Bangladesh’s Battle Against Terrorism: A Decade of Resilience

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In the last decade, Bangladesh witnessed few instances of terrorist violence as authorities persisted in pursuing militants rigorously, especially al-Qa’ida-affiliated groups, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, and an ISIS-affiliated JMB offshoot, Neo-JMB.  PM Sheikh Hasina and other Bangladeshi country officials frequently emphasized Bangladesh’s zero-tolerance policy on terrorism. In October 2022, Bangladesh authorities reported operations to disrupt Jama’atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya, an allegedly al-Qa’ida-inspired group. Further, U.S.-trained Bangladesh police units captured dozens of terrorist suspects. 

As amended, the Anti-terrorism Act of 2009 remained the basis for the detention and imprisonment of terrorist suspects. Under the 2018 Digital Security Act, police can arrest “extremists” propagating, granting, radicalizing, recruiting, or spreading hate speech online. 

The Counterterrorism and Transnational Crime Unit of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, the Anti-terrorism Unit of the National Police, and the RAB persisted in raids against and arrests of suspected terrorists. The CTTCU scrutinized 27 cases, conducted 27 operations, and made 61 arrests, mainly in Dhaka. 

The Chattogram Metropolitan CT police reacted to multiple incidents and made several arrests. Though continuing to expand its nationally mandated CT capabilities, the ATU improved its performance, completing 27 investigations and carrying out 42 operations that resulted in 45 arrests.  Other CT-related crews included the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence’s Counterterrorism Investigation Bureau, Border Guards, Special Branch, Aviation Security, the Airport Immigration Police, and the Airport Armed Police Battalion.  Each worked independently.

Bangladesh collaborated with the United States to strengthen its internal security and response to terrorism. The U.S. government supplied various forms of assistance to CTTCU, the ATU, and other police units nationwide. The U.S. government also delivered training to Antiterrorism Tribunal (ATT) judges and prosecutors courses on managing evidence, conducting investigations, and indicting terrorists and terrorist financing cases.

Bangladesh can patrol land and maritime borders, improving cargo and passenger screening with updated equipment, procedures, and increased staff.  Bangladeshi authorities executed notable improvements in port security, particularly at Bangladesh’s main port in Chittagong. Bangladeshi authorities also launched planning to implement adequate security standards at a new international airport terminal currently under construction in Dhaka and procured proper high-quality equipment. Both airport and port authorities were excited about cooperation with the U.S. government to improve port and airport security.

The country transfers information with INTERPOL but has no national terrorist watchlist. A particular Branch’s internal watchlist provides read-only privileges to the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence and National Security Intelligence.  A U.S. “Alert List” project stays under government consideration, which the Special Branch would conduct in coordination with ATU, CTTCU, and Metropolitan Police.  Bangladesh does not systematically use API or PNR data to filter travelers before flights arrive.

In 2019, the ATT sentenced seven terrorists to death for their supportive roles in the 2016 Holey Artisan Bakery attack. The Supreme Court still has not supervised their appeal. The seven ATTs carried a caseload of about 680 cases, a slight decline from 2021. A National Intelligence Agency court sentenced Mohammed Masiuddin, aka Abu Musa — an ISIS and JMB member — to life in prison for involvement in a 2014 IED explosion in Khagragarh, India.

In March, ATT in Sylhet convicted four men to death for the 2015 murder of blogger and writer Ananta Bijoy Das, who had advanced secularism in the Muslim-majority country.  ATT in Chattogram also sentenced five members of the outlawed militant outfit JMB to death for the 2015 Chattogram naval base bomb blasts.

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