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Top leaders of the party in power were certainly ill-advised to rake up a dormant police case, filed in Bangladesh in the shadow of a 2014 criminal prosecution in USA, adjudicated and disposed of over a year back in a U.S. court, to implicate a senior media man connected with mainstream opposition politics by a sensational style of police raid, and all the more sensational disclosures by the police who are still in the process of investigating a “conspiracy to abduct and kill” hypothesis.
That hypothesis was dismissed by the US court in its judgment way back in 2015. Reviving the hypothesis and implicating another distinguished media man, already jailed for what many regard as his conscientious conflict with the law of the land, has not been able to divert public and global media attention from the gross failure of the police in protecting lives of citizens.
Denials lost appeal
The security and intelligence agencies of the incumbent regime have utterly failed to detect, apprehend and prevent the perpetrators of serial killings by waylaying or raiding to mangle persons known to be what a recent US State Department statement described as ‘free-thinkers’. Al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent, the Islamic State or their local associates Ansarullah Bangla Team has severally taken credit for the incidents.
The latest murders, from Jagannath University student Nazimuddin Samad to Rajshahi University teacher Rezaul Karim Siddique, blogger Avijit and former US embassy staff Xulhaz Mannan, are claimed by ruling party leaders at the ministerial level to be gory acts of home-grown militant outfits, connected with the mainstream opposition, and guided by the sole purpose of destabilising the government.
Sheikh Hasina’s government has been doggedly denying any presence or incursion of ISIS or al-Qaeda militants in this country, categorising the killers sweepingly as recruits of suppressed and disgruntled BNP-Jamat opposition alliance. That theory has by now become unsalable both domestically and internationally. Even the Home Minister’s own detectives are now reluctant to limit themselves to that line, and are beginning to think that the perpetrators of the exemplary serial killings of those they consider “enemies of Islam, are pursuing a longer-term strategy, not simply that of bringing down the government.
According to a newspaper report in the Daily Sun, detectives fear that local militants who are linked to regional and global jihadist groups like Islamic State and al-Qaeda are conserving their strength and hitting at their convenience to destabilise the country (not the government). Ritually, one of the allied groups claims responsibility for every crime.
They have been able to maintain secrecy and the law-enforcers are still in the dark about the culprits, militants or other criminals, involved in such ambushes or raids.
MPs, minister threatened
As a result of repeated homicides and threats in the name of banned outfits, politicians, intellectuals and bloggers who usually write on different social media criticising religion, have been terrorised, and are living in fear. The panic has struck deeper after the manner of double murder of Xulhaz Mannan, also editor of transgender magazine ‘Roopbaan’, and his friend Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy. Half a dozen militants went to Xulhaz’ flat and killed the duo with sharp weapons. They also wounded a security guard, now undergoing treatment at Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Witnesses said the attackers shouted “Allahu Akbar” as they fled the scene. The attack came two days after the English professor Rezaul was killed in a similar style in an attack claimed by the IS.
Earlier, the same group also claimed the blame for killing two foreigners and attacking Christian priests. The government denied outright the presence of IS or al-Qaeda groups on home soil.
To the credit of the law-enforcers, so far some five militants have been killed in shootouts since last November. The police have stepped up a crackdown on banned militant outfits seeking to establish Shariah-based caliphate in Bangladesh.
Militant group Ansarullah Bangla Team in a statement last September demanded that citizenship of ‘the critics of Islam’ be revoked: “Otherwise, they’ll be killed wherever they are found in the Almighty’s world.” Recently, it also threatened to kill State Minister for ICT Zunaid Ahmed Palak and 21 others, including four lawmakers from Natore, for ‘blasphemy’.
According to RAB police sources, jailed militants, mostly convicted for carrying out grenade or bomb attacks and countrywide serial bombings, prepare the blueprints with their fugitive associates contacted on mobile right from prison cells to guide continuation of attacks. According to jail sources, 461 militant activists of different outlawed militant offshoots, including JMB and Huji, now languish in jails. Of them, 158 were convicted, with 27 in the death row awaiting execution.
Police acknowledge gravity
Although lawmen arrested some militant activists recently, most of the listed militants, including JMB’s Boma Mizan and Saleheen, managed to remain at large. Besides, over a dozen dreaded JMB militants got out of jail on bail, and reportedly engaged again in militant activities.
Huji subversives are also reportedly reorganising and revitalising their network. “They are collecting sophisticated arms and ammunition from their allied foreign groups,” according to a senior detective officer.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Asaduzzaman Miah acknowledged the gravity of the present situation. He said, “We’ve taken seriously all the murders like Xulhaz/Nazimuddin Samad, and militant threats to intellectuals.”
That realisation, however late, is welcome. Hopefully, the political leaders at the top would also pay heed to the International Crisis Group’s astute observation: “Politicising the police and using elite forces, particularly the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), to silence political dissent, are sowing the seeds of future violence...... Concentrating on targeting the opposition, the police are failing to curb criminality. The prisons are overburdened by mass arrests of opposition leaders and activists; and the judiciary, perceived as partisan for trials and sentences based on political grounds, is losing credibility. ..... If mainstream dissent remains closed, more and more government opponents may come to view violence and violent groups as their only recourse.”
Home minister changing tune
It is good that Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal is also changing his tune after his meeting with American Ambassador Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat in his office. He said that the United States and Bangladesh will work together to put an end to terrorism in the country.
As such, the Home Ministry on 27 April decided to set up a 24/7 anti-terrorism cell to monitor all terrorism related information and pass that on to relevant law enforcement agencies. The cell will be led by additional secretary (political) from the Home Ministry who will collect and coordinate all the information obtained from internal and external sources.
Thanks to Ambassador Bernicat, the global electronic media has carried a message meanwhile that “What have been happening here (in Bangladesh) are not the characteristics of Bangladesh at all,” and that the recent attackers’ violent ideology created “fear” among people. Bernicat was connected by CNN live through Skype from Dhaka on 27 April for her reactions on the killings of Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Tonoy.