Tricking women into militancy
After years in the hunt for him, the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) on the night of May 14, 2009 captured “Boma” Mizan, explosives expert of banned terror outfit Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).
A Rab team took him to his house in Mirpur that night. As they got on the doorstep around 10:30pm, Mizan gave his wife Sharmin Haque Lata some coded instructions.
Within moments, Sharmin detonated a bomb inside the house. The blast blew off her right wrist and wounded her two children – a two-year-old son and a several-month-old girl.
Like Sharmin, another female operative is Fatema Begum, arrested by police from the capital's Sadarghat area on November 22, 2014.
A few years before her arrest, Fatema intruded into India and gave arms training to a group of women at Burdwan's Shimulia madrasa.
She is the wife of JMB commander Sajid, the prime accused in Burdwan blast case. He was arrested in India on November 8, 2014.
Earlier, female operatives, like Sharmin and Fatema, were mostly from family members of male operatives.
But the situation has changed. A new version of the banned outfit has appeared on the scene. Law enforcers prefer to call it “Neo JMB”, which is said to be responsible for Gulshan and Sholakia attacks
Far more radicalised and far more dangerous than the old JMB, it has also changed its strategy on recruiting women, law enforcers say. The outfit is now looking beyond the families.
It is targeting female activists of different Islamist organisations, like Jamaat-e-Islami's female student wing Islami Chhatri Sangstha, according to a Rab official.
The militant group's female unit mostly prefers to pick members from students. Another source of the recruitment is Tablighi Jamaat, he said.
The official is investigating a case filed following Tuesday's arrest of four members of the militant outfit's female unit.
Of the four, Aklima Rahman Moni, Khadija Parveen Meghla and Ishrat Jahan are students of Manarat International University. Istishna Afroz Oishee is an intern at Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Aklima was arrested in Gazipur and the rest in Dhaka.
Rab has found around 25 females who used to communicate with the arrestees. At least 10 of them have already been radicalised, the official added.
Last month, police arrested seven other female JMB members -- four in Sirajganj and three in Tangail.
In December, detectives arrested two suspected female militants in Banani area. They planned to go abroad to join international terrorist outfits, according to police. Brother of one of the women was killed in Syria, said an official.
For recruitment, the female JMB activists use social media platforms like Facebook and encrypted apps such as telegraph and threema -- through which they not only discuss jihad but also share videos of IS or al-Qaeda to radicalise other girls, said the Rab official.
Besides, there are the conventional ways.
“Also through direct and verbal communication, they invite girls to the path of Islam and discuss religion. At one stage, those who have been radicalised are asked to join jihad and start hijrat [migration],” said Abu Yusuf, additional superintendent of police in Sirajganj.
The SP interrogated the four arrested in three upazilas in Sirajganj on July 24.
They are Nadia Tabassum Rani of Sirajganj, Habiba Akter Mishu and Rumana Akter Ruma of Bogra, and Runa Begum of Gaibandha.
The arrestees are believed to have been radicalised by their husbands, who are suspected to be top JMB leaders and involved in the killings of individuals, he added.
On July 5, Tangail police arrested Sajida Akter, Jannati alias Jemmy and Rozina Begum. Sajida was the wife of notorious JMB member Nazrul Islam alias Bike Hasan, killed in “crossfire” in Rajshahi.
“While motivating the new recruits, the female JMB members say the number of men is decreasing in jihad. So females should come forward and join jihad,” Yusuf told The Daily Star yesterday.
He also said they found names of other female operatives including those ready for hijrat to train in arms and explosives.
One Rab official, involved in the probe of the case relating to the four arrested in Dhaka and Gazipur, has found that for recruitment, senior female operatives also use Arabic language learning classes and group discussions.
They invite girls, who are known to have soft corner for Islam, to attend such discussions where they initially give sermons on religion and afterlife, he said.
From the gatherings, they target those who seem potential candidates for the outfit's membership. The senior female operatives then start talking about jihad with the chosen ones.
The four operatives told Rab that their initial objective was to strengthen the female JMB unit and collect fund for terror activities.
JMB ameer of Southern region Mahmudul Hasan, who was arrested by Rab in Gazipur on July 21, initiated the formation of the female unit with the help of one of the arrestees, Aklima Rahman Moni.
Mahmudul and Aklima were about to get married.
Another Rab official told The Daily Star that Mahmudul had a plan to recruit males through female operatives.
“A female operative will find out a like-minded male through Facebook. After several stages of communications, she will tell him about her ideology and propose marriage if he is ready to join jihad,” the official said.
Talking to this newspaper, a top official at the police headquarters said they still do not have a complete picture of the female JMB unit but they believe the number of its members would be very small.
He said they last week issued verbal instructions to the immigration police to keep vigil so that no female JMB member can leave the country.
Monirul Islam, chief of counterterrorism unit of the DMP, said earlier they found some female JMB members, who are either wives or sisters of male JMB operatives.
“We have noticed that the process to radicalise females is still going on,” he told The Daily Star last night.
(Our Pabna correspondent Ahmed Humayun Kabir Topu contributed to this report)