Terrorism beyond poor and illiterate: Bangladesh case study
Members of the Bangladeshi Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) gather at the site of a house during an anti-militant drive in Dhaka, Bangladesh on December 24, 2016. Photograph: (Getty)
The typical assessment for militancy in Bangladesh has been a case of poverty and illiteracy. This year has seen suspects with diverse identities and ones that have until recently been unsuspected.
Former defence personnel, educated youth and women perpetrators of terror have shocked people about the avenues of terrorist recruitment.
The diversity of profiles that have now become more apparent is a result of an ideological environment that has extended a moral licence to radicalisation.
While security forces are on an all-out effort to crackdown on militants in the country, Bangladesh is experiencing newer levels of extremism.
The chief of Al-Qaida’s local affiliate, Ansar Al Islam, is Syed Ziaul Haque, a former major who was sacked from Bangladesh Army in 2011. Dhaka’s counter terrorist forces killed Jahidul Islam, another former major, who was one of the leaders of Neo Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh.
There are youths from educated and affluent backgrounds joining terrorist outfits. This first came to prominence through the July attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, where at least three of the attackers came from top universities and schools.
The latest revelation for Bangladesh is how women have joined militant outfits to become suicide bombers.
The latest raid at Ashkona in Dhaka on December 24, titled 'Operation Ripple 24', revealed how terrorists have motivated women into becoming suicide bombers. While two suspected female militants surrendered to the police during the raid, one of them blew herself up. This is the first time Bangladesh has seen radicalised women go to such an extreme.
Security forces say that most of the Bangladeshi female radicals are influenced by their husbands and that they did not voluntarily become radicals. That is still a considerable threat. Expanding tribes through kinship in the Chinese dynasties has been a political strategy to keep supremacy as early as in 1500 BC. Such practice has evolved among political parties even in Bangladesh.
WION has learned from investigators that contrary to the belief that the female jihadists became radicalised under pressure from their husbands, there are also those such as Jebunnahar Shila, wife of deceased militant, Jahidul Islam, who is defensive about her extremist values.
“We need to recognise that the threat as we knew it has evolved quite substantially. The type of people who were attracted to militancy and the radical path in the past, the profiles of those individuals have changed a lot,” said Shafqat Munir, research fellow, Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies.
“When we look at 2017, we have to acknowledge that the threat is substantial and various new kinds of people are getting attracted to radical ideology. So our countering violent extremism and counter radicalisation strategy have to be geared towards that,” he told WION.
Investigators are saying that youth devoid of the history and culture of Bangladesh are more susceptible to radicalisation. And while there is no one theory explaining the radicalisation of Bangladesh youth across socioeconomic backgrounds, the access and exposure to extremist ideologies has become more pervasive.
No militant attacks have occurred since July in Dhaka, but the tension is no longer local. Under cover of religious virtues, terrorism seeks to lend local and personal grievances a global perspective. There is an awkward quiet in the air where security analysts fear that the possibility of more attacks cannot be ruled out.