Militants using jails to recruit operatives
Taking advantage of gaps in surveillance, incarcerated militant leaders have been forming new outfits and recruiting members inside and outside prisons.
Besides, pro-al Qaeda militant outfit Ansar Al Islam and several other islamist groups have been recruiting members online for the last few months, counterterrorism officials say.
The Neo JMB members inspired by the so-called Islamic State (IS) are planning to form a new outfit in collaboration with members of Ansar al Islam, and Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), two officials of the counterterrorism unit of police have said requesting anonymity.
By intercepting communications, the officers have learnt that Neo JMB leader Saiful Islam Khaled, now on death row at Kashimpur High Security Prison for the 2016 Holey Artisan café attack, used Telegram app on a smartphone to contact Bangladeshi IS militants in Afghanistan's Khorasan province and asked for financial support to reorganise the militant group in Bangladesh.
Ansar al Islam member Irfan, and JMB members Hasib, Ekran, and Khaled -- all inmates at Kashimpur -- held a meeting in mid-June and talked about their plans, said the officers of Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of police.
The Neo JMB was behind the Holey Artisan attack in which 20 hostages, including 17 foreigners, were killed on July 1, 2016. Two police officers also lost their lives during the standoff.
Besides, five attackers and an employee of the restaurant died during Operation Thunderbolt which brought an end to the nerve-racking 12-hour hostage crisis.
Formation of the Jamatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya, which has been in the news in recent months, was also initiated at a meeting of inmates led by Abu Sayed, a top Huji leader also on death row at the prison for the August 21, 2004, grenade attack. Ansar Al Islam members Mainul Islam who used to go by the aliases Mahin and Roxy, and Jony were at the meeting.
The Sharqiya came to light after several young men were reported missing in Cumilla last year.
Echoing the two officers, a Rab officer has said recruitment by Ansar Al Islam, formerly known as Ansar Ullah Bangla Team, on Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram is now a matter of concern.
The recruiters identify potential targets on social media and contact them through encrypted messaging apps that make it difficult for law enforcers to monitor their activities.
The group has "sleeper cells" in which the members do not know each other's real identity and their leaders operate anonymously.
They use unique codes for their identity, said a CTTC officer. "Even if one of them gets arrested, law enforcers cannot track down the others."
Besides, militants use VPN that prevent law enforcers from intercepting the communications.
"Ansar Al Islam wants to make a terrorist attack. It is gaining strength by recruiting new members. They may become a major headache in future," said an officer.
AFM Al Kibria, deputy commissioner (Cyber Crime Investigation Division) at the CTTC, has said his team is trying to get timely information in the coming days through the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) between Bangladesh and other countries.
Contacted on June 27, CTTC chief Asaduzzaman said, "Although it appears that militancy is under control, the militants are attempting to reorganise."
Deradicalisation procedures will be launched in prisons soon, he added.
CTTC Deputy Commissioner SM Nazmul Haque said officers are engaged in "cyber patrolling" to monitor online activities of militants and prevent recruitments.
Maj Gen (retd) ANM Muniruzzaman, security analyst and president of Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS), said police alone cannot combat militancy.
Militancy will never be controlled until the means of radicalisation are eradicated, but Bangladesh does not have any counter-radicalisation strategy, he said.
When something happens somewhere, militants get killed or end up in prisons through an operation. But their activities in the prisons are not properly monitored, he said.
Prisons are becoming militant-making factories partly because they are at double the capacity, he said, adding that militants must be separated and deradicalised.