Expanding extremist threat in Bangladesh

  • 17 Apr 2016 13:38
Latest blogger killing underscores expanding extremist threat in Bangladesh. Article published on 14th April, by Owen Spalding, Junior Risk Analyst at G4S Risk Consulting
Soldier in the field

The alleged Bangladeshi affiliate of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Ansar al-Islam, has claimed responsibility for the killing of a law student and secular blogger in the Sutrapur area of Dhaka on 6 April. A group of three armed men attacked 26-year-old Nazimuddin Samad using machetes before shooting him dead with a handgun. Samad’s name had appeared on a "hit-list" of secular writers and activists, published anonymously in August 2015, alongside a number of other individuals who were also killed in similar circumstances during 2015. As with the previous killings, this incident underscores the growing ability of militant groups to act with impunity on Bangladeshi soil, with the Awami League’s (AL) authoritarian efforts to quash dissent among opposition activists permitting religious extremists to operate uninhibited.

As with a string of previous attacks on secular bloggers and writers, several of which were claimed by domestic militant group Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) whose members are now largely believed to constitute Ansar al-Islam, the claim of responsibility has been disputed by the Bangladeshi authorities, who attributed the attack to extremist elements of the opposition Bangladeshi National Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). The Dhaka Metropolitan Police has reiterated the government’s claim, attributing the attack to ABT. Indeed, police claim to have since arrested two ABT militants during a raid on a property in the Mohammadpur area of Dhaka, which they claim was used as a training centre and bomb-making facility. However, while the police have acknowledged the likely culpability of ABT in Samad’s murder, they maintain that the group has links with the JI youth wing, not AQIS; a tactic previously employed as justification for an increased political crackdown against opposition groups.

While the veracity of Ansar al-Islam’s claim and links with AQIS have yet to be confirmed, a decision by the US State Department to offer investigative assistance to the Bangladeshi authorities in identifying those responsible lends credence to the notion that the inability of the Bangladeshi authorities to mitigate the threat of attacks by religious extremists is a growing concern within the international community. This is further supported by the State Department’s decision to consider offering so-called “humanitarian parole”, or temporary asylum, to an undisclosed number of secular bloggers and activists. Moreover, with Islamic State (IS) formally making clear its intention to expand its operations in the South Asian theatre in the latest edition of its online publication following its claim of responsibility for the murder of two foreign nationals in Bangladesh in 2015, there is growing evidence that militancy is on the rise. While there is little evidence at present to suggest that extremist groups possess the capacity to carry out a complex attack, the ability of IS, for example, to provide logistical support to domestic groups in mounting such an attack is an increasing concern.

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