Bangladesh’s Islamic Terror – A Unique Brand

The July 2, 2016, hostage crisis and slaughter of at least 22 victims – mostly foreigners – at the Holey Artisan restaurant in upscale Gulshan, Dhaka, was in a different category from recent outrages elsewhere, owing to the complexities of Bangladesh society and the high class of the perpetrators.
The Bangladesh Government has always denied any organized international terrorist presence in the country – particularly ISIS and al Qaeda. Most local commentators have brushed these denials aside, insisting on a terrorist 'presence', 'collaboration', 'affiliation', or any of their variants, which were left intentionally undefined.
The Holey Bakery attack, at first sight, appeared to be an exception.
The attackers sent pictures from the place of their butchery to a private ISIS-linked email account during their operation, and these pictures were almost immediately uploaded. Many found in this action incontrovertible proof of the ISIS 'presence' in Bangladesh, and a refutation of the government's insistence that the operation was executed by a domestic terrorist cell, the Jamaat-ul-Mujahiddeen Bangladesh (JMB).
Available intelligence, however, suggests that these communications went one way, and that no contact between the perpetrators of the Holey Bakery attack and ISIS command existed prior to the attack. Of course, once the photographs were to hand, ISIS quickly seized the opportunity to claim the attack, but there is no suggestion that it had any prior awareness even of the existence of this group.
At the same time, adding to the confusion, DEBKA Weekly’s counterterrorism sources report, some factions or elements within existing domestic terrorist or radicalized groups have announced a transfer of their loyalty to ISIS, presumably in search of an anchor in their weakened state.
The reality is that the Sheikh Hasina government was able to decimate the leadership of established opposition Islamist terrorist groups and their supporters and fragment their remnants. The splinters have long been attempting to regroup, but found few takers for their domestic agenda, despite the enormous proliferation of Islamist fundamentalist and radical institutions in the country over the past decades.
Their methods of choice – stabbings and hackings to dispatch their victims – have remained unchanged. But the Holey Bakery attack represented an escalation, showing a measure of sophistication in the added the use of automatic weapons and explosives.
Such capabilities have long existed within terrorist groups in Bangladesh, though they were not deployed on home ground ever before. Indeed, through 2004-2008, a Bangladeshi 'footprint' was recorded in almost every major Islamist terrorist attack in India…
Another outstanding feature of this attack was the high social standing of the attackers which was caused astonishment. The men, all in their late teens or early 20s, were products of Bangladesh’s elite, scions of well-to-do families; several of whom attended posh English-medium private schools as well as universities both in the country and abroad.
Among them was the son of a former city leader in the prime minister’s own Awami League party.
That scions of the country’s upper classes appear to have joined radical Islamists for an act of such brutality highlighted the radicalization among the largely moderate Muslim population of Bangladesh, a process that has accelerated in recent years.
The Holey Artisan has brought disproportionate attention to Islamist terrorism and extremism in Bangladesh, and many have speculated that this will catalyze a spike in terrorism, and not only in that country.
Even though Bangladesh’s counter-terror apparatus recently swung into action, radicals were not deterred by a massive sweep from staging random attacks.
During last month, attacks took place in Madaripur. Machete-wielding terrorists attacked Ripon Chakraborty, a Hindu mathematics teacher in the government-run Nazimuddin College; on June 10, Nityaranjan Pandey, an elderly volunteer at a Hindu ashram in Pabna district, was hacked to death in an attack later claimed by ISIS.
An eleven-member panel of leading Islamic clerics later issued a fatwa (a religious diktat) condemning terrorism and violent extremism. It was led by Farid Uddin Masoud, the chairman of the Bangladesh Jamiyatul Ulama (BJU), and signed by a total of 101,524 Islamic clerics
The far-reaching shadow of al-Qaeda or ISIS on Bangladesh’s local jihadist networks has been constantly overlooked and ignored. The government’s fresh crackdown suggests the authorities have, belatedly, resolved to tackle the situation before it imperils the country’s secular fabric.

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