Published on 12:00 AM, July 01, 2021

5 Years of Holey Artisan Attack

Half win stares at a full loss

Spirited counterterrorism initiatives losing its way in social media, poor deradicalisation process

The threat of terrorism is far from over and done with.

Five years after the grisly Holey Artisan Café attack that caught Bangladesh by surprise and left 22 dead, religious terrorist groups are gaining their strength rapidly through the vast and largely unmanned space of social media and encrypted messaging apps.       

Terrorist groups may not be capable at the moment to carry out organised attacks, but they are striving hard to obtain the capacity.      

According to counterterrorism officials, all forms of faith-based terror groups are breeding in the social media space. Militant groups are motivating people and recruiting operatives while many are getting self-radicalised reading radical contents and listening to provocative speeches available on the internet.

Militants are even planning attacks and even planting IEDs, they added.

A multi-pronged approach involving various stakeholders has to be taken by the government to fight militancy and extremism but due to lack of government will, Bangladesh never saw such an approach. Bangladesh is still largely relying on the use of force, according to counterterrorism officials and anti-terrorism and security experts.

They said a distorted religious ideology could not be defeated only by using force.

Socio-political campaigns against militancy get momentum after a major terror attack but they fizzle out when the situation is under control, they added.

They also said if terrorists are not deradicalised when they are in prison, they will go back to the community and infect and produce more terrorists.

Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) Unit and Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) organised some awareness campaigns and rehabilitated several militants who got out of jail or sought help in rehabilitation, officials said.

But their numbers are nowhere near what they should be.

President of Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS) Major General (retd) ANM Muniruzzaman said, "A national counter radicalisation strategy is needed involving all stakeholders to fight militancy but no such strategy is visible so far. Law enforcers will be only a part of that strategy."

"When militant attacks increase, we go for kinetic approach like arrest, jail and crossfire and temporarily suppress it, but the problems remain," he said.

"…we did not see any operational terrorism lately but militants' activities did not decrease," said Muniruzzaman.

A sense of complacency has been created which could be very dangerous, he observed.

The security expert also said that jail was one of the most vulnerable places. There contamination continues and militants radicalise others. Those getting out of jail cannot go back to normal life as they have not gone through any strategic rehabilitation or re-entry procedures. So they go back to militancy again and often develop a followers group of former inmates.

Inspector General of Prisons Brig Gen Md Mominur Rahman Mamun said plans were being developed for a joint project with the CTTC for deradicalisation of militants in jail. The proposal was pending approval from the home ministry, he said.


Anti-terrorism experts and counterterrorism officials feared that in the days ahead militant activities might rise in Bangladesh due to resurgence of Taliban in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US troops.

All major terrorist groups in Bangladesh were born with an Afghan connection, they said.

The signs are already there.

Four members of Al-Qaeda-inspired militant outfit Ansar Al Islam arrested in May had planned to attack police or Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) members and then leave the country for Afghanistan, investigators said.

"Ansar al Islam is now a major concern as Al Qaeda has a good position in South Asia and other parts," said an official the CTTC unit.

The official observed that with the fall of IS globally, many operatives of "Neo-JMB", which follows the ideologies of IS, might join Ansar-al Islam, known as Ansarullah Bangla Team before.

The strength and activities of "Neo JMB", which carried out the café attack, has diminished significantly, the officer added.

"Neo JMB" still has 25 to 30 characters. They along with JMB militants who are getting out of jail without being deradicalised can reinvigorate JMB activities," said the official.

A few Bangladeshis who had gone abroad to fight for the terrorists have the capability to reorganise the group, the officials said wishing anonymity. The official said 60 to 70 people left the country and joined IS. Most of them have either been killed or arrested in Syria. A few of them came back.

Md Asaduzzaman, chief of CTTC unit, said militancy is largely under control.

"We are not complacent. We are trying to find out those who are still active," he told The Daily Star recently.

He said militants could not carry out any serious attack since the café attack as law enforcers destroyed militants' networks. Since the attack, law enforcers carried out at least 30 successful drives on militant dens in which about 88 militants were killed. Since the attack, 2,066 militant suspects were detained. 

Commander Khandaker Al Moin, director Legal and Media wing of Rab, said to contain militancy, their cyber monitoring cell was constantly patrolling the cyberspace.

He said they are helping those who want to return to normal life. So far, 15 militants have been rehabilitated with their help, he added.