The 1 July terror attack in Dhaka’s posh Gulshan area and the subsequent confirmation by the Bangladeshi authorities that all seven gunmen were its nationals—who had been to elite schools and universities—is sufficient evidence of the fact that Islamist radicalism is taking roots and attracting different categories of people in the over-populous nation.
That the attackers belonged to upper-middle class families and were part of the same so-called secular elite who throng upscale eateries like the Holey Artisan Bakery – site of the attack – goes to suggest that jihadi terror has succeeded in attracting the rich, and those who could rather easily navigate the course of modern cosmopolitan city life, where people of various faiths and nationalities live.
The attackers who stormed the eatery killed two policemen and 20 hostages in the most brutal manner — hacking them rather than shooting them dead — to generate as much terror as possible, and then posted photographs of their slaughtered victims on websites run by the Islamic State.
In fact, the IS claimed responsibility for the worst-ever terror attack in Bangladesh, trying to suggest that the gunmen — six of whom were shot dead by the police and one captured — were its cadres. Whether or not they actually belonged to the Islamic State is not important. What is important is the fact that youth from affluent backgrounds are getting attracted to jihadi outfits, whether home-grown or otherwise.
The matter of concern is that the Islamic State have adopted a strategy of letting jihadis of any variety use its name after carrying out a terror raid. That helps the outfit because it does not require the physical presence of its cadres in different parts of the world.
Dhaka is at pains to deny that the attackers belonged to the Islamic State, saying that they were all ‘home-grown terrorists’, owing allegiance to groups like the Jama'at ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), an outfit whose aim is to convert secular Bangladesh into a Caliphate.
Bangladeshi authorities have added that these ‘home-grown terrorists’ could now be trying to forge linkages with the Islamic State and other global jihadi forces. If Dhaka continues to be in a denial mode, it could cost the nation dear because it has actually been a hub of radical Islamist forces for long now.
There are any number of local jihadi groups with loose links to the Al Qaeda and other terror networks like the Ansar al-Islam, for instance. The jihadi plot has certainly thickened in Bangladesh, with machete-wielding attackers killing liberal bloggers, university professors, foreign aid workers, minority Hindus and so on since 2013. This could actually be the result of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s tough action against the criminals and radicals who were involved in war-crimes during the country’s liberation struggle.
Hasina has been tough no doubt and appears bent on shielding her country from the Islamist radicals, but her government and party have actually failed to crackdown on jihadi outfits like Ansar, Hefazat-e-Islam and Hizb ut-Tahrir.
The grit demonstrated by Hasina led to capital punishment being meted out to several people, including top Jamaat leader Motiur Rahman Nizami. The radicals, already agitated, perhaps could not bear it any more. In fact, the 1 July attack in Dhaka was waiting to happen, and was clearly a failure on the part of the security establishment in Bangladesh to anticipate that the jihadis could scale-up their attack or retaliation. The attack can also be seen as an attempt at triggering a regime-change in Dhaka.
For India, it is a cause for real alarm because it is clear now – we have the Islamic State active in our backyard. India must further boost its counter-terrorism efforts and try to build a global coalition to identify the nations financing or backing groups like the IS and choke their source of funds.
New Delhi needs to push hard for the immediate adoption of the long-pending Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT). This would help make accountable states which support terrorists, provide them safe heaven and finance them. At the recent G20 meet, Russian President Vladimir Putin had apparently presented a list of 40 countries which directly back groups like the Islamic State.
India must follow up on Putin’s list and focus on more areas to combat terror. In fact, India needs also to generate public opinion against terrorism by a close interface with the civil society. The silver lining is the fact that Indian Muslims are practitioners of liberal Islam. Therefore, it is important for the government and the media to recognise liberal Muslim voices and give such voices due weight and importance.
Besides, the world has to perhaps work on long-term plans and include peace education in the syllabus of undergraduate programmes to prepare the youth to understand and contribute their bit in the global war against the menace called terrorism.
Immediately, of course, New Delhi is expected to work closely with Dhaka in drawing up strategies to tackle the jihadi upsurge and draw up effective surveillance networks through real-time intelligence sharing and the use of other tools.
(A political commentator, Wasbir Hussain is executive director of the Guwahati-based Centre for Development & Peace Studies.)