The latest claim by the Islamic State (IS) that it has launched a new front in Bangladesh and its local fighters are gearing up to launch attacks on India and Myanmar has been dismissed by the government in Dhaka, which says the militant group has no presence in the South Asian nation.
In an interview published in the latest issue of the Islamic State magazine Dabiq, Shaykh Abu Ibrahim al-Hanif, who was introduced as the head of the organization’s Bangladesh wing, said efforts to recruit “soldiers of the Khilafah (Caliphate)” in Bangladesh has gained “great momentum” with many Muslims joining its ranks.
“Bengal (Bangladesh) is an important region for the Khilafah and the global jihad due to its strategic geographic position… a strong jihad base in Bengal will facilitate performing guerrilla attacks inside India… Also, jihad in Bengal is a stepping-stone for jihad in Burma,” Hanif said in the interview.
Hanif added that IS has succeeded in building a base by attracting Muslims following the organization’s campaign in Bengali language in the social media.
However, Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said IS is indulging in false propaganda.
“The statement (that IS has established its network in Bangladesh), which was issued outside the country, actually shows that the group is desperately seeking a foothold in our country,” Kamal said in a media conference in Dhaka on Friday. “This statement is bogus because the group has no existence in Bangladesh.”
IS claims attacks
In Bangladesh, where more than 90 percent of the country’s 160 million population is Muslim, Islamists have long agitated on issues which they say threaten Islam.
After an Italian aid worker, a Japanese farming expert, two Shiite people and a muezzin of a Shiite mosque were killed in four separate attacks between September and November in Bangladesh, IS claimed responsibility for all of the deaths.
Among the death threats that around three dozen Bangladeshi Christian leaders received in December, many were claimed to have been sent by local IS commanders.
IS also claimed responsibility for the February murder of a Hindu priest in northern Bangladesh.
Local groups blamed
Despite the reported IS claim of responsibility for the killings and threats, authorities insist the group does not have a functioning network in the country and blames the opposition alliance, led by Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) for the attacks.
Police have also said Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), another banned local militant outfit, was behind some of the gun and bomb attacks.
Both the BNP and JeI have rejected the allegations, saying the government is desperate to frame them for terror crimes.
But a JeI central executive council member and former Member of Parliament, Hamidur Rahman Azad, agreed with the government in dismissing the IS claim.
"The claim that Jamaat e Islami grassroot cadres are joining the Islamic State in Bangladesh is absolutely false and baseless. None from our organization has joined that group," said JeI executive council member Hamidur Rahman Azad in a press release Friday.
Experts dismiss IS threat
Retired Major General Mohammad Abdur Rashid, executive director of Dhaka’s Institute of Conflict, Law & Development Studies, said all terrorist outfits in Bangladesh are homegrown and their creations were linked to the turbulence of the country’s domestic politics.
“IS claimed responsibility to some recent killings in Bangladesh. But those violent incidents have been found as a mixture of terrorist actions and contract killings, aimed at causing destabilization in the country,” he told VOA.
“IS has not turned its main focus from spreading its network in the West. It has not prepared itself yet to look east. The news or interview as published in Tabiq and claims to have established an IS base in Bangladesh roping in local fighters, clearly seems to be a hoax,” he added.
Security analyst Ajai Sahni, executive director of New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management, said the terrorist groups in Bangladesh are in complete disarray as a result of decimation of their leaderships, both in counter-terrorism operations and as a result of the country’s war crimes trials.
“The surviving fragments are now attempting to reinvent themselves, and the IS banner is currently the most theatrical and effective in terms of getting international attention. IS also finds it advantageous to claim that it has ‘spread’ to Bangladesh and established a ‘base’ there, and has happily claimed the occasional hacking and stabbing incidents against intellectuals and bloggers as its own doing,” Sahni said to VOA.
However, he added there is no sign of any transfer of resources, capabilities or materials, nor of any direct command structures or networks that suggest an effective operational links between the terrorist groups in Bangladesh and the IS leadership and networks in Iraq-Syria, Sahni noted.
“The possibility of any dramatic spike in terrorism in Bangladesh or directed against India in the foreseeable future, however, remains remote,” he said.