Many of them not appearing for hearings, may have gone into hiding and re-engaged in militant activities
Seventeen days after blogger Asif Mohiddin escaped an attack on his life in January 2013, police arrested Saad al Nahin and six others for attempting to murder the blogger. The accused were branded as members of the emerging radical Islamist outfit Ansarullah Bangladesh Team (ABT).
This was the first recorded attack by ABT.
In subsequent years, hundreds of suspected ABT militants were arrested in various raids by law enforcement agencies, as the government looked to stamp out extremism. However, efforts to make the arrests appear to have been moot, with nearly half of all the accused having secured bail despite the danger that they may pose.
As many as 42% of all arrested members of ABT have secured bail and are moving around freely, according to data from Police Headquarters and court documents.
Altogether 350 ABT operatives were arrested in 76 cases filed on charges of murder and militancy beginning 2013. Among them, 148 have secured bail, this correspondent has found.
Ominously, 17 of the accused who secured bail have been missing since their release. They have not shown up for hearings and it is suspected that they have returned to militancy.
Police and investigators claim it is not their fault if the militants they capture secure bail in court. However, court sources argue that police are to blame for failing to gather sufficient evidence against those arrested.
Trials in militancy cases are a lengthy process, sometimes taking years, which allows the accused to secure bail, the court sources added.
So far, trials have been completed in only seven cases, and the remaining 69 cases are still under trial and investigation.
In the blogger Asif Mohiddin case, Nahian, an evening shift MBA student at Dhaka University and nephew of former state minister for labour Mujibul Haq Chunnu, walked out of prison after securing bail. Three other accused--Md Kamal Hossain, Kawser Hossain and Md Kamal Uddin—were also released on bail.
Md Kamal Hossain went into hiding and police currently have no trace of his whereabouts. The so-called spiritual leader of ABT, Jasimuddin Rahmania, and another accused are now in jail, and the remaining accused is absconding.
In another case, Asif Adnan and Fazle Elahi Tanjil were arrested on September 24, 2014.
Adnan, son of a retired judge, and Tanjil, son of a top bureaucrat, were followers of ABT’s Rahmania. Both were paraded before the media during a press briefing at the DMP Media Centre.
Based on a computer, three cell phones, two pen drives and three CDs seized from their possession, police claimed both were preparing to become militants.
According to a DB press note circulated at the time, both were planning to go to Syria to be trained by the Nusra brigade and then return to Bangladesh to launch an AQIS network, after they were inspired by a video message from al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Adnan was released on bail within three months of his arrest and later acquitted of the charges, while Tanjil disappeared after being released on bail.
Acting on information from Adnan and Tanjil, police arrested Samiun Rahman alias Ibn Hamdan from Kamalapur Railway Station on September 29. The British citizen of Bangladeshi origin, who reportedly had come to Bangladesh to recruit militants, was released on bail.
His arrest in New Delhi in 2017 was a big surprise for all. Police were left baffled as to how a British militant recruiter was freed and able to leave Bangladesh when his passport had been confiscated by the authorities.
Similarly, half of the 12 accused in the blogger Niladri Chatterjee murder case are now out on bail. Niladri was hacked to death in the capital’s Khilgaon in August 2015. The case is still under investigation.