Since the horrific Holey Artisan attack on July 1, 2016, Bangladesh has been carrying out intensive operations to destroy the capacities of militant groups operating in the country. To a large extent it has been successful, but much remains to be done in terms of combating the ideology that motivates these terrorists to carry out their heinous acts. So how can militancy be rooted out from society?
The Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) has recently taken up some initiatives with funds from UNDP to sensitise stakeholders. The current chief of CTTC unit, Monirul Islam, shares his views on the state of militancy in Bangladesh and how to combat it in an exclusive interview with Shariful Islam and Mohammad Jamil Khan of The Daily Star.
What is the present status of militancy?
Militancy is a global problem. But it also has regional and country-specific ramifications. An incident in one country affects other countries as militancy is a shared ideology.
Due to continuous anti-militancy drives, the organisational strength of militant outfits has been considerably weakened. But after the New Zealand attack, we became concerned because such attacks can trigger revenge among militants. The Sri Lanka attack, which was inspired by those who believe in an extremist ideology, was also very concerning.
Militant activities are based on a toxic ideology and people who hold such beliefs exist in Bangladesh. For this reason, we have to remain alert to prevent any attack as the risk has increased after the New Zealand and Sri Lanka incidents.
What kind of measures is the CTTC unit taking to combat violent extremism in the country?
After the Holey Artisan attack in 2016, what we did is destroy terrorist organisations and their capabilities to carry out attacks. But no specific work has been done on countering extremist ideology or on the terror suspects.
It is not actually an issue of law enforcers. Different stakeholders have important roles to play. Educational institutions, religious scholars, imams, community people, politicians and media have their own roles. People who are being radicalised need to be identified and families have the prime responsibility to intervene.
We have seen that the youth are the prime targets of terrorist outfits. Morality, social values, culture, sports, patriotism and the spirit of independence work as counter-narratives to terrorism. So, we are trying to inculcate these values in young people by engaging everyone concerned.
Terrorist acts are based on extremist doctrines and it takes time to eradicate militancy. Thus counterterrorism is a long and complex process.
Would you please elaborate on the steps of Preventive Violent Extremism (PVE)?
Before becoming a terrorist, an individual goes through a long process. He/she gets radicalised first and finally engages in acts of terror. If we can identify the vulnerable groups and effectively intervene, then it is possible to bring them back from the stage of radicalisation. Even a radicalised person is not a problem in the cognitive process.
We have so far found that the vulnerable group consists of young people aged between 15 and 30. And we have launched different awareness programmes targeting them so that they do not choose the path of terrorism.
We have also targeted educational institutions where we, along with teachers, are motivating students so that they can help create anti-militancy awareness among themselves.
We also talk to families of terror suspects, guardians, madrasa students, lawyers, religious leaders, political leaders and media people to involve them in anti-militancy activities and create awareness among the public.
We have set up boards at different points of the capital, where we mention the primary symptoms of being radicalised and what should be done if suspicious behaviour is observed. Besides, we are planning to make docudramas as part of our awareness-building initiative on anti-militancy education.
Do our law enforcers have the appropriate skills to combat militancy now?
The issue of capacity is relative. We think we have all sorts of capabilities to deal with militant outfits. We saw militants’ capabilities before and after the July 1 attack and we are equipped to deal with them now.
We conducted a number of anti-militancy drives and were able to successfully conduct the operations without any casualties. They were not able to harm our operational team or cause any causality even after building resistance.
Our capacity of collecting intelligence has been strengthened. Alongside modern technology, hardware and software, officials’ knowledge on militancy or terrorism has also increased through training and sharing information with other countries. Analysing all the facts, we think that we are capable to counter terrorism.
Cyberspace has become a haven for militant outfits. Why doesn’t the CTTC conduct any sting operation on cyberspace?
Cyberspace has become a major platform for influencing people into adopting militancy. But it would not be wise to block cyberspace. We may not conduct any sting operation directly but we follow people who show an interest in extremist ideologies on cyberspace and then we try to intervene. We bring them out of cyberspace, provide them with counselling and finally hand them over to their guardians after providing a detailed brief.
We have so far brought back at least 50 people, some of them below 18, to normal life in the last three years and have handed them over to their parents.
The IS has taken responsibility for a number of attacks in Bangladesh. Did you get proof of their direct involvement?
The CTTC is an operational unit. Apart from conducting operations, it also investigates incidents. During the course of an investigation, taking statements—verbal and documented—is a major part. During the investigation process in a number of cases so far, we did not find any IS-directed attacks. The attackers might have adopted the ideology of IS but we did not find any direct organisational link as of yet.
Has any country communicated with Bangladesh with regard to deporting Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs)?
From Bangladesh, only 30 to 40 people left the country to become Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs). We have come to know that some of them were killed. But we have to depend on open sources as it is very difficult to get direct information from there. We have taken necessary steps so that they can be traced at entry points. No one, however, has communicated with us yet regarding deportation of any Bangladeshi who joined as FTF.
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