Terrorist activity increases in Bangladesh: US State Dept
Amid a decrease in terrorist activities globally, Bangladesh has experienced significant increase in terrorist activities in 2016, according to the US State Department.
The department released its annual Country Report on Terrorism-2016 in Washington on Wednesday. The report covers 1 January to 31 December 2016 and is available at www.state.gov/j/ct.
The report says the total number of terrorist attacks in 2016 globally decreased by nine percent in comparison to 2015.
It says both al-Qa’eda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and ISIS claimed responsibility for a significant number of the attacks that took place in Bangladesh.
The government, however, often attributed extremist violence to the political opposition and local militants, according to the report.
Terrorist organisations used social media to spread their radical ideologies and solicit followers from Bangladesh.
Bangladesh was featured in multiple publications, videos, and websites associated with ISIS and AQIS.
ISIS claimed responsibility for 18 attacks in Bangladesh in 2016, the most significant being the attack on 1 July on the Holey Artisan Bakery, an upscale restaurant in the diplomatic enclave frequented by the expatriate community.
The five Bangladeshi attackers killed 20 hostages and two police officers using guns, explosives, and sharp weapons.
The hostages were mostly foreigners, including nine Italians, seven Japanese, one US citizen, one Indian, and two Bangladeshis.
AQIS claimed responsibility for murder of an online Bangladeshi activist on 6 April and murder of a US embassy local employee and his friend on 25 April.
In both cases, the assailants used machetes. Throughout the year, Bangladesh suffered several other small-scale attacks for which there were no public claims of responsibility, including the 7 July bomb blast at an Eid-gathering in Sholakia that killed four people – including two police men – and injured seven.
Bangladesh cooperated with the United States to further strengthen control of its borders and land, sea, and air ports of entry.
The international community devoted particular attention to aviation security and on 28 June, Germany joined the United Kingdom and Australia in banning direct cargo shipments from Bangladesh due to security concerns.
Bangladesh shared law enforcement information with INTERPOL but does not have a dedicated terrorist watch list. Bangladesh does not have an interactive advanced passenger information system. The Department of State is working with Bangladesh to assist in developing a screening infrastructure to better secure its borders.
The newly-formed Counterterrorism and Transnational Crime Unit (CTTCU) of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police began operations in February and gained national mandate in August.
On 19-20 February, the CTTCU arrested two suspected members of the local terrorist group Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), which is affiliated with AQIS, leading to the discovery and destruction of a bomb-making factory.
In the aftermath of the Holey Artisan Bakery attack, law enforcement have captured or killed numerous suspected militants in several raids. These include the 26 July raid in the Kallyanpur of Dhaka, where police killed nine suspected militants.
On 27 August, police reported killing ISIS’s operational head in Bangladesh, Tamim Chowdhury, in a raid in Narayanganj.
The CTTCU and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) conducted significant raids on 10 September in Azimpur and 8 October in Gazipur, directed at suspected members who reportedly have links to ISIS.
Observers believe at least some of the raids are staged by law enforcement, particularly the RAB.
Bangladesh continued to participate in the US State Department’s antiterrorism assistance programme and received counterterrorism-focused training for law enforcement officers. Bangladesh also received the department of justice prosecutorial skills training, and community policing support.
US Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC) continued security and stability engagements with a number of Bangladesh security forces – including the Bangladesh Coast Guard, Bangladesh Navy Special Warfare and Diving Salvage (SWADS) unit, the Bangladesh Army 1st Para Commando Battalion, and the Border Guards Bangladesh.
The prime minister demonstrated a willingness to draw upon military assets when she called in the 1st Para Commando Battalion and SWADS to assist with the Holey Bakery hostage crisis.
The Bangladesh Bank and the BFIU lead the government’s efforts to comply with the international anti-money laundering the financing of terrorism (AML) standards and international sanctions regimes.
A 2016 APG Mutual Evaluation report stated that Bangladesh is technically compliant with international AML standards, but that the country’s effectiveness in implementing regulations requires significant improvement.
The report found that the main terrorist finance threat to Bangladesh is from domestic groups that operate using small-scale funding derived through micro-financing methods.
The judicial sector is under-resourced for carrying out prosecutions and obtaining convictions and the banking and non-banking sectors require further implementation of preventative measures such as customer due diligence and suspicious transaction reports.
In 2016, Bangladesh organisations continued cooperative activities through the Community Support Mechanism (CSM) under the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF), a public-private global fund to support local, grassroots efforts to counter violent extremism.
The police are engaging religious leaders in the fight against violent extremism by helping to counter militant propaganda with appropriate scripture-based messages and engaging imams to speak to surrendered militants to explain that the Quran does not support terrorist violence.
Law enforcement authorities are working with local universities to identify missing students and to curb radicalisation of university students. Local research institutions, including private think tanks and both public and private universities, have begun to engage in CVE-related research.