Tale of an upazila in throes of extremism
It was mid 2017. A group of about a dozen young men in Araihazar, Narayanganj, suddenly started telling their neighbours that the way of saying prayers at their local mosques was not right.
They even observed Ramadan and Eid a day earlier than the Arabic calendar.
This prompted the elders in Shatgram and Noagaon villages to call for an arbitration, summoning the young men.
The young men told the villagers that they learnt about real Islam from the books of Mufti Jashimuddin Rahmani, the spiritual leader of militant outfit Ansarullah Bangla Team.
Arrested in 2013, Rahmani is now in jail.
The village elders then warned them of consequences if they followed Rahmani any longer.
A year later, one of the young men, Mohammad Hafiz, was arrested by Rab on charges of militancy in Madhabdi, Narsingdi.
"We thought the young men would return to normal life after we warned them. We did not realise they would be more radicalised in the following days," Faizul Bari Khan, one of the village elders present in the arbitration in 2017, told The Daily Star recently.
Wadud Mahmudh, chairman of Shatgram Union Parishad, who was also present during the arbitration, said, "No one thought they would become extremists."
The story came to light after July 11 this year when the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of police raided two hideouts of the IS-inspired militant outfit Neo JMB in Araihazar upazila and arrested two suspects.
Seven others were arrested in the following days and police are looking for other suspects, said Rahmat Ullah Chowdhury, in-charge of the bomb disposal division of CTTC.
"We are now collecting information," he added.
CTTC sources say the officers are looking for at least 25 to 30 youths, who appear to have left their houses to join militant outfits.
Some villagers in Shatgram said the number of traceless young men would not be less than 40.
Chairman Wadud told this newspaper that the union parishad started collecting information about the missing youths.
Anichur Rahman, officer-in-charge of Araihazar Police Station, however, said local police have yet to get any specific information about any missing youth.
During a visit to Shatgram Union Wednesday afternoon, this correspondent found Hafiz's house locked. Neighbours said His brother Akram Ali and father Kari Akram Ali have been traceless. While entering the area, several villagers even asked this correspondent to steer clear, saying that there are extremists in the neighbourhood who might do something untoward if they heard that a journalist was visiting the area.
A CTTC official said that during a raid in the upazila, they came across a suspect's mother who, noticing the police team, dug a hole in the floor and buried her phone.
She later told officers that she tried to hide the phone because her son used the phone.
Family members of the suspects did not talk to this correspondent.
"Our son was doing good for Islam," said the mother of a suspect.
Faizul Bari Khan, a village elder, said people of the communities were also trying to identify the militants.
In Araihazar, there were Ahle Hadith followers in at least 65 villages.
Investigators learnt that JMB leader Shaikh Abdur Rahman and Neo JMB and ABT members wanted to set up a safe house in the upazila.
Rahman's father Mawlana Abdullah Ibne Fazal, who is from Jamalpur, was an Ahle Hadith scholar who used to give sermons in the villages, say locals.
Fazal had a very good relationship with an influential local named Mia Shaheb -- the grandfather of Faizul.In 2003 and 2004, Rahman, who was hanged in 2007, used to send Jihadi books to a group of enthusiastic readers in the villages, they added.
Rahman managed to create JMB followers in the villages, say locals.
Faizul Khan said in 2005, Rahman visited their house and wanted to set up a shelter home.
"But we refused to accept his proposal and asked him to leave," he said.
He was later found involved in bank robberies and a series of bomb blasts, said Faizul.
CTTC Chief Asaduzzaman told The Daily Star that his unit has information about the missing youths. "We will raid after analysing information."