60% of militants arrested over the last three years have gone on the run after securing bail
Despite years of vigorous and continued success in detaining militants or thwarting their nefarious plans, law enforcement agencies have been unable to follow through on ensuring long-term punishment in the court of law.
The July 1, 2016 terror attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery, an upscale cafe in Gulshan, Dhaka, was a wake-up call not just for Bangladesh's law enforcement agencies, but the entire nation.
Since the attack, law enforcement agencies have conducted a rigorous anti-militancy campaign around the country to curb the growing risks of militant movements, including raids and public awareness programs.
After three years of rigorous anti-militancy drives, law enforcement officers can say militant groups have mostly been neutralized, but as 60% of the arrested are now out on bail and in hiding, a major threat looms overhead.
Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) Director General (DG) Benazir Ahmed on Sunday said the elite force arrested 512 militants after the Holy Artisan attack but around 300 of them were at large after they were released on bail.
However, the RAB chief did not explain what circumstances led to the court judges granting bail to the militants. He also did not say if the police or RAB had submitted sufficient evidence or cooperated with the prosecutors to secure strong sentences against the arrested.
Furthermore, the RAB DG also did not shed any light on whether law enforcement agencies keep track of militants who receive bail.
But he referred to the lawyers who represent militants in courts, and said: “Those who are advocating for militants can also be attacked by them. Militants have attacked lawyers on court premises in the past.”
The rule of law
Supreme Court lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua repudiated the RAB chief’s remarks, saying: “The Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees every citizen the right to justice. It is the court’s decision to grant bail, not lawyers. A person only becomes a criminal when convicted by the court.
“Pointing fingers at lawyers is completely unjustified. The lawyers are just fulfilling their functions by providing legal assistance to those who seek it.”
Human rights activist Nur Khan Liton told Dhaka Tribune that if law enforcement agencies investigated properly and submitted sufficient evidence to the court, then the accused would not have been granted bail.
He further said: “Law enforcement officers should not point fingers at lawyers without properly investigating first. They can always track people who get out on bail.”
The year 2019 was quite uneventful before at least two people were killed in a blast at a suspected militant den in Dhaka’s Bosila in April during a RAB raid.
The elite force members claimed the two men could have been members of banned militant outfit Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) considering the manner in which they exchanged fire with RAB personnel and had the bombs exploded.
Hours after the operation, two traffic police constables and one community traffic member were injured in a blast in Dhaka's Gulistan.
On May 26, a female assistant sub-inspector of police and two others were injured in a bomb explosion near a police vehicle at the Malibagh intersection in Dhaka.
The Islamic State claimed all three attacks.
Do lone wolf attacks have any connections?
In its March 2019 issue, a Telegram app-circulated magazine “Lone Wolf,” revealed a threat that Islamists militants have now targeted Bangladesh and its neighbour India for their future lone wolf attacks.
It even featured a possible list of targets in Bangladesh, which include eminent historian Prof Muntasir Mamun and president of Ekattorer Ghatok Dalal Nirmul Committee, Shahriar Kabir, and human rights activists Sultana Kamal.
In response, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan dismissively said: “The citizens of Bangladesh are not afraid of threats published in the ‘Lone Wolf’ magazine.”
Meanwhile, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mohammad Javed Patwary in May said militants are targeting law enforcement officials, including police, with an increasing trend of “lone wolf” attacks.
“Militants are now using the 'lone wolf' system all over the world. The trend of lone wolf attacks has gone up compared to that of coordinated attacks, and it is almost impossible to stop this trend,” he said.
The IGP also claimed that no foreign militant organizations are active in Bangladesh.
“Militant organizations like Islamic State (IS) are not active in Bangladesh, but they may have communicated their ideology to some people.”
Updating information on missing people underway
Sources at law enforcement agencies said they are currently updating the information on missing people and militants out on bail, in addition to increasing surveillance and monitoring activities.
Police and RAB sources said a lot of people have remained missing since the Holey Artisan attack and Sholakia attack in 2016.
As directed by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2016, law enforcement officers updated the list of missing people. RAB compiled a list of 262, which was later updated to 70.
RAB's Legal and Media Wing Director Mufti Mahmud Khan said updating the missing list is a continuous process.
“It is not possible to keep track of all the militants who are on bail as many of them are on the run after securing bail. They may try to re-organize again,” he added.
Shafqat Munir, research fellow at Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS), said the law enforcement and security agencies are quite well prepared to tackle any new challenges.
However, in light of the recent attacks in Sri Lanka and New Zealand, there is a need for renewed vigilance and a constant evaluation of the threat. We have to be prepared at all times, he added.
DMP’s Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit Chief Monirul Islam said: “They [IS] are very excited (after the Sri Lanka attack) right now. But there is nothing to panic about. The militants are scattered, but that does not mean they have disappeared completely. Their activities are limited to recovering organizational strength.
“However, we are updating the list of missing people and militants out on bail, and have surveillance on them,” he added.