An international security expert Prof Rohan Gunaratna has reopened the debate on whether the Islamic State is present in Bangladesh or not. He is emphatic however that “the group that mounted the Holey Artisan attack last year is not the JMB and that it was “the handiwork” of the Middle East based Islamist group. Dhaka Police are not yet ready to share his perception, though.
Prof Rohan Gunaratna, head of Singapore based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research was in the Bangladesh capital on 12th March to participate in a conference titled “Regional Cooperation in Curbing Violent Extremism and Transnational Crime”.
Bangladesh Police in collaboration with Interpol organised the three-day conference. Chiefs of police and other law enforcement agencies of South Asia and the neighbouring countries attended the meet.
Prof Gunaratna teaches security studies at Nanyang Technological University. He had interviewed terrorists and insurgents in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Saudi Arabia and other conflict zones.
So what is his take on B’desh Islamists? In a paper titled, “De-radicalisation of Militant: An Approach for Disengagement and Reintegration into Society,” Gunaratna examined the Holey Artisan attack and said it had three distinct phases.
While the first phase was killing of 21 people, 17 of them foreigners, the second phase was propaganda and the third phase showdown, said the professor, who is also a trainer for national security agencies, law enforcement authorities and military counter-terrorism units. He added that the police should have immediately responded to the Holey Artisan attack and not wait for the commandos to come.
In an interview with The Daily Star after the conference, Prof Rohan Gunaratna spoke why he thinks the IS is operating in Bangladesh. JMB has no organisational existence. And the old JMB ideology has changed as well. Moreover, according to him, the JMB did not kill foreign nationals such as Italian and Japanese. Nor did it kill Christians, Buddhists and Hindus.
“Now the ideology is driven by the IS,” he said and opined that if Bangladesh identified the enemy as IS because it was IS, it would certainly help the law enforcers, military and intelligence services to prepare themselves to fight IS.
“So, I want to share with you that the enemy in its new form must be identified and the government agencies and the public must understand the new face of terrorism so that they will be able mentally to respond to the new face of threat,” Gunaratna, who was invited to testify on the structure of al Qaeda before the 9/11 Commission, told the conference.
In his assessment the IS has emerged in Bangladesh through recruiting people who were once JMB members, but they do not call themselves JMB anymore.
“You cannot call it JMB anymore because it has changed its constitution, its ideology, its targeting strategy,” said the Professor, adding that the group is currently working with the IS central command. “It has even sent messages and propagated its operations to IS, which claimed responsibility of the Gulshan attack in its propaganda magazine Dabiq”.
Chief of Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of DMP Monirul Islam, who also spoke at the Dhaka meet, reiterated country’s strong stance against militancy while the police boss refuted the existence of ISIS in Bangladesh.
There is no presence of the Islamist terrorist outfit here, reiterated, Inspector General of Police, AKM Shahid ul Hoque, and declared that all claims on IS here are “baseless” propaganda.
“These are baseless propaganda. What we call militants are actually home-grown who might have been embodied with IS philosophy and ideology. But they don’t have any link with the IS,” he said
Rejecting Prof Rohan Gunaratna’s take, the IGP went on to say: “Rohan is not a police officer, nor a military officer. He does not deal with any security issue. He is an academician, a professor of a university. He has done his academic research on his own. But he does not have experience of the real issue of Bangladesh.”
“Many people of the group were arrested and they are in our custody. Not a single of them claimed to be the members of IS. Even the family members of the slain militants did not say they are IS members,” the IGP Shahid ul Hoque remarked.
He also stated that the law enforcers have got no evidence of home-grown militants taking training visiting the IS-dominated region. “None of them left Bangladesh to join the IS-sponsored training. They, however, might have presence in the virtual world, might have networks [with IS], might have connections on the Facebook and social media. It is their own,” said Shahid ul.
The IGP further said, “IS claimed credit of the Gulshan attack. Many [militants] of them were killed in operations following the incident but IS did not claim that those militants are members of IS,” he added.
“What Mr Rohan said is his own statement. We don’t endorse his statement,” the IGP said.
Last word on the controversy? Opinion is divided.