11 October 2016

Bangladesh’s Expanded Terrorist Crackdown

October 07, 2016

On the night of July 1, five gunmen stormed into the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and took hostages. The attack, which claimed 24 innocent lives, was the largest terrorist attack in Bangladesh’s history. As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on his recent visit to Bangladesh, terrorists “have no respect for national boundaries, no concern for the rights of others, no regard for the rule of law, and they do not embody the values of the people of Bangladesh or the United States.

Terrorism is not new to Bangladesh nor is the government’s concerted effort to thwart it. For three years, the country has witnessed spasmodic attacks on freethinkers, religious minorities, and foreigners. Both al-Qaeda affiliates and the Islamic State group have taken credit for these horrific acts, though until July the threat had largely come from within, not from the outside.

Just before the July tragedy, Bangladeshi authorities launched an unprecedented campaign to combat terrorism within its borders. As part of this effort, the governing Awami League, backed by the pro-liberation 14-party alliance, initiated a plan to pinpoint terrorist suspects and to undermine their ideological justifications for violence.

Since early summer, security forces have arrested several dozen potentially dangerous militants, including members of banned organizations like Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Hizb ut-Tahrir, Ansarullah Bangla Team, Ansar al-Islam, Harkat-ul-Jihad, and Allaher Dal. Security forces also arrested leaders of Jama’atul Mujahideen, Ansarullah Bangla Team, and Islami Chhatra Shibir. These crucial arrests have visibly weakened the most threatening organizations in Bangladesh.

Contrary to reports in Western media, authorities are not simply rounding up and detaining people at random. Quite the opposite: Bangladeshi authorities have made arrests only when there was substantial evidence of terrorist activities. This includes the arrest and detention of British national Hasnat Karim, who was seen talking with the attackers on the roof of the building. Karim had been recently fired from a job at North South University, a private institution, for his connection to the Hizb ut-Tahrir, a banned terrorist group that seeks to establish an Islamic state, according to public news accounts in India Today and the International Business Times. Likewise, Canadian Tahmid Hasib Kahn was arrested after evidence of wrongdoing was presented. Kahn was photographed during the attack carrying firearms and talking with the attackers. He was subsequently acquitted of terrorism charges, but he failed to appear at two scheduled interviews with Bangladesh police and is now being charged with “lack of cooperation with policing authority.” Both cases were in full compliance with Bangladeshi law.

Many people have been questioned as part of Bangladesh’s war on terror. Most have not been charged, however about 194 are being held on terrorism-related charges, according to the New York Times. The government is working hard to uphold democratic principles and the rule of law while also ensuring the safety of the Bangladeshi people.

Make no mistake: The government will root out terrorists hiding in Bangladesh. In a country of 160 million, such work is painstaking. Authorities are learning more each day about the web of domestic terrorists and extremists that say they are conspiring with violent international terrorist outfits. 

The country has made solid progress in the war on terror. Despite this, the international media will continue to make unjustified accusations about the legality of government actions. There will be violence and our counterterrorism forces will be called upon to protect innocent bystanders and each other. Extremists don’t surrender peacefully. They often open fire and detonate explosives. While police strive for peaceful resolution to all conflicts, but that is not always what happens unfortunately.

Terrorists face a more determined Bangladesh than they expected. Their hateful adventures have brought Bangladeshis together. The government has risen to the challenge of securing its homeland. The terrorists are losing.

When Secretary Kerry visited Bangladesh in late August, he said terrorism was “clearly designed to divide Bangladesh, designed to try to cut off this welcoming society from the outside world.” He was right. Dangerous groups like JMB, Ansarullah Bangla Team, and Jamaat-e-Islami are on the run.

Mohammad Ziauddin is the Bangladesh ambassador to the United States. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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