The antagonistic political practices in Bangladesh have played a part in the resurgence of jihadis while the Awami League-led government’s crackdown on opponents undermines the efforts to disrupt militant recruitment and attacks, the International Crisis Group (ICG) says in a report.
Although the country faces a sustained threat from jihadist attacks, the government has politicized it, ICG claims in the report ‘Countering Jihadist Militancy in Bangladesh’ published on Wednesday.
The ruling party’s continued marginalization of political opponents “risk sapping resources from efforts to disrupt jihadists,” the Crisis Group observes.
It claims that bitter political divisions, especially since the 2014 election, have reopened space for new forms of jihadi activism.
With the political polarization reaching historic high and local jihadist groups such as Ansar Al Islam and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), with links to IS and al-Qaeda, the conditions are ripe for new forms of militancy, the ICG warns.
This could threaten Bangladesh’s security and religious tolerance.
In its report, the IGC -- an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization -- blames Bangladesh’s “contentious national politics” of playing a role in “enabling jihadist resurgence.”
It says that the political polarization, too, has contributed to the growth of militancy.
The report claims that “a purge of BNP and JeI (Jamaat-e-Islami) sympathisers from the armed forces has elicited animosity within some military circles toward the Awami League, which the jihadists also appear to be seeking to exploit.”
The ICG notes that the influx of the Rohingyas since last August also raises a security concern for Bangladesh as jihadist groups have referenced the minority’s plight to mobilize support.
Pointing out that the use of blunt and indiscriminate force has helped to eliminate a large number of militants, the ICG notes that security officials fear the groups’ abilities of jihadist movements remain the same.
Leaders of the Awami League have used the threat to discredit the BNP and Jamaat, accusing them of being involved in some high-profile attacks.
Marginalizing the mainstream political opposition, according to the ICG report, “is likely to play into the hands of jihadist groups.”
The report blames “Bangladesh’s deeply polarised politics and the increasingly exclusionary bent of the Awami League-led government” for contributing to the resurgence of militancy.
A major political vacuum was created through the marginalization of the BNP and the government’s targeting of Jamaat. During this time, the law enforcement agencies focused on containing the Awami League’s opponents failed to effectively counter the emergence of Ansar Al Islam and the reemergence of JMB, the report says.
ICG suggests the government adopt “a counter-terrorism strategy anchored in reformed criminal justice and better intelligence gathering” instead of relying on indiscriminate force.
“Rather than cracking down on rivals, it should forge a broad social and political consensus on how to confront the threat,” it adds.
To forestall further jihadist violence, the ICG recommends reversing the political polarization and building political consensus on how to tackle the problem while investing in a professional police and judiciary.
“Without a change of course – and particularly if the December elections trigger a crisis similar to that around previous polls – the country could face another jihadist resurgence,” the report added.
US treasury slaps sanctions on ‘ISIS-Bangladesh’
The US Treasury Department on Tuesday added “ISIS-Bangladesh,” along with six other jihadist organizations and two individuals connected to Islamic State, to its sanctions list for global terrorism.
The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) wrote on its website that it had added Abu Musab Al-Barnawi of Nigeria and Mahad Moalim of Somalia, ISIS-Bangladesh, ISIS-Egypt, ISIS-Philippines, ISIS-Somalia, ISIS-West Africa, Jund al-Khilafah-Tunisia, also known as ISIS-Tunisia, and the Philippines-based Maute Group, also known as Islamic State of Lanao.
The Bangladesh government does not acknowledge that any Islamic State affiliate organization is active in the country.
The US State Department said in a separate statement that including the latest additions, it had designated 40 Islamic State leaders and operatives dating back to 2011 under an order aimed at denying them access to the US financial system.
“These designations are part of a larger comprehensive plan to defeat ISIS that, in coordination with the 75-member Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, has made significant progress toward that goal,” the statement said, using a common abbreviation for Islamic State.
This effort “is destroying ISIS in its safe havens, denying its ability to recruit foreign terrorist fighters, stifling its financial resources, negating the false propaganda it disseminates over the internet and social media, and helping to stabilize liberated areas in Iraq and Syria so the displaced can return to their homes and begin to rebuild their lives,” the statement added.