The report highlights the lingering threat posed to Bangladesh by transnational groups such as ISIS and AQIS
International militant groups remain a threat to Bangladesh despite a fall in the number of recorded terrorist incidents in 2017 following a proactive government approach, the US State Department has said.
In its Country Report on Terrorism in 2017 issued on September 19, 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 ISIS and AQIS.
“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.”
Specifically, the report says that ISIS claimed responsibility for three attacks inside Bangladesh in March 2017.
This contradicts the official government assessment of the incidents, however, with Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal and security agencies repeatedly having claimed that homegrown militants were responsible.
The highlighted attacks began on March 17, when a suspected suicide bomber infiltrated a temporary facility belonging to a counterterrorism unit of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and injuring two RAB officers.
On March 24, a man self-detonated at a police checkpoint near Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, killing only himself.
The following day, eight people were killed and more than 40 injured in two blasts during a raid on a suspected ISIS safe house in Sylhet.
“While the Government of Bangladesh often attributed terrorist violence to local militants, AQIS and ISIS together have claimed responsibility for nearly 40 attacks in Bangladesh since 2015,” the report says.
The report, however, praises the response of the country to the March 2017 incidents, saying: “Bangladesh security forces have (since) foiled dozens of plots by terrorist groups.”
Countering violent extremism
Highlighting the preventive measures taken by Bangladesh against terrorism, militancy and radicalization in 2017, the State Department says Bangladeshi organizations continued cooperative activities through the Country Support Mechanism under the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF).
It 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.”
The State Department also highlights how Bangladesh is a member of the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering, with the central bank and Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) leading the government’s efforts to counter the financing of terrorism.
“The terrorist finance provisions of Bangladesh’s anti-terrorism act make illegal the receipt and collection of money, services, and material support where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the same has been used or may be used for any purpose by a terrorist entity,” the report says.
“The Act includes a broad provision providing for mutual legal cooperation on terrorism matters with other nations and a comprehensive forfeiture provision for assets involved in terrorism activities, although there was an absence of significant terrorist financing and money laundering cases.”
The fall in terrorist incidents in Bangladesh is part of a broader decline globally, with the report noting that the total number of attacks worldwide in 2017 decreased by 23% and the number of deaths fell by 27%.
The State Department noted that although terrorist attacks were recorded in 100 countries in 2017, nearly three in five (59%) took place in only five countries: Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Pakistan, and the Philippines.
Similarly, 70% of all deaths due to terrorist attacks took place in five countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, and Syria.
Nathan A Sales, ambassador-at-large and coordinator for the counterterrorism bureau of US State Department, said 2017 saw the United States and a global coalition accomplish major efforts against ISIS.
“Ninety-nine percent of the territory ISIS once held in Iraq and Syria has now been liberated,” he told a briefing by teleconference on September 19.
“Despite many successes, the terrorist landscape grew more complex in 2017. ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their affiliates have proven to be resilient, determined, and adaptable. They have adjusted to heightened counterterrorism pressure in Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and elsewhere.”
US support for combating militancy
The State Department says Bangladesh was a willing participant in its Anti-terrorism Assistance program in 2017.
“Bangladesh received counter-terrorism training on evidence collection, crime scene investigation, infrastructure protection and building unit capacity in crisis response, as well as on enhancing its cyber and digital investigation capabilities,” the report says.
“Bangladesh is receiving assistance from the United States in developing an Alert List of militants to better screen for persons of interests at its ports of entry.”
In addition, the Department of Defense’s Pacific Command (PACOM) Augmentation Team worked to monitor and counter terrorist messaging through television and online media, as well as in workshops with students in various cities.
However, the State Department identified a lack of transparency in the government’s counter-terrorism policy.
“Bangladesh’s lack of a publicly available strategy to counter violent extremism hindered sustained engagement with the United States and the international community,” the report says.