ISIS and AQIS continue to expand activities in Bangladesh

For years, Islamic State (ISIS) and AQIS - Al Qaeda branch in the Indian Subcontinent have been trying to lure and recruit new jihadists from the madrassas

Islamic State, ISIS, Al Qaeda, Gulf countries, AQIS

Recently, two top-rung kingpins of Islamist jihadist outfit Islamic State (ISIS) were nabbed by law enforcement agencies in India after they entered the country with a notorious plot of sabotage activities.

According to media reports, acting on intelligence received from sister agencies, a Special Task Force (STF) team was deployed to the Dhubri sector in India to intercept the ISIS suspects, who also were wanted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

In the evening of March 19, 2024, the STF team launched a manhunt in the international border area and intercepted two suspects in the early hours of March 20 at the Dharmasala area of Dhubri after they had crossed the international border. Assam Police Chief Public Relations Officer Pranabjyoti Goswami in a statement said, “Both of them were apprehended and brought to STF office at Guwahati”.

The arrested ISIS cadres have been identified as Harish Ajmal Farooqi alias Harish Ajmal Farukhi and Anurag Singh alias Rehan. Police said that Farooqi is a resident of Uttarakhand’s Dehradun while Anurag Singh is a resident of Haryana’s Panipat.

Anurag Singh got converted to Islam while his wife is a Bangladeshi national, Goswami added.

Pranab Jyoti Goswami said, both individuals are described as highly indoctrinated and motivated leaders/members of ISIS in India, involved in various activities including recruitment, terror funding, and planning terror acts using improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

“They had furthered the cause of ISIS in India through conspiracies to carry out recruitment, terror funding and terror acts by means of IEDs at several places across India”, the police official said.

Although Islamic State has been gradually expanding its footprint in Bangladesh for years, authorities in Dhaka have been consistently denying existence of ISIS in the country.

It may be mentioned here that, ISIS-Bangladesh is a network of Islamic State supporters based in Bangladesh. It officially acknowledged the network in 2015. ISIS-Bangladesh includes among its members some veteran Bangladeshi terrorists intent on overthrowing the Bangladeshi Government to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state.

ISIS-Bangladesh has killed dozens, including a US citizen, and wounded more than 200 since its formation in 2015. It has a footprint in major cities throughout the country, while it has at least several dozen members.

One of the dastardly jihadist attacks of ISIS in Bangladesh was the one at Dhaka’s Holey Artisan café in July 2016, where 22 innocent civilians, a large segment of whom were foreign nationals were brutally murdered.

Over the past several years, more than 40 people belonging to minority communities, mainly Hindus, have been brutally murdered by machete wielding radicals. They had also not spared Muslim secular writers, publishers, and bloggers for raising their voices against extremist ideology.

ISIS owned the attack, and published pictures of several dead victims while the gunmen were still holding hostages inside the café, in its propaganda news website Amaq al-Akhbariyah.

On December 1, 2017, Reuters reported that the Bangladeshi authorities are in possession of communications between the architect of the attack and Abu Terek Mohammad Tajuddin Kausar, an ISIS militant born in Bangladesh but living in Australia. Kausar explicitly approved the attack and advised the five radicals to target non-Muslim foreigners and expatriates.

Investigations conducted in the aftermath of the attack have identified at least three terrorist suspects with ties to Canada. Tamim Chowdhury, identified as the mastermind of the Dhaka attack, was a Canadian citizen raised in Ontario and educated in chemistry at the University of Windsor. Chowdhury travelled to Syria for militant training after graduating in 2012, and Bangladeshi officials believe he is linked to a group of Islamic radicals in Alberta known to counterterrorism analysts as the “Calgary cluster”.

Following Chowdhury’s death during a police raid in August 2016, ISIS published an article in its Rumiyah magazine describing him as the “Former Head of Military and Covert Operations of the Soldiers of Khilafah in Bengal”.

Tahmid Hasib Khan, a Canadian citizen and University of Toronto student, was initially believed to be a hostage in the Dhaka café but was subsequently detained by Bangladeshi authorities. He was arrested after video footage filmed by witnesses and militants within the bakery emerged, depicting Khan holding a gun and smoking cigarettes with the militants.

Although in October 2016, investigators from the Bangladeshi counterterrorism unit released a statement clearing Tahmid Hasib of any links to the attack and a Dhaka court acquitted him of terrorism, according to credible sources, Khan was released at the frantic persuasion of Canadian authorities, especially Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In the same year, two days after two militants had blown themselves up to evade arrest at Sitakunda in Chittagong, a suicide bomber — believed to be an ISIS activist — on March 17, blew himself up near a camp of the Rapid Action Battalion at Ashkona in Dhaka. On March 24, another suicide bomber attacked a police box and blew himself up in Uttara, near Dhaka Airport. On the same day, the army, police, and RAB began an operation at a suspected den of banned Islamist militant Jama’atul Mujahedeen Bangladesh (JMB) at a house in Shibbari area of Sylhet city in northeastern Bangladesh. By March 26, six people, including two policemen, were killed in terrorist bomb blasts and grenade attacks in Sylhet; and later two terrorists blew themselves up. ISIS has owned all these attacks.

According to my own research, Islamic State succeeded in establishing its existence in Bangladesh by forming franchise with local jihadist outfits such as Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB), Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) which was later rebranded as Ansar Al Islam (AAI), although it was later reported in the media that AAI has formed alliances with Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). ABT or AAI has been implicated in crimes including brutal attacks and murders of secularist bloggers from 2013 to 2015 by branding them as Kafirs.

According to the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, the ABT is an Al Qaeda inspired Islamic extremist group in Bangladesh that started its activities during 2007 as the Jama’atul Muslemin funded by different Afro-Arab NGOs. The group ceased to operate when funding ended. It resurfaced during 2013 as the ABT. Ansarullah Bangla Team is a front group for AQIS.

