Holey Artisan attack was a watershed event for us – both the society and the state. It exposed the security forces to a totally unprecedented situation, and seeing the reaction and the method of operation and near instant response of the security forces of the other countries facing a similar emergency situation, one may well feel that this could have been tackled more expeditiously.
However, what has been made abundantly clear is that such acts can seldom be predicted with precision. If anything, the Holey Artisan and similar attacks elsewhere in the world have reconfirmed the grim reality that no country can feel safe from terror attacks nor can it be combatted by any one country alone.
It has also demonstrated that extremism is not only an exportable commodity on which states have displayed a very poor capability to exercise full control, but this can also be homegrown, festered albeit by international situation.
Therefore, the travel ban order of Trump seems all the more a biased move on the US president's part, given the fact that all the recent attacks on US soil have been carried out by people bred in the US.
It has also highlighted the fact that presence of an international extremist group in any country does not necessarily mean the physical presence of hordes of extremist cadres in that country. The social media has accorded the religious fanatics the standoff capability to influence the mind and indeed motivate people to act as per their dictates without their physical presence. According to a CNN report, a total of 143 attacks in 29 countries from September 2014 to July 2016, that have killed 2,043 people, were either carried out or inspired by the IS, and most of the attacks in Europe, North America and Asia were IS inspired. That speaks of the ubiquity of the IS.
The 'lone wolf' syndrome has added a new dimension to the matter, where it has become more difficult to track and preempt individual operatives who may or may not have organic links with international extremist groups but are motivated enough to launch singlehanded strikes on soft targets.
Many developments have taken place, both at home and abroad, insofar as the activities of the extremists are concerned since the most gruesome killing in the country in recent times was carried out on July 1, 2016. Internally, there was a doubling down on the extremists by the security forces, and if absence of manifest destructive acts by extremists is to be considered an index of success against extremists then we can certainly claim some degree of success in this front.
A good number of anticipatory actions have managed to neutralise the activities of the extremists in the last one year. But one would be remiss to think that an idea, however distorted, can be totally thwarted by anti-extremist actions alone. Absence of acts of terror in Bangladesh should not create an aura of euphoria or satisfaction in our minds. Countering extremism is an evolving and ongoing process and we must be in step with other countries which are grappling with the problem. We must keep track of the developments in other areas of the world where extremism and religious terrorism are being fomented and led by well-organised groups with global aspirations like the IS's.
A stark reality that we were faced with after July 1 last year is the fact that a good number of youths from Bangladesh have gone over to join the IS. However, we are not the largest contributor to the IS ranks. According to an Indian Express report of July 25, 2016, “data released by The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (based on data from second half of 2014) as published in the Wall Street Journal, nearly 1200 people had joined jihadist ranks from France alone in Iraq and Syria, followed by Germany and Britain.”
As per one local English newspaper report, 38 Bangladeshis had joined the IS. Some of those who had returned to Bangladesh were killed in action here. We do not know how many there are who have remained undetected or untraced so far, or when and where they might strike. The present situation in Mosul and Raqqa calls for more vigilance for the simple fact that as these extremists lose territory and their sanctuary, they will be compelled to implement their dispersal plan to relocate elsewhere. And there is more than a good chance of many of them relocating in this country, particularly those Bangladeshis who had joined the ranks of the IS.
Internationally, of the major attacks around the world since July 2016, 11 occurred in Europe, with France bearing the major brunt, which took 140 lives. What has added to our disquiet is the enlarged footprint of IS in the Philippines, where the Islamists, fighting under Isnilon Hapilon, who has been endorsed by the IS, have taken control of part of Marawi, the southern Philippine city.
It is therefore not a question of how safe we feel we are, having been able to stymie major extremists attack in the country in the last one year. It is a matter of how well we can guard the society and the country from the ideas that the IS and the likes are peddling. And that calls for a well-considered strategy to counter the idea. We have not seen one articulated yet.
The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.