Militant illustration
Militant illustration

Akhtaruzzaman of Ghorhaghat, Dinajpur was a Class 7 student at a cadet madrasah near his home in 2016. At first, an assistant (peon) of that madrasah befriended some of the young students. Then he enlisted them in a militant group. On 27 September that year, Aktaruzzaman, 19, was detained by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) after his name appeared on the list of militants.

On 23 November, Aktaruzzaman along with two of his friends – Mohammad Masud Rana (22) and Hafizur Rahman (19) -- surrendered in the presence of home minister Asaduzzaman Khan at an anti-militant rally and militant-surrender event arranged at Shital Community Center on RK Road in Rangpur. They were given Tk 500,000 by the government on condition of their promise to return to normal life.

From October 2016 to March 2017, seven militants from Bogura, Rangpur, Kushtia and Sirajganj officially surrendered to RAB in four programmes. Four years have passed since then. Prothom Alo’s staff correspondents and correspondents from Dinajpur, Bogura, Kushtia and Rajshahi followed up on the present circumstances of those who surrendered four years ago. It was revealed that some had started up shops in their localities, some had taken up farming, some had passed the higher secondary examination and were awaiting admission to university and others had various jobs. The locals say they have actually returned to a normal life.

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Sources in the law enforcement agencies said that after the militant attack on Holey Artisan on 1 July 2016, the law enforcement agencies were on full alert. Many of the suspected militants were killed or arrested by the law enforcement agencies in the continued raids.

As a part of eradicating extremism, steps were taken to rehabilitate these people back to a normal life. Senior officials of the law enforcement agencies, including the home minister. were present at these surrender programmes.

Nine including, an engineer and a doctor couple, surrendered today, Thursday. They were the members of the banned militant outfits - JMB and Ansar Al Islam. According to RAB, arrangements will be made to give them cash and job opportunities so they can rehabilitate themselves.

Director of RAB’s legal and media wing, Lt. Col. Ashik Billah, told the newspersons on Wednesday that many male and female extremists have contacted the RAB in different ways. None of them were involved in any criminal offence and so RAB was planning for their rehabilitation.

The adolescents of Dinajpur

When Hafez Masud Rana of Bulakipur union in Ghorhaghat upazila was detained by RAB in 2016, he was a student of Class 8. After finishing the surrender procedure, he returned home and passed the Dakhil examination from a madrasah in Uttara and HSC from Bogura Shah Sultan College. He is now preparing for university admission.

Masud Rana’s mother Khadija Begum said, “Masud was a very calm and quiet boy and we did not understand when he had been derailed. One of my sister's sons-in-law used to work in RAB. My son has been able to surrender through him.”

The family said Masud was handed over to RAB by his father 15 days before his surrender. After the surrender, RAB detained him in custody, under observation for 62 days. People from his home would go to the RAB headquarters in Dhaka to see him. He was handed over to his family after 62 days. He is currently living a normal life. The government has given him Tk 500,000. Of this, Tk 100,000 has been given in cash and Tk 400,000 has been deposited in a joint account in the name of Masud and RAB in Bangladesh Bank. Every three months, Masud and his father go to Rangpur and collect Tk 10,888 from the bank.

Another of the surrendered persons, Hafizur Rahman (19), also lives in Ghoraghat, Dinajpur. He got involved in militancy while studying in Class 8. After surrendering, Hafizur resumed studies. He is currently studying in the second year of higher secondary in a college in Joypurhat. Since the college was closed due to corona, he got involved in poultry business with his father. Hafizur was found at his father's shop in the local market last Monday afternoon. He said, “I have realised my mistake. I don't want to remember the old days anymore. I am still haunted by the fear I felt before surrendering. I get scared whenever I see a stranger. My neighbours also explained a lot to me. Their words have boosted my morale.” Hafizur's father Zillur Rahman also said that the neighbors have helped him a lot and have been in touch with him.

Hafizur Rahman, another who surrendered, is now in his twenties. He is now studying in higher secondary. “When we first came back home, everyone came to see us. I would not leave the house. I felt guilty. Now everything is normal. I can study. I am helping my father in my free time. I am much better now.”

Bogura’s Hakim busy with business

Khairul Islam alias Payal was one of the five militants killed in a drive by the joint forces at the Holy Artisan Bakery in Gulshan. Abdul Hakim (26) was his friend. Hakim and Khairul passed Alim from Dehigram Fazil Madrasah in 2015. They left home together on pretext of coaching.

Abdul Hakim's house is in Shahjahanpur upazila. He now runs a grocery shop in the local market. Married two years ago, he also has a son.

Hakim told Prothom Alo that at first Khairul got involved in militancy. Then Khairul drew him into militancy too. After surrendering to RAB, first he started to work in a garment factory in Dhaka. Later he returned home and opened a shop.

He said, “My family had to face a lot of problems at that time. Socially the whole family was ostracised. They lost their respect. My family would face questions wherever they went. When it came to marriage, no one wanted to give their girl to this family. But things have changed and now I am interacting with the people of the area normally.

Hakim said he now understood that he had been led into militancy by misinterpretation of religion. No one from the extremist organisation contacts him anymore. He is running his business and his family on his own.

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Mahmudul Hasan alias Bijoy (21) of Saghata in Gaibandha surrendered on the same day with Hakim. After completing his diploma from a private polytechnic institute in Bogura, Bijoy now works for a solar power distributing company. Saghata Union Parishad chairman Mosharraf Hossain said Mahmudul has returned to a normal life, had a job, and gives time to his family.

Morshed Sharif Kallol of Kushtia was in Saudi Arabia for eight months after his surrender. Back in the country, he has been involved in agriculture. Now everything is going well. His two sons and two daughters are studying. RAB officials call on him occasionally. He does not face any social problems.

Salauddin Ahmed alias Sujan, 34, a JMB member who surrendered in Kushtia, is now supplying grocery items to various shops in Bagha upazila of Rajshahi. He rears sheep too. His home is in Chakrajapur union. Azizul Azam, chairman of the union parishad (UP), said Salauddin has been living in the area since his surrender. He often meets Salauddin. His behavior seems normal. The local people think so too.