a strict confidentiality policy since 2016. They have also been using their own apps for internal communication.

ganed The law enforcement agencies have gained some idea about the activities of this militant organisation from the Ansar Al Islam members who have been arrested at various times.

According to CTTC, Ansar Al Islam has been running its activities by forming “cells”. The chief of a cell is known as “masul” or responsible. Their superior is known as “majma masul”. A “masul” informs the “majma masul” of their activities hiding their identities.

Sources said Ansar Al Islam are currently using 100-150 websites online that regularly highlight their activities. They also run their dawah programmes on Telegram, Facebook, X and Instagram.

No visible activities

According to the experts, the rise of every militant organisation is connected with the global militancy activities. Militant groups in Bangladesh mainly follow the ideologies of Al-Qaeda and IS. But they do not have any visible activity right now. In this context, the activities of their followers have also dipped.

Apart from this, though the militant organisations tried to organise themselves at various times, their attempts stopped in the face of the activities of the law enforcement organisations. Around two years ago, some members of HUJI-B and older branch of JMB tried to form a new organisation “Jamaatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya”.

Its members were trained in the camps of the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF), another new armed group of Christian hill tribes. Later, RAB in raids at different times arrested 82 members of this organisation. The organisational structure of Jamaatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya has also been broken in the face of continuous raids by law enforcement organisations.

However, those who work on counter-militancy say the lack of visible activity does not mean that militancy has been eradicated. They stressed on remaining continuously watchful about it.

Getting involved in militancy

A CTTC study on those arrested for militancy finds that 1.6 per cent of the members of militant organisations do not have any formal education, and 23 per cent are madrasah students. Most members are from the background of general education. Their number is 73.2 per cent while 2.1 per cent members are from technical education background. As many as 68.7 per cent people getting involved in militancy are 15 to 34-year-olds.

According to CTTC sources, Ansar Al Islam is currently more active in recruiting technology experts. For this they have a separate division “Idratul Dawah Network (IDN)”.

Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS) president Maj. Gen. (retd) ANM Muniruzzaman believes that even though there have been no attacks by militants in the country for many days, their activities continue.

He said that the recruitment process of the militant organisations, especially Ansar Al Islam, is also ongoing. They also go to different hideouts and places where they store explosives at various times. Usually, preparations for a large-scale attack go on for a long time. We should accordingly be prepared.

According to this security analyst, the spread of extremism gives rise to militancy. The process of spreading doctrine is fully active. More attention needs to be given to this aspect.

He also pointed out that there is a need to be more proactive in formulating “counter radicalisation” strategies.

* The report, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza