According to Counterterrorism and Transnational Crime Unit of Bangladesh Police, in April this year, at least three young men were identified to have abandoned their home for hijra or Heriga (migration for the cause of Islam) and joined Islamist militancy in Afghanistan. The source said, amongst the three, Abdur Razzak from Cumilla and Shibbir Ahmed from Sylhet, have already made their way to the rugged, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.
Razzak studied at a madrasa in Sylhet and worked as a driver. His brother, Salman Khan, reported him missing at Sylhet Kotwali Police Station on Mar 25.
A Noakhali youth named ‘Rabiul’ has also reportedly left home to travel to Afghanistan, but the police have yet to confirm his whereabouts.
The Taliban have waged war in the landlocked country to overthrow the foreign-backed government since they were ousted from power in Kabul in 2001.
Experts say, there may be a connection between the new recruitments by militant organizations and the US withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan is going through a volatile situation with the foreign troops being withdrawn. The central government is in a tight spot. Such a situation is an ominous sign for the entire region, not only Afghanistan,” experts said.
According to police source, a significant number of “Mujahideen”, or jihadist fighters, travelled from Bangladesh to Afghanistan to fight the war against the Soviets in the 80s. Many were teachers and students from Qawmi madrasas with an extremist bent. There is no accurate count of how many had gone to Afghanistan, but the rise of militancy in Bangladesh in the 90s was spurred on by those same fighters returning home.
On Apr 4, 2002, Swedish writer and journalist Bertil