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Al Qaeda franchise Ansar Al Islam continues gaining strength

Bangladesh, Ansar Al Islam, Al Qaeda, Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, RSS, AQIS, Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent, India, Republic TV, Opindia, Hindutva, Ghazwa-e-Hind, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, ARSA, Gaza, Rohingya Muslims, Myanmar, Pakistan, Kashmir, US State Department, Bangladesh Police

Counterterrorism

Al Qaeda franchise Ansar Al Islam continues gaining strength

Al Qaeda franchise in Bangladesh, Ansar Al Islam (AAI) is taking preparations for targeting atheists, apostates, Hindutva followers and foreign missions in the country. According to Bangladesh Police, although this dangerous militancy outfit has no immediate plan to carry out attacks, it is secretly continuing recruitment and training activities. The recruitment of jihadists and members of sleeper cells are being done through various social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter. Meanwhile, another said, Ansar Al Islam jihadists are being secretly sent to Kashmir and Palestine under the direct supervision of Pakistani spy agency Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) and Palestinian mega-terror outfit Hamas, where they are being given training on operating weapons as well as bomb making.

According to a recent intelligence report, Ansar Al Islam, which is known as the Bangladesh chapter of Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), is finalizing a list of its targets, with the plan of starting attacks from the beginning of 2022. It is also learnt that this notorious jihadist outfit has no plan to attack members of the law enforcement agencies as it believes such attacks would ultimately backfire leading to a full-throttle crackdown on the outfit, weakening its strength.

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Ansar Al Islam has already started establishing secret dens within the Indo-Bangla border areas, as well as West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, and Nagaland with the agenda of launching attacks both inside Bangladesh and India. The jihadist outfit is also looking for targeting several important figures in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as well as several cultural activists, writers and journalists. It said, Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent wants Ansar Al Islam to target several journalists in Republic TV, Opindia and the Organiser, alongside few other pro-Hindutva publications in India.

Intelligence report said, Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent aims to establish its dominance and take control of the Indian sub-continent through Ghazwa-e-Hind (conquest of India), while it also wants to expand jihadist activities within Sri Lanka, Maldives and Nepal. In India, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Nepal, tourist attraction spots may come under jihadist notoriety. Besides, the outfit sees Kashmir as a possible shelter and the Rohingya community in Bangladesh as a source for recruitment of new members. Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent is already having connections with Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a jihadist outfit formed by Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.

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Another intelligence source said, a group of newly recruited Ansar Al Islam jihadists tried to reach Afghanistan and Gaza through land route via Chittagong Hill Tracts to India and then Pakistan. Although intelligence sources refrained from stating if those jihadists had succeeded in reaching Afghanistan and Gaza an official of the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of Bangladesh Police said they have information that three youths possibly reached Afghanistan.

A CTTC source told local media that the chief of Ansar Al Islam is now staying abroad, while its military wing is being operated by Sayed Mohammad Ziaul Haque alias Maj (sacked) Zia and he is hiding somewhere in Bangladesh. It may be mentioned here that the US Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service has announced US$5 million reward for information on the terrorist attacks in Dhaka, Bangladesh that left US citizen Avijit Roy dead and his wife, Rafida Bonya Ahmed seriously injured.

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According to a press released, the Secretary of State Antony Blinken has authorized a reward of up to US$5 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction in any country of anyone involved in the murder of Avijit and the attack on Bonya.

It may be mentioned here that Avijit Roy and his wife, Rafida Bonya Ahmed both Bangladesh-born US citizens, were visiting Dhaka to attend Ekushey Boi Mela – a book fair when they were attacked by assailants with machetes.  Avijit was killed and Bonya survived with critical injuries.

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This investigation remains open, and the US State Department is seeking information that will assist law enforcement agencies in bringing to justice the perpetrators of this heinous terrorist attack.

A total of six individuals were charged, tried, and convicted in Bangladesh. Two of the convicted conspirators, Syed Ziaul Haque (aka Major Zia) and Akram Hussain were tried in absentia and remain at large.

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Two related groups have claimed responsibility.  Ansarullah Bangla Team, an al-Qa’ida-inspired terrorist group based in Bangladesh, claimed responsibility for the attack.  Shortly thereafter, Asim Umar, the now-deceased leader of al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), posted a widely circulated video claiming that AQIS followers were responsible for the attack on Avijit Roy and Rafida Bonya Ahmed.

In 2016, the Department of State designated AQIS as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224, which provides authority to sanction terrorists and those who support terrorists or terrorist acts.

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The Rewards for Justice Program, administered by the Diplomatic Security Service, is an effective law enforcement tool.  Since its inception in 1984, the program has paid in excess of US$200 million to more than 100 people who provided actionable information that helped prevent terrorist attacks, bring terrorists to justice, and resolve threats to US national security.

A section of Bangladeshi media, without understanding the contents of the US State Department’s announcement of reward stated that the amount is offered for information on absconding Syed Ziaul Haque (aka Major Zia) and Akram Hussain. This was totally wrong. In fact, the US State Department is looking for “information leading to the arrest or conviction in any country of anyone involved in the murder of Avijit and the attack on Bonya” – meaning, they are willing to locate the exact culprits. Another serious side of this statement is also a matter of grave concern for Bangladesh, as the US State Department has categorically stated that Al Qaeda (al-Qa’ida) inspired terrorist group Ansarullah Bangla Team, which is based in Bangladesh claimed responsibility for the attack. It also said, Asim Umar, the now-deceased leader of al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), posted a widely circulated video claiming that AQIS followers were responsible for the attacks.

According to the Bangladesh Police database, Xulhaz Mannan, an LGBT rights activist and official of USAID in Bangladesh, and his friend Khandoker Mahbub Rabby Tonoy were the latest victims of the militant outfit’s targeted killing. They were killed in 2016 in Dhaka’s Kalabagan area.

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An internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, research-scholar, counter-terrorism specialist, and editor of Blitz. Follow him on Twitter Salah_Shoaib

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