ISIS in Bangladesh and Analysis on Bangladeshi Options
By: Jeff Bates
Photo Credit: 2016. ISIS releases first propaganda film ‘made in Bangladesh’
In the last few months, Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, has been rocked by a series of bombings. Although Bangladesh has struggled with terrorist attacks in recent decades, the pace at which they are happening seems to be more frequent. This report reviews ISIS’s history in Bangladesh and an analysis of what the Bangladeshi authorities can do about the situation.
The latest of these bombings occurred on August 31st, 2019, which killed two police officers. Earlier this year, two bombs were discovered and diffused in the capital. In May and April, bombings killed another two and injured two, again, in the capital. In March of 2017, an IED attack killed six (including the Director of Intelligence) and injured forty other individuals (2019. ‘Al-Qaeda and IS are global brands and won’t disappear anytime soon’). All the bombings and the diffused bombs were claimed to be made and carried out by the Islamic State in Bangladesh (ISB).
Several years ago, in 2016, terrorists attacked the Holey Artisan Bakery which killed 29 people and injured nearly 50 others. After this incident, the government cracked down on terrorists in the country. 512 suspected terrorists were arrested, tried, and imprisoned. However, in June this year, the Director General of Bangladesh’s top anti-terrorism group reported that more than 300 of those arrested were released on bail and are now unaccounted for.
ISB’s objectives in Bangladesh resound what ISIS wants to do on an international scale: they want to “replace the Bangladesh Government with an Islamic state and implement the Islamic State of Bangladesh’s strict interpretation of Sharia [law]” (2019. The World Factbook). Bangladesh has consistently denied that ISB is operating in its territory. However, officials there admit that the bombs used in most of the attacks were very similar and probably made by a single group of terrorists (S. Binodkumar Singh. 2019).
The Islamic State of Bangladesh is recruiting on social media in the country (such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter), which greatly influences its numbers (2019. ‘Al-Qaeda and IS are global brands and won’t disappear anytime soon’). So much so that 80% of terrorists joined by reading and watching social media, whereas 20% of the terrorists joined from interactions with their acquaintances (S. Binodkumar Singh. 2019). Even though ISIS’s leader in the Middle East—Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi—has been said to be killed, many terrorists joined by watching and reading his teachings.
As we have seen, Bangladesh has simply been arresting suspected terrorists, only to release most of them on bail after only a short period of time in jail. This simply is ineffective. In jail, terrorists have time to talk about new plans and plots, and their time in prison is likely to make them more angered against the Bangladeshi government.
Bangladesh has a few options to counter the terrorist threats, none of which are ideal. One option is for the country to violently fight the terrorists with their police and anti-terrorism unit. This will likely cripple ISB in the short term. However, in doing so, with a majority of the population being Muslims, citizens may be incensed by what the government is doing and may join or sympathize with ISB and hamper the government’s actions. This would only make the situation more dangerous. For Bangladesh to militarily fight Islamic extremism in their country, a terrorist attack much more deadly than the Holey Artisan Bakery attack may be required to elicit a government response. If this were to happen, then the population would possibly press the government enough to go and fight the terrorists. However, as we have seen throughout the years, a government response like this will likely only result in a long-lasting guerilla-style war; an option that is not desirable.
Another option is that Bangladesh could make a peace treaty with the terrorists. This would look similar to what has happened in Afghanistan with the Taliban; as government anti-terrorism groups stop rounding up the terrorists, the terrorists in turn stop the violence. In Afghanistan this has been met with only mild success. Peace in Afghanistan lasts for about a week and then fighting continues. In Bangladesh, we are talking about the Islamic State who has shown to be more ruthless than the Taliban. We have already witnessed in Syria and Iraq that ISIS won’t stop violence unless their goal of making a caliphate in the country is met. The same can be said with ISB’s demands. Thus, a peace treaty is not likely to work.
With attacks by ISB on the rise in Bangladesh, and little hope of brokering a peace deal with the group, the country is in a bind with only dismal options available. The Holey Artisan Bakery attack was not strong enough to make the government militarily defend itself, thus only a significantly stronger attack on Bangladeshi citizens may prompt the government to prioritize fighting the terrorists.
S. Binodkumar Singh. 2019. The Gradual, Marginal Resurgence Of Terrorism In Bangladesh. League of India. Accessed September 21, 2019 from https://leagueofindia.com/india-world/the-gradual-marginal-resurgence-of-terrorism-in-bangladesh/
2019. ‘Al-Qaeda and IS are global brands and won’t disappear anytime soon’. Dhaka Tribune. Accessed September 21, 2019 from https://www.dhakatribune.com/opinion/longform/2019/09/09/al-qaeda-and-is-are-global-brands-and-won-t-disappear-anytime-soon
2019. The World Factbook. South Asia:: Bangladesh. Accessed September 21, 2019 from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/bg.html
2016. ISIS releases first propaganda film ‘made in Bangladesh’. Daily Sun. Accessed September 21, 2019 from https://www.daily-sun.com/post/169439/ISIS-releases-first-propaganda-film-%E2%80%98made-in-Bangladesh%E2%80%99