Italian citizen's murder, a rude awakening
THE antennae of some Western diplomatic missions in Dhaka had received a signal that 'Western interests' might be targeted in a terrorist attack. But why didn't we have a clue of it? This brings to the fore an information sharing gap, a matter that comes downstream along the article.
What, however, followed is common knowledge. Yet, a recap is necessary for a coherent understanding of the chain of events girdling the threat signal and the premeditated, professionally executed murder of Italian citizen Cesare Tavella.
Australia and Great Britain were the first to blow the whistle on the threat perception. Australia did it by postponing, one hopes not abandoning, the Aussies' cricket series with Bangladesh, citing security risks. In parallel, Britain had advised its citizens to remain cautious in their movements in Bangladesh.
Some conspiracy theorists couldn't let go of an opportunity for publicity sniffing at a prospective setback to Bangladesh's cricket calendar. They promptly gave a twist to the story saying that some quarters, having grown impatient with the rising star of the national cricket side, may have just played a trick on us! Never mind the souring bit of an admittedly under-strength Bangladesh A team's pathetic 3-1 performance in India, the Australian encounter was eagerly awaited as a measuring rod for our consistency and strength against a stronger side.
The Glitter Party scheduled for Friday (today) by the Australia-New Zealand expatriate community to host 400 foreign and local guests couldn't be risked in the face of an 'impending' threat. The party, organised almost without a break since 1980, had to be called off.
The barbaric assassination of Italian aid worker Cesare Tavella, who had been serving the poorest of poor in Bangladesh, evoked shock and consternation on a scale not witnessed so far. It marked a rude awakening to the fault lines in law enforcement and vigilance coverage. Not surprisingly, the United States of America (USA), Canada and New Zealand joined Great Britain and Australia in issuing travel alerts for their citizens in Bangladesh.
Two questions emanate from the narrative above: First, if the foreign missions' radars had beeped a warning signal about a threat to 'Western interests', how couldn't our antenna, in whatever shape and form it exists, catch an inkling of it? It begs an answer and one knows too well what it would be! Well, our surveillance system is not sophisticated enough to pick such signals. There you come to the second question: What are we to make of the much hyped goal of attaining effective levels of intelligence gathering, sharing and cooperation between nations, particularly in sensitive areas of mutual concerns? A few countries would be privy to some valuable information while others would be denied them even though they have a stake in them; this is not helping either party when it comes to dealing with terror and security threats.
On the specific case of Cesare Tavella's murder, two deficiencies fly in the face of any serious observer. First, he was shot dead in a diplomatic zone, that too surrounded by important foreign missions. The location was supposed to be highly protected with security details. The failure to prevent such a dastardly murder is itself gnawing, let alone the easy escape of the killers. Not even one could be apprehended to track down the rest or the mastermind by way of getting to the bottom of the crime and meting out deterrent punishment to the killers. Apart from the lack of police or civic reflexes, gaps in human intelligence and those in mechanised intelligence capabilities are starkly revealed.
The IS has claimed that it has killed Cesare Tavella, according to US-based Site Intelligence Group, a website monitoring extremist activities. But there is no confirmation yet from the Italian government of the IS' hand in it. The authenticity of the IS' claim of responsibility is being verified by that government.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh police intelligence setup found no mention of the purported claim in the IS' website itself.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal in his briefing to the press immediately following the murder stated, "We have only heard about the IS presence in Bangladesh but we haven't found any of them." Rather than giving an apparently knee-jerk reaction, we could perhaps say, "We are looking into the authenticity of the claim, as indeed we are, and would reveal our findings when ready." We should seek focused international cooperation to fathom any IS involvement because the spectre needs to be faced head-on, no question about it.
The issue of fighting mindless extremism would be better addressed if we were to avoid political wrangling, blame game and attempted points scoring. The point to, however, seriously ponder is the likelihood of some quarters trying to harm Bangladesh.
For now, principally, we should transfix our gaze entirely on the agenda of ferreting out the culprits and punishing them exemplarily.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson, the late 19th century American philosopher, journalist and poet, put it timelessly, "There is no den in the wide world to hide a rogue. Commit a crime and the earth is made of glass."
The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.