A 2013 report identified Muhammad Jasimuddin Rahmani as the spiritual leader of ABT. He was inspired by Anwar al-Awlaki, who had been killed by the US. Rahmani was suspected of building an Islamist terror network in Bangladesh for about minimum 5 years. They shared their views on a website called “Ansarulla Bangla Team”. The server of the website was located in Pakistan. Muhammad Jasimuddin Rahmani was the Imam of Hatembagh mosque, Dhanmondi, and has been regularly maintaining contacts with covert representatives of ISI at Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka. The organization had a presence on Facebook where it was publishing propaganda and names its targets. Many of its supporters online are also supporters of Bangladesh Islami Chhatra Shibir and Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), while it is also alleged that ABT was maintaining connections with several leaders of ultra-Islamist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

The ABT claimed responsibility for some of the prominent murders and attacks of atheist bloggers, including Ahmed Rajib Haider, Asif Mohiuddin, Avijit Roy, Oyasiqur Rahman, Ananta Bijoy Das and AKM Shafiul Islam.

On 21 November 2022, two of the men sentenced to death for the murder of US citizen Avijit Roy escaped from a courtroom in Dhaka, assisted by men on motorbikes armed with chemical sprays.

According to the case statement, Ayman alias Moshiur Rahman, 37, Sabbirul Haque Chowdhury alias Akash alias Konik, 24, Tanveer alias Samshed Mia alias Saiful alias Tushar Biswas, 26, Riazul Islam alias Riaz alias Suman, 26, and Md Omar Farooq alias Noman alias Ali alias Saad, 28, took up the plan to attack police to snatch away the accused at the plan and instruction of Ansar Al Islam militant wing leader Mohammad Ziaul Haque alias Sagor alias Big Brother alias Major Zia (sacked).

Although Bangladesh authorities have repeatedly claimed that these jihadist terrorists are under radar and would be arrested “soon” according to the latest media report, the two death row convicted militants, who were snatched away from police custody from the premises of a Dhaka court, have not been arrested even after 15 months.

In December 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken through its Rewards for Justice (RFJ) office offered a reward for information on the terrorist attack in Dhaka that left US citizen Avijit Roy dead and his wife Rafida Bonya Ahmed seriously injured. Blinken authorized a reward of up to US$5 million for the information leading to the arrest or conviction in any country of anyone involved in the murder of Roy and the attack on Ahmed.

The US State Department in its statement said:

Two related groups have claimed responsibility.  Ansarullah Bangla Team, an al-Qa’ida-inspired terrorist group based in Bangladesh, claimed responsibility for the attack.  Shortly thereafter, Asim Umar, the now-deceased leader of al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), posted a widely circulated video claiming that AQIS followers were responsible for the attack on Roy and Ahmed.

In 2016, the Department of State designated AQIS as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224, which provides authority to sanction terrorists and those who support terrorists or terrorist acts.

ISIS-AQIS recruitment nets in Bangladesh

For years, Islamic State (ISIS) and AQIS – Al Qaeda branch in the Indian Subcontinent have been trying to lure and recruit new jihadists from the madrassas while these jihadist outfits have been using Tablighi Jamaat as front vessel for the recruitment purposes. Similarly, jihadist recruitments are taking place within madrassas in India whereas Tablighi Jamaat also plays a key role in the recruitment process.

A 2018 India Today investigative report found that “several madrasas in Kerala are teaching the theo-fascist variety of Islam” and Wahhabism. Funded by Afro-Arab nations, especially the Gulf countries, madrassas have been indoctrinating impressionable minds to establish a worldwide caliphate by continuing global jihad.

In 2019, Indian broadcast network NDTV published a detailed report on the jihad recruitment going on in West Bengal madrassas, highlighting how Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) used some madrassas in the Burdwan and Murshidabad districts for recruitment of young men to jihadist terror activities.

In 2020, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in India revealed that an Al-Qaeda cadre had planned to run a jihadist training camp under the façade of operating a madrassa in West Bengal, and had already raised funds for the purpose.

But even before this revelation, an exclusive report in Firstpost brought to the fore the fact that although Indian madrasas have not been as involved in jihad terrorism as their counterparts in the neighboring Islamic nations, their jihad recruitment was indeed very real. By teaching that women are inferior beings and non-Muslims are kafirs (infidels) they initiate their students into fanatical thinking.

In a 2017 article, Indiafacts quoted retired IPS officer Ram Ohri: “According to a conservative estimate during the last two decades Saudi Arabia alone has rolled out nearly 90 billion dollars for the propagation of Wahhabi Islam through the establishment of thousands of mosques and madrasas. On a rough count, more than 25 per cent of the 90 billion petro-dollars are believed to have been pumped into India, Nepal and Bangladesh [and Sri Lanka] for establishing more madrasas. Additionally, huge sums were transferred from other Muslim nations, including Pakistan, to establish lakhs of madrasas in India and other countries of South Asia to step up the campaign of global jihad”.

Back in 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir authorities booked three teachers of a Siraj-ul-Uloom at Jammu and Kashmir’s Shopian district; according to police sources, 13 students of the madrassa had joined various terror outfits, and one of its alumni, Sajad Bhat, turned out to be the jihad suicide bomber who carried out the 2019 Pulwama attack, killing 40 India CRPF personnel.

After a high-intensity explosion took down an entire building of a madrassa in Banka, Bihar in 2020, Hari Bhushan Thakur, a local politician, stated:

“Madrasas are meant to provide the education of terrorism in Bihar. Hence, we have demanded a ban on such institutions in Bihar”. While Thakur received a major backlash for his statement, one is left wondering how this mass of explosives made its way into an educational institution.


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