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Bangladesh paying a high price

DW Arafatul Islam Multimedia Journalist
Arafatul Islam
July 4, 2016

Even after the recent barbaric terror attack in Dhaka, the government continues to deny the existence of the so-called "Islamic State" on its soil. This reluctance will not bring anything good, says DW's Arafatul Islam.

Bangladesch IS-Anschlag in Dhaka
Image: picture-alliance/abaca

It all started in February, 2013, when thousands of people took to the streets in the Shahbag suburb of the capital Dhaka demanding maximum punishment for war criminals, for the crimes committed during the country's war of independence in 1971 against Pakistan.

A number of Islamist leaders did not support the liberation war at the time and have been subsequently accused of supporting the Pakistani army in mass killings.

The call for the mass protests known as the "Shahbag movement" was given out by some bloggers and activists on Facebook. It was the first protest of this kind in the South Asian country, alarming Islamists regarding a new enemy - the bloggers.

Pro-Islamist newspapers soon identified some bloggers as atheists, regarded as sinful by a large majority of Bangladeshi society. The papers published screenshots of the social media posts criticizing Islam. Radical Islamist groups took the opportunity to stage massive protests against their new enemy, demanding capital punishment for bloggers.

DW Bengali Arafatul Islam
DW's Arafatul IslamImage: DW/Matthias Müller

A death list of 84 bloggers and activists was prepared by Islamists in May 2013. And since then while some of the people named on the list have been hacked to death, others have fled the country.

Instead of suppressing the extremists by taking strong action, the Bangladeshi government has tried to make compromises with them.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, for instance, has repeatedly advised bloggers not to criticize Islam, instead of condemning attacks on writers. The government has used the attacks as an opportunity to suppress opposition voices instead of apprehending the real perpetrators of those violent acts.

The government's inaction against radical Islamists has also allowed international terrorist groups to spread their activities in the Muslim-majority nation, a strategically important base for them due to its geographical location.

The so-called "Islamic State" (IS), in particular, has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks on foreigners, minorities and "apostates." Its propaganda magazine "Dabiq" has published at least three features this year detailing the terror group's plans to establish a "caliphate" in the country.

Inaction and denial

The terrorist group has also claimed responsibility for the recent attack on a restaurant in Dhaka's diplomatic zone on the night of July 1 in which at least 22 people, including 17 foreigners, were killed.

Bangladesh's security forces repeatedly provided wrong information to the media during the 12-hour siege, while information published through international jihadist monitoring groups, such as the Site Intelligence Group, the Terror Monitor and the Syrian citizen journalists group Raqqa SL proved to be correct.

In one instance, IS published some pictures of dead bodies of foreigners killed in the restaurant around 6:00 am local time, when police were said to be trying to negotiate with the attackers to avoid bloodshed.

The security forces stormed the restaurant two hours later, long after foreigners had been hacked to death in the restaurant.

It has become clear that Bangladesh's intelligence and security forces have no contingency plans put in place to avoid such attacks despite repeated signs of the growing presence of international terror groups in the country.

Who turned the rich kids into terrorists?

The Dhaka attack introduced a whole new set of terrorists in the extremism scene.

Internet sleuths in Bangladesh immediately identified four attackers, long before the police discovered their identities. All of them were well-educated and hailed from wealthy families. None of the attackers identified was more than 22 years old. They reportedly went missing for six months before the attack.

How these rich kids were radicalized, who gave them training, how they got hold of modern arms and ammunition, how they maintained communication with their terror hub before and during the attack - these are the main questions that need to be answered. If such kids continue to become terrorists, the country will soon become an imperiled state.

It has to be noted that, like after every other terror incident over the past three years, Bangladesh's government has rejected any international terror group's involvement in the latest attack as well. The denial mode will not produce any results since it is clear that the country lacks a coordinated policy to fight terrorism. The government should welcome any support or cooperation in this regard from friendly sources.

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DW Arafatul Islam Multimedia Journalist
Arafatul Islam Multimedia journalist focusing on Bangladeshi politics, human rights and migration.@arafatul