It just cannot be the country the world knows of.
The blast at Ashura gathering in Old Dhaka killed two. A Pabna pastor survived an attempt to slit his throat. A leader of Baha'i community was shot in Rangpur. An Italian pastor came under a gun attack in Dinajpur after living in the countryside peacefully for decades. Armed attack on people in prayers at a Shia mosque in Bogra left the muezzin dead and three others injured. Explosions in two renowned Hindu temples -- Kantaji Mandir and ISKCON temple -- left eight injured. Bomb attacks on two Sunni mosques inside a well-fortified navy area in Chittagong left six injured and one attacker held with “14 improvised grenades” in pockets of his “suicide vest”. Over three dozen Christian religious leaders, including a Bishop, received death threats via SMS.
And then came the latest: a suicide blast during Juma prayers at an Ahmadiyya mosque in Rajshahi's Bagmara upazila, the birthplace of banned militant group Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).
The spate of attacks and threats since September seems to have left Bangladesh, a country of moderate Muslims, surprised rather than shocked.
Who and why? These two questions must be haunting most of the Bangladeshis now. The vague answers that we got from officials in the last three months are: a Western intelligence agency is conspiring to portray Bangladesh as an Islamic State-infested country, or the BNP-Jamaat axis is out with a plot to foil war crimes trial, or the JMB is regrouping to destabilise the country.
All these attacks and threats are unprecedented as well as unnerving. Unprecedented as this kind of attacks never happened before, and it simply does not go with the country that has a legacy of communal and sectarian harmony for centuries. And unnerving as, looking at Iraq or Pakistan, we can picture for sure the consequences of these religious extremism.
In the past, Ahmadiyyas were subjected to persecutions for which they squarely blamed Jamaat-e-Islami. Their complaints understandably saw no light as most of those incidents took place when Jamaat's main ally BNP was in power.
But there was no report of tensions between the majority Sunni and the minority Shia and Baha'i. Rather, Bangladesh has the unique culture of Shia-Sunni presence at traditional Ashura gathering. And the two killed in the October 24 attack in Old Dhaka and 90 percent of the injured were Sunni Muslims.
Who would dare kill Sunni Muslims in a predominantly Sunni-majority country, and for what?
Never before in Bangladesh were such attacks carried out on mosques, let alone on people in prayers. Just imagine what could have happened if all the 14 grenades had exploded at the two navy mosques. We have been told that the culprit concealed his educational qualification as a textile engineer to be employed as a batman in the navy. But what was his ultimate goal?
The attack on the Ahmadiyya mosque on Christmas Day must have caught law enforcers completely off-guard. The most chilling disclosure is that it was a suicide blast. The body of the Ahmadiyya mosque bomber was found with the circuit of the bomb tied to his chest and the switch held in his right hand.
This is the second such attack after a JMB man blew himself off at a Gazipur court in 2005, leaving eight dead.
If we take the suspicion of law enforcement and intelligence agencies as the truth that the JMB is most likely behind all the recent attacks too, then a serious question is bound to come up. What was the basis of the previous claims of “successful” anti-militant drives?
“We've torn apart the JMB network …. Its backbone has been broken …. JMB is no longer capable of creating anarchy." Officials have frequently come up with statements like these since the execution of top six JMB leaders in 2007. Since then, the arrested militant suspects have been found to be members or supporters of Ansarullah, Hizb-ut Tahrir, or Islamic State.
Even after Burdwan blast in October last year, as Indian officials linked the incident to JMB, our militancy experts here went on record as saying, “JMB, even if it exists in Bangladesh, may be fragmented and weak.”
If we can recall, a number of suspected IS agents or recruiters were arrested a few months back. Interestingly, all those suspects have now become “JMB men” while officials deny any IS presence in Bangladesh.
People are getting all too confused.
It's the job of the government -- law enforcers to be precise -- to find out the culprits and their motives. The government must nip the devil in the bud. And sooner is the better as people's nerves are fraying.
Together, we must prevent Bangladesh from becoming another Pakistan or Iraq.