The fight against militancy remains challenging as ever as dozens of militants are getting freed every year from prisons that have no de-radicalisation programmes.
The government has yet to launch such programmes to deradicalise inmates despite repeated demands from law enforcers and global anti-terror experts for years.
The issue came to the surface again after a suspected top militant recruiter, who is currently on bail, told a programme on Saturday that militants “discuss radical ideas among themselves in prisons”.
Quoting her son, the mother of another militant suspect said at the programme, “Those who are less radicalised are becoming more radicalised in prisons.”
The Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit organised the event at its office in the capital, as part of its counter-terror campaign through sharing experience of militant suspects and their families.
Between January 2016 and September 2017, at least 564 militant suspects walked out of jail on bail, according to the Police Headquarters.
Nine of them have gone into hiding, it said.
Also, many of the 334 JMB militants convicted in 93 cases filed over the series bomb blasts of 2005 have been released after their jail term of 10 years, the maximum under the Explosives Substances ACT, said law enforcers.
The authorities are clueless as to whether they have corrected themselves or have become even hardened militants.
Tariqul Islam Tareq, a militant belonging to Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh was arrested in Chittagong in connection with a 2005 countrywide series bomb blast case and had been released after five years in prison.
On October 5, 2015, he stormed a Maddhya Badda house in the capital and hacked a spiritual leader (pir) to death.
He has been arrested again.
During interrogation, detectives learnt that Tareq had become more radicalised in prison in the company of some diehard JMB militants.
“We do not have any measures to deradicalise around 600 militant suspects staying in 68 prisons in the country,” Inspector General of Prisons Brig Gen Syed Iftekhar Uddin said yesterday.
Militants are motivated by their ideologies and prisons must have the capacity to de-motivate them with counter logic, he said, adding that they neither had the skill nor the manpower for the job.
“Our manpower is insufficient even for ensuring security of the prisons. So it's not possible for us to concentrate on corrective measures or things like that,” he told reporters at his office.
However, militants of different outfits are kept separately so that one group cannot communicate with the other, he added.
In an interview with The Daily Star in August, he said that members of the same organisation, both diehard and less radicalised, were kept together, leaving room for highly radicalised militants to motivate others and strengthen their networks.
International security expert Prof Rohan Gunaratna last year said if militants were not rehabilitated and de-radicalised, they would pose a security threat after leaving the prisons and infect others with their ideology.
So, to prevent this from happening, the government should immediately launch a programme inside the prisons. As part of the programme, religious clerics can visit jail and use the Koran and the Hadith to counter the misinterpretation of religion by the terrorists to de-radicalise the inmates, he said.
Teachers should also be engaged to educate the inmates and re-establish their social and family connections, warned Prof Gunaratna, head of International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore.
They would need psychological rehabilitation to deal with their anxieties, depressions and hatred, he added.
He also underscored the need for vocational training of the de-radicalised ones so that they could get jobs.
The Daily Star called Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal several times for his comment last night, but he did not pick up the calls.
But Additional Inspector General of Police Shafiqul Islam, also chief of the newly formed Anti-Terrorism Unit, recently said, “Once we start our operation on a full scale, we will take measures to deradicalise militants in prisons.”
The 580-member unit is now waiting for rules to start functioning.
Shafiqul said they would keep all militants, now scattered in different cells and prisons across the country, at a certain place.
“We will divide them into groups and de-radicalise them bringing psychologists, religious scholars and other experts to socialise with them,” he added.