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US State Dept Country Report on Terrorism: Terror activity declined in Bangladesh

  • Published at 01:33 am November 3rd, 2019
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File photo of law enforcement officials during a raid Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Conviction rate is below 20 percent in terrorism-related cases, taking up to 7 years from filing of charges to sentencing

The pace and magnitude of terrorist attacks in Bangladesh has continued to decline amid a complex terrorist landscape and the rise of ethnically and racially driven terrorism worldwide in 2018, says the US Department of State.

The Bangladesh government's continued efforts to counter terrorist radicalization and recruitment and to limit the flow of Foreign Terrorist Fighters contributed to the decline in the country although a secularist writer [Shahjahan Bachchu] was murdered and a university professor [Muhammed Zafar Iqbal] was seriously injured in separate incidents in the country during the year, the State Department report observed.

In its Country Report on Terrorism in 2018 released on Friday, the State Department highlights the “zero-tolerance” policy adopted by the Bangladesh government to counter violent extremism and to prevent the country from becoming a terrorist “safe haven.”

However, the report highlights the lingering threat posed by transnational groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).

“Bangladeshi security forces have continued a counterterrorism campaign that claims to have disrupted planned attacks, captured suspected militant leaders, and seized caches of weapons, ammunition, and explosives. However, judicial impediments to the successful prosecution of terrorists and allegations of extrajudicial killings by security forces during counterterrorism raids have inhibited broader counterterrorism successes,” said the report.

While the Bangladeshi government has often attributed terrorist violence to local militants, AQIS and ISIS have together claimed responsibility for nearly 40 attacks in Bangladesh since 2015, the report says.

However, this contradicts the official government assessment of incidents, with Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal and security agencies repeatedly having claimed that homegrown militants were responsible. 

“Terrorist organizations used social media to spread their ideologies and solicit followers from Bangladesh,” the State Department says in its report. “Bangladeshi militants have been featured in multiple publications, videos, and websites associated with ISIS and AQIS.”

Lack of publicly available strategy for countering violent extremism 

Highlighting the preventive measures taken by Bangladesh against terrorism, militancy, and radicalization in 2018, the State Department says Bangladeshi organizations continued cooperative activities through the Country Support Mechanism under the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF). 

The report highlights how Dhaka North, Dhaka South, and Narayanganj are all members of the Strong Cities Network, and how the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the National Committee on Militancy, Resistance, and Prevention work with imams and religious scholars to build public awareness against terrorism.

“The police are engaging religious leaders to counter terrorist propaganda with appropriate scripture based messages and engaging imams to speak to surrendered militants to explain that the Quran does not support terrorist violence,” the report says.

“The police also are continuing community policing efforts (and) law enforcement authorities are working with local universities to identify missing students and curb radicalization to violence among university students.”

Although local research institutions, including private think tanks and both public and private universities, continued to engage in countering violent extremism (CVE)-related research, Bangladesh’s lack of a publicly available CVE strategy hindered sustained engagement with the United States and the international community, the report observed.

Issues to focus on

Bangladesh does share law enforcement information with INTERPOL, but does not have a dedicated terrorist watch list and no interactive API system, observed the US Department of State.

Although the International Civil Aviation Organization certified Dhaka’s Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport as 77.46% effective in “implementation of aviation safety standard compliance” in September 2017, more than 26 percentage points higher than a previous audit in 2012, the international community remains concerned about security procedures at the airport.

The death of suspects in anti militancy operations or 'shootouts' or 'crossfire', by the Rapid Action Battalion and the Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, as well as other elements of the Bangladesh police, are often euphemisms for extrajudicial killings, it observed.

“Observers questioned the veracity and significance of some of the reported counterterrorism operations, describing them as either staged by law enforcement or inaccurately portrayed by the media,” the report added.

Under resourced judicial sector

The US state department observed that the judicial sector is under-resourced for carrying out prosecutions and obtaining convictions in complex financial and material support cases. 

“The Evidence and Criminal Procedure Codes date back to the nineteenth century and there is no provision for plea bargaining,” it added.

Citing that lack of a career civil service prosecution unit remains a serious problem, it said civilian attorneys are appointed ad hoc to prosecute cases while there is little coordination between law enforcement and prosecutors. 

“Consequently, the overall conviction rate is below 20 percent, and a case can take as long as seven years from the filing of charges to sentencing,” observed the department.

Dangers ahead as terrorist landscape remained complex

Despite many successes, the terrorist landscape remains complex with regionally focused terrorist groups remaining as a threat in 2018, said Nathan A Sales, ambassador-at-large and coordinator for the counter terrorism bureau of the US Department of State.

Battle hardened terrorists who headed home from the war zone in Syria and Iraq or traveled to third countries are posing new dangers, he added.