Militant threat remains low despite arrest of alleged jihadist recruiter
On 29 September the authorities arrested a British national of Bangladeshi decent, Samiun Rahman, who they claim was in the country to encourage locals to join jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq. His capture came after two of his alleged recruits, both members of the local militant group Ansarullah Bangladesh Team (ABT), were detained by security forces on 24 September. The police have accused the two of preparing to leave for Syria to fight with the Islamic State (IS) or the al-Qaeda-aligned Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN).
Their arrests were triggered by information obtained from seven alleged members of the jihadist group Jamaat ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), who had been detained by the security forces following raids in Dhaka on 19 September. The authorities claimed that the JMB men had been communicating with IS leaders, and were coordinating with the ABT members, to launch a campaign of attacks against unnamed public figures. Police have said they seized 10 kg of unidentified explosives in the raids, and that imprisoned JMB and ABT leaders had held secret meetings to plan their operations.
However, the authorities have provided no further evidence about the alleged plots, and both JMB and ABT have demonstrated only limited capabilities in recent years. Moreover, a number of senior members of both groups are already imprisoned and so their activities can easily be restricted. This suggests that the Government’s claim of an imminent campaign of attacks is overstated.
The authorities’ claims that Rahman fought with JaN, and that he had been in Bangladesh since February seeking to recruit fighters, are plausible. However, they have presented no evidence that he has any official ties to either IS or JaN, suggesting he was likely acting on his own. We consequently believe that his arrest does not indicate that IS or al-Qaeda has established a meaningful presence in the country. The arrested militants’ purported international links are also likely to have been exaggerated; they are most likely a reference to the men’s contact with Rahman.
On 29 September the General Secretary of the ruling Awami League claimed that the Islamist opposition group Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) was “in league with different international extremist groups” and was the same as “al-Qaeda, the Taliban and IS”. Both JMB and ABT are militant offshoots of JeI, which is a close ally of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). We consequently believe that the Government may be overstating the significance of the recent arrests to help discredit the political opposition.
The arrests also follow the announcement of the formation of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (see our last Report). The Government may have used that development, and the claims of ties between local militants and foreign jihadists, to secure political support from Washington by presenting itself as a counter-terrorism partner. Nevertheless, we continue to assess that the jihadist threat in Bangladesh remains low, although there remains a low-level risk of isolated violence by radicalised individuals.