Ansar al Islam plans to beef up its female wing
Militant outfit Ansar al Islam, said to be the Bangladesh chapter of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, is aiming to strengthen its female wing with at least 25 female members directly involved in its organisational activities.
The outfit also has around 300 female supporters connected with its online social media accounts, counterterrorism officials said.
The female operatives of Ansar al Islam are using fake social media accounts, pretending to be males to avoid law enforcers' vigilance, they said. They do this because a female user hosting or spreading militant content raises more suspicion than if a male member does so.
Officials said although the outfit has no present plan to use female members in violent operations, they are recruiting females to marry male members in order to create husband-wife units that would promote the outfit's secrecy and efficiency. Ansar al Islam was also recruiting females to work for their social media section to recruit new members and collect funds from the outfit's financers.
"If any female member marries [an existing operative] and stays in the house, it will not raise locals' suspicion. The outfit is now working with that strategy," said a senior official of the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit.
The outfit is also working to set up some clinics where female doctors will only provide treatment to female patients, said the official requesting anonymity.
"We have already got details of a clinic run by the outfit in Dhaka and we are now collecting information on it," the officer told The Daily Star.
CTTC officials claimed to have learned about the outfit's strategy following the arrest of a female member -- Zobaida Siddiqua Nabila -- of Ansar al Islam from the capital on August 26.
Mishuk Chakma, deputy commissioner of CTTC unit, told The Daily Star that "analysing Nabila's social media ID and activities, we first thought that it was being operated by a male. We found some 25,000 followers and we are suspecting many of them are female, but we need time as they are using fake accounts.
"So far, we have managed to identify some 100 potential militant users and we are working on it," he said.
But it is a difficult task to get detail of these IDs as the outfit maintains a very segmented structure in their social media activities which promotes secrecy as many followers do not know details of other followers, he added.
Investigators said Nabila used to maintain communications with the outfit's mid-level leadership but never had any face-to-facecontact with them.
Regarding top leadership, a CTTC official who tracks the outfit's activities, told The Daily Star that top leaders of the outfit, Tamim Al Adnani and Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haque alias Major (sacked) Zia, are in hiding somewhere inside the country.
Meanwhile, Golam Mawla, father of Nabila, demanded punishment of those who dragged her into militancy.
"My daughter was very bright and got scholarship in class five and class eight. I really do not understand how my daughter got involved in militancy," Mawla told The Daily Star recently.
Nabila used to live in a two-storey building adjacent to a police station in Lalmohan upazila of Bhola. Locals said they always found Nabila to be a quiet and calm person.
Due to a sudden change in her behaviour, the family members sent her to Dhaka 15 days back for treatment, but she was arrested by police.
Sayed Nasirullah, additional deputy commissioner of CTTC unit, said Nabila used to work in the social media wing recruiting new members.
"The outfit recruits female members for the security of the outfit. We have got some communication details with Nabila and we are now working to trace them," he added.
It should be mentioned that around 90 female members of different militant outfits have so far been arrested by CTTC since the attack on a Gulshan cafe in 2016. During interrogation, a majority of them told investigators that they were inspired into militancy following the instigation of their husbands.
Some of these militant suspects were self-radicalised and Nabila was one of them, said officials.
[Susanta Ghosh, our Barisal Correspondent contributed to this report.]