While it is apparent that some local militant groups have established contact with the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda who have between them claimed responsibility for 35 attacks that have left 31 people dead since 2013, at least 24 other similar attacks conducted during the same period have not been claimed by anyone.
Law enforcement agencies, security analysts and our correspondents suspect that the unclaimed attacks were perpetrated by the supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir, Hefazat-e-Islam, Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Ansarullah Bangla Team and Hilful Fuzul.
The police are yet to complete their investigations and press specific charges against the suspects in the 24 cases that saw the murder of 22 persons including war crimes trial campaigners; Muslim, Hindu and Christian spiritual leaders and followers; and secularists and teachers.
Detectives suspect that JMB and Ansarullah may have already established ties with international militant groups. They also say the home-grown militant groups have been working in concert since 2013 to establish Islamic law in Bangladesh by eliminating atheists, secularists and whoever else opposes their style of armed jihad.
The militants’ proposed “state” includes parts of Buddhist-dominated Myanmar and Hindu-majority India while they also mull attacking those countries to “avenge the persecution of Muslims in the region.”
The enthusiasm of local militants and Islamist parties increased after the al-Qaeda chief in 2014 declared its new wing for the South Asian region, styled al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). Banned outfit Ansarullah or Ansar al-Islam represents AQIS, whose prime targets have been atheists and liberals.
Another outlawed group JMB joined international militant networks in 2012, according to SITE Intelligence Group, is suspected of working as the representative of Islamic State in Bangladesh. IS targets include non-Muslim and non-Sunni preachers, foreigners and security personnel.
Meanwhile, many members of the banned militant groups have joined little known organisations or formed new outfits to escape harsh legal action. They also change names and locations frequently to evade arrest.
The murder of police officer Babul Akter’s wife Mahbuba Khanam Mitu by three men on a motorcyle has still remained a mystery as neither IS nor AQIS claimed responsibility for the killing in Chittagong on June 5.
Police suspect that she was killed by militants, especially JMB, for Babul’s active participation and leading role in special operations against its members in the Chittagong region.
The death of a Hindu rickshaw-van puller named Subidh Chandra, 34, who was building a temple beside his house is also considered an act of militants. He was hacked to death near Malirkura Bridge of Polashbari Upazila under Nilphamari on June 3.
Septuagenarian Hindu priest Poromanondo Roy was stabbed at a village haat under Tungipara in Gopalganj on April 21 and succumbed to his injuries the following day. Locals caught the killer Shariful Sheikh, 25, immediately. Police said that he might have ties to extremist groups.
The grenade attack on several mosques inside a Navy base in Chittagong that left at least six people injured on December 18 last year created much hype at home and abroad as it is a strictly restricted area. Authorities said they had arrested one of the would-be suicide attackers who survived. Investigation updates are yet to be disclosed.
Earlier, in September, the Times of India had published a report citing Bangladeshi intelligence sources that a little-known militant group Hilful Fuzul al-Islam had planned to carry out bomb explosions on over 100 installations in the Chittagong Port area in retaliation for an escalated security clampdown against militants.
The attack came only two months after IS claimed responsibility for the grenade attack on a Shia procession at Dhaka’s Hussaini Dalan. The same group later launched bomb and gun attacks on three mosques of the Shia and Ahmadiyya communities.
On December 10, the organiser of a Baul festival, Zakaria Hossain Zakir, was hacked to death by a group of 10-12 people at Akundabaria in Chuadanga.
It is widely reported that followers of mystic Baul songs have long been subjected to torture and harassment by extremists in different parts of the country.
Police suspect JMB members for the bomb and gun attack on an Iskcon temple in Dinajpur on December 10 and a grenade attack on Kantaji temple in the same district on December 4. At least 12 Hindu devotees were injured in the attacks perpetrated during religious programmes at the two temples.
In November, a Shia member in Saidpur and an Iskcon temple organiser in Dinajpur came under attack by suspected militants. Both survived.
On October 5, Christian priest Luke Sarker was attacked by unidentified people who wanted to slaughter him with machetes. He too survived the attack.
Self-proclaimed Pir Khijir Khan was slaughtered on October 5 by unidentified assailants at his residence in the capital’s Badda area. Police think JMB members might have killed him for his liberal views.
