BD`s hostile politics may cause resurgence of militancy: ICG

01 March 2018

Bangladesh's hostile political environment could lead to a resurgence of jihadist militancy, warns the International Crisis Group.
In a report released on Wednesday, it said there is a growing risk that Islamist militants will exploit the fallout created by political polarisation with the general elections approaching. The study, Countering Jihadist Militancy in Bangladesh, says the lull in violence in recent months 'may prove as a temporary respite'.
The Bangladeshi jihadi landscape is now dominated by banned outfits, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh or JMB and Ansar al-Islam, according to ICG. "The state confronted groups responsible for an earlier wave of violence with some success from 2004 to 2008. Subsequently, especially since controversial January 2014 elections, bitter political divisions have reopened space for new forms of jihadist activism," it read.
On the jailing of the BNP chief Khaleda Zia for graft, the organisation said it signals the opening salvo of a new wave of political infighting reminiscent of January 2014 and 2015. "Alleged extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and indiscriminate government crackdowns on political rivals are occurring at the expense of a counter-terrorism strategy that is needed to address growing jihadist activism and expanding links   to transnational groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS." The ICG report says a faction of the JMB appears to have links with the Islamic State and describes Ansar al-Islam as affiliated with al-Qaeda's South Asian chapter.
Bangladesh's recent history of jihadism dates back to the late 1990s with the Afghanistan war veterans returning to the country, the study says. It said the 'first wave of violence', involving JMB and Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami Bangladesh or HuJI,B, peaked with the JMB's August 2005 synchronised explosions in 63 districts. 
"Successive governments subsequently took action against the JMB's leadership, but the group has revived itself, albeit in a new form. Another group, Ansar-al Islam, has also emerged, while a JMB splinter - dubbed the "neo-Jamaat-ul Mujahideen" by law enforcement agencies - calls itself the Islamic State-Bangladesh and has funnelled fighters into Iraq and Syria," reads the ICG report.
Concluding that contentious politics have played a role in the second wave of violence, the organisation says Ansar-al Islam found the trials of 1971 war crimes as an assault on Islam and perpetrated attacks on secular activists and bloggers, who demanded capital punishment for war criminals. The JMB, however, has a longer list of enemies, according to ICG. "It considers perceived symbols of the secular state and anyone not subscribing to its interpretation of Islam as legitimate targets." Bangladesh Police have claimed the group played a part in attacks claimed by ISIS on prominent members of minority communities and religious facilities and events, including Ahmadi mosques, Sufi shrines, Buddhist and Hindu temples, and Shia festivals.
"An attack on a Dhaka café on 1-2 July 2016 that killed over twenty people, mostly foreigners, appears to have involved loose cooperation between different groups, including both rural-based madrasa students and elite urban young men," reads the ICG study. It says the ruling Awami League has 'politicised the threat' and "its crackdowns on rivals undermine efforts to disrupt jihadist recruitment and attacks".
ICG urged the government to forge broad social and political consensus and pressed for pursuing more accountability in law enforcement and justice system as well as stopping politically-motivated crackdowns.

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