Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Bangladesh hide and seek on presence of Islamic State militants


SALEEM SAMAD

Bangladesh is embarrassed. So are the top officials of Interpol, security experts, academicians, police chiefs from the region attending the three-day long conference organized by Bangladesh Police and the Interpol in the capital.

Bangladesh Police top brass AKM Shahidul Hoque has denied the presence of Jihadist of Islamic State (IS or ISIS) in the country. "There is no presence of the Islamist terrorist outfit here," the inspector general of police maintained at impromptu press briefing on Monday morning.

"These are baseless propaganda. What we call militants are actually 'homegrown' who might have been embodied with IS philosophy and ideology. But they don't have any link with the IS," said Hoque. His reaction came in the wake of Prof Rohan Gunaratna, an international security expert, who affirmed on the presence of IS jihadist in Bangladesh and that the outfit carried out the Gulshan café attack on July 1.

What further embarrassed the government was the joint forces operation to disengage and neutralize the militants, release the hostages and regain control of the café, when his paper,  "Deradicalization of Militant: An Approach for Disengagement and Reintegration into Society,"

Government was enraged not only with his observation on presence of IS in Bangladesh, the military brass took the scholar's comments on delayed commando operation to regain the seized café, as an exception and interference into internal affairs.

Gunaratna said police should have immediately responded to the café attack and should not have lingered on for the commandos to join the operation. The conference seeks to build regional cooperation in curbing violent extremism and transnational crime.

In a typical IS  strategy, Gunaratna explained that the IS second phase was propaganda and the third phase was showdown. "The group that mounted the Holey Artisan attack is not the JMB. In fact, it is the IS," opined the expert.

But unfortunately, the Bangladeshi political leadership did not accept that the group that is operating is the IS, Gunaratna remarked.

Administration top officials, including Home Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Khan and the inspector general of police have repeatedly said that there is no presence of ISIS in Bangladesh. Prime Minster Sheikh Hasina described any such claims as local and foreign conspiracies.

There could be various reasons why the government is determined to justify non-existence of jihadist or Islamic militants who are linked to Al Qaeda or Islamic State. Head of Singapore based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research Rohan Gunaratna, has claimed that terrorist network Islamic State has physical presence in Bangladesh.

Police chief Shahidul Hoque described Gunaratna as an academician, a professor of a university. In a virulent attack, Hoque observed that "he does not deal with any security issue. He has done his academic research on his own. But he does not have experience of the real issue of Bangladesh."

"What Mr Rohan said is his own statement. We don't endorse his statement," the IGP concluded. Born in Sri Lanka, Gunaratna interviewed terrorists and insurgents in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Saudi Arabia and other conflict zones, according to his brief biography presented at the conference.

The United States 9/11 Commission formed after the attack of Twin-Tower in New York invited Gunaratna to testify on the structure of al-Qaeda.

Gunaratna, who teaches security studies at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, is also a trainer for national security agencies, law enforcement authorities and military counter-terrorism units, said his bio distributed at the conference.

This article first appeared in The Asian Age, March 14, 2017

Saleem Samad, is an Ashoka Fellow (USA), an award winning investigative journalist and writes on current affairs