Investigators also accuse JMB for the murder of Rahmat Ullah alias Nengta Fakir and his assistant Abdul Kader at the shrine at Bayezid of Chittagong on September 4 last year.
Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat leader and popular TV anchor Sheikh Nurul Islam Faruqi was slaughtered at his house in Dhaka’s East Rajabazar area on August 27, 2014. Family members and party colleagues blame some Jamaat-e-Islami leaders for the murder as Faruqi was vocal against radical Islam, but the police point the finger at JMB members.
Notorious for collecting ex-Jamaat-Shibir operatives, JMB is also blamed for the murders of Pir Lutfar Rahman and five others at Gopibagh in Dhaka on December 21, 2013; and Pir Toiyobur Rahman and his son Monirul Islam at Khalishpur of Khulna on August 3 the same year.
After pro-liberation youths launched an unprecedented movement at Dhaka’s Shahbagh in 2013 demanding capital punishment for the war criminals, it was Jamaat that reacted harshly on the streets and on social media platforms inciting attacks on its organisers.
Jamaat and its leaders had collaborated with the Pakistani Army during the 1971 Liberation War and most of its top leaders were under trial at that time.
Soon, radical Islamist platform Hefazat-e-Islam waged a counter-movement against the Shahbagh organisers terming them atheists, apparently for raising voice against Jamaat, and professed that atheists should be killed.
Agrani Bank staff Zafar Munshi was beaten and hacked to death in broad daylight in Motijheel area on February 14, 2013, only a week after the Shahbagh movement commenced. It is alleged that he was killed by Shibir activists for putting a banner in front of the bank’s branch demanding death penalty for war criminals.
Shahbagh activist and architect Ahmed Rajeeb Haider Shovon was killed near his Pallabi house on February 15. After the killing, Jamaat-Shibir-dominated media and their supporters campaigned labelling him as an atheist to justify the murder. AQIS claimed responsibility for the murder much later alleging that he was an atheist. In the verdict pronounced last year, the court said that it was Ansarullah members from North South University who carried out the attack.
On March 2, leader of Bangladesh Chhatra League and organiser of Gonojagoron Moncho in Sylhet Jagatjyoti Talukder was brutally killed in the city allegedly by Shibir men.
Cartoonist and engineer Sunnyur Rahman came under attack at Mirpur in Dhaka on March 9 in the midst of the Shahbagh movement. Even though AQIS did not claim responsibility for the attack, members of Ansarullah and like-minded groups confirmed that they attacked Sunnyur.
Buet student and Chhatra League activist Arif Raihan Dwip was stabbed in a dormitory of the university on April 9 the same year for opposing the Hefazat movement. He succumbed to his injuries on July 2. The lone accused is a suspected Shibir member sympathetic to the Hefazat demands.
Hefazat supporters were caught as they fled after hacking secularist activist Oyasiqur Rahman Babu to death in Dhaka’s Tejgaon area on March 30, 2015.
Another Buet student and blogger Tanmoy Ahmed Moon survived a fatal attack carried out allegedly by Shibir operatives in Gaibandha on August 11. Three months later, a college teacher and Bogra Gonojagoron Moncho organiser Zia Uddin Zakaria was hacked to death on December 9 the same year. Shibir has been blamed for the murder of Zakaria.
On October 9, 2014, police detained three suspected Ansarullah members during an attempt to kill a teacher of Dhaka’s Monipur school whom they labelled an atheist.
Music teacher and student of Shanto Mariam University Riyadh Morshed Babu was hacked to death in front of his house in Savar on January 4 last year. Police recently declared a bounty for two Ansarullah leaders for their direct involvement in the murder.
Chittagong Nursing Institute teacher Anjali Devi Chowdhury was hacked to death in Chittagong on January 11, 2015 allegedly by Shibir men for her involvement in the authorities’ decision to impose a ban on wearing the burqa on campus several years ago.
Differences over veiling practices, especially in classes or examinations halls, remains a contentious and violent issue. A Dhaka University teacher has been the subject of an Islamist agitation for nearly a year. He received a death threat recently.
At Rajshahi University, Prof AKM Shafiul Islam was killed in November 2014, in a murder claimed by AQIS. He was hacked to death following a Shibir campaign against him for opposing the use of the veil during exams. He was also known to be an avid afficionado of Baul music and philosophy.