'Why and how are youths both from affluent families and the poor coming together in militancy? How did madrasa students come to know of students from foreign universities? We are conducting investigative research into all these socio-political factors'
Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) Director General (DG) Benazir Ahmed said that at this moment there is no threat of militant attacks in the country, as they lack the capacity to launch an attack.
“They do not have the capacity to launch an attack at the moment,” said Benazir during the question/answer session in a press conference held in the RAB headquarters on June 28. “But that does not mean we should become complacent.”
“To resist militancy, we have to maintain constant vigilance, so that militants are unable to get any sort of logistic support and come together to launch attacks,” the DG said. He went on to answer further queries about the militant situation in the country.
What is the current militant scenario after the Holey Artisan attack? Is the country under threat?
In terms of militant activities, the Holey Artisan incident was a turning point. It was a wake-up call for the entire nation. The combined efforts of law enforcers and civilians, have, at the moment, brought the situation under control.
Take RAB as an example. From July 1 last year till now, RAB has conducted 156 operations across the country. 486 people were arrested during the drives. We conducted an additional eight operations, where 21 militants were killed in gunfights.
Many militants were also either arrested or killed during police operations.
We will never stop closely monitoring the militants. Even yesterday, we arrested three militants. Not a month goes by when we do not capture a militant.
We have set aside a portion of our capacities to deal with militancy. One of our greatest strenghts is that the government and the population in general is against militancy. At present I can say the country is safe from militancy, and we are not facing any threats.
The solution is not only arresting militants. We need to de-radicalize them, and we have a long way to go. We have to rehabilitate, counsel and then integrate them into the society to eradicate violent extremism. All this will take time. We have to tread carefully in tackling these issues.
Law enforcers are saying militants killed the publisher in Munshiganj. Earlier, renowned teacher Zafar Iqbal was attacked. Are the militants regrouping?
The attack on Zafar Iqbal was an isolated attack, and it was perpetrated by a local group. We are trying to bring all these groups under our surveillance, but we may miss a few.
This is why I am saying we should not pat ourselves on our backs because we have come this far. There is no space for complacency. We should put more effort into ensuring nobody gets radicalized, and continue counter-radicalization, de-radicalization, counselling and rehabilitation.
Do you have the finances or preparation to rehabilitate militants?
It is not only the job of the law enforcement agencies to undertake this responsibility. There are a lot of factors related to it. We arrested 486 people. There should be a separate program to de-radicalize and integrate them back into the society.
But if we focus only on this, we will get diverted from our main work, but has to be done.
How are you going to trace “lone wolves”?
Detective intel is the main weapon to counter any sort of militant operations. We have to identify the militants and bring them to book by using every bit of our detective intelligence.
And we have to continue social and religious awareness programs to ensure nobody else gets radicalized.
I believe terrorism is a conspiracy against Islam. To fight this, all Islamic leaders have to come forward and join hands with law enforcement agencies.
People are getting involved with militancy by listening to Jasim Uddin Rahmani’s sermons on different media. Are the law enforcers trying to eliminate these productions?
When we see them, we try shutting them down. But we cannot shut down all the sites, since their admins live abroad. They have no physical offices either but we try to get the down as much as we can. This is a global problem. We all have to fight this together.
The West have developed technologies to deal with this issue. But we do not have access to them. There is some software that automatically removes any sort of radicalized discussions on the internet. But we do not have access to them, and we cannot buy them even if we want to as the West will not sell all technologies to us.
However, we are hoping that our own people will come up with such software within 5-6 years.
Here, religious leaders and scholars have to unite to ascertain nobody gets radicalized through social media or the internet. Among all the people Islamic State (IS) killed, Muslims were the majority. Our scholars have to think on that. They have to identify the militants and show them to the rest of the world so nobody gets radicalized.
RAB is conducting research into the issue. Decision making or operational decision making becomes tough without proper research.
Why and how are youths both from affluent families and the poor coming together in militancy? How did madrasa students come to know of students from foreign universities? We are conducting investigative research into all these socio-political factors.
We are almost at the end of our research. We will share the details with everyone once completed.
Our objective is to analyze the findings so we can use them in our operations, and share details with social thinkers and those who work with militant issues.
Different foreign media are saying militancy can rise again before the upcoming national election. What challenges do you think you will be facing as the RAB DG?
These are possibilities, not based upon any solid information. These are hypotheses. But we are not ignoring the possibilities. They will be under consideration, so that nobody can re-organize militant groups or carry out an attack before the election.
Weapons, explosives and finances are being supplied to militants. Are the routes being monitored?
RAB has arrested several financiers. After 9/11, the scenario has changed, and terrorists are not funded by banks and NGOs like in the 90s. The US has identified a lot of NGOs and shut them down. Several NGOs in our country have been shut down as well.
For example, one arrestee got finances through an LC by opening a company in Spain. The militants use different ways. When they are stopped on one side, they try securing their finances by another.
Even though a lot of people finance the militant activities, a huge part comes through fund raising. A lot of government officials, doctors, bankers got involved with militancy and later financed others by selling off their properties.
We are in communication with the Bangladesh Bank. We are aware of the issue, and are working on it.
RAB has a prisoner database, where a lot of information is stored. After they are released on bail, should you continue monitoring them?
Militants now use different techniques. We captured an influential militant, who is trying to continue his activities while in prison. We are monitoring him from inside.
There was a time when we could not find another influential militant. Four months later, we came to know had gone to jail after orchestrating a fight to conceal his identity.
We even saw how some militants got bail in cases lodged against them, as their own associates put them behind bars again under the pretext of lesser crimes.
When law enforcers try one technique, the militants counter it by using their own techniques. We try to stop the new tactics they employ.
We have to keep them in separate cells and have regular counselling sessions. We [law enforcers], prison authorities and the government are aware that we have work to do inside the prisons. We have recommended separate prisons for militants to the government.
Military commandos were brought during the Holey Artisan attack. Did RAB or the police not have the capacity to fight the situation?
I would not look at the issue in that manner. I would say this was foresight from the government’s part. The government wanted unify all state enforcement agencies in tackling such a severe incident.
This resulted in us ending the Holey Artisan siege within 11 hours. The government showed its might. Now, after having increased their capacities, I believe RAB, police and army all have the individual and collective ability to handle militant situations.