Students of computer science, engineering and medicine are increasingly the target of radicalisation by militants who view their technical ability coupled with sharp but uncritical thinking skills as an asset, experts have said.
Prof Dr Nehal Karim, chairman of the Department of Sociology at Dhaka University, made the assertion that such students generally lack analytical skills and are less able to critically weigh the basis and reasoning behind statements presented as facts.
Law enforcement agencies say several hundred members of Islamist extremist outfits have been found to have previously studied the sciences.
They include the two top leaders of the ISIS-affiliated New JMB, Mainul Islam alias Musa and Fardin alias Piyas, who were killed in drives against militancy.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit (CTTC) also said the head of New JMB’s Information Technology wing - Basharujjaman alias Chocolate Bashar - is a software engineer.
“The reason why students from these educational backgrounds are so susceptible to militant grooming needs a lot in-depth studies into their psychology,” said Prof Dr Mehtab Khanam, the chair of the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology at Dhaka University.
One line of inquiry considered by Intelligence agencies is that these students are equipped with technical know-hows of bomb making for when the militant outfits expand to carrying out terrorist activities.
Mirroring Dr Nehal’s opinion, Police Bureau of Investigation’s Chief Deputy Inspector General Banaz Kumar Majumder also said science students tend to perform better within such organisations without resorting to questioning, while students from the arts or social sciences are more apt at reasoning without much technical knowledge.
RAB’s Additional Director General (Operations) Colonel Anwar Latif Khan said: “We have found that is increasingly common for New JMB, Ansar Al Islam, Hizb-ut Tahrir, Harkatul Zihad and some other extremist groups to recruit science students.”
In the case of two mid-level New JMB leaders - Oliujjaman alias Oli, 28, and Anwarul Alam, 29 - the grooming was a slow but inevitable process that took years.
Having graduated from BUET in 2012, electrical engineer Oli expressed an interest in learning more about Islam early on in his student life, and this was exploited by his recruiters.
New JMB’s leader Sarwar Jahan alias Abdur Rahman, Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury and some others started exploiting his desire to learn more about Islam by giving him books with extreme ideologies. They eventually succeeded in radicalising him fully.
Oli formally joined the militant outfit in 2015 and was made a recruiter for the Kafrul area.
Together with chemical engineering student Anwarul Alam, he maintained a virtual learning centre for their members, teaching them how to make anti-Islam fake news on the internet and make them go viral.
They were both arrested along with three others by RAB on March 20.
On April 7, RAB also arrested eight members of New JMB from Narayanganj and Comilla who disguised their militant actives in the form of an e-commerce business.
The leader of that group, Md Jamal alias Rasel Sirajee, 45, has a diploma in computer hardware while of the other members, Kashem Munshi, 31, is a bachelor of science, Zabir Hawlader, 22, has a diploma in computer graphics and hardware, and Nurul Absar, 27, was studying homeopathy when arrested.
“During their initial interrogations, they confessed to conducting militant activities online and admitted to being expert bomb makers,” said RAB-11 Commanding Officer Lt Col Kamrul Hasan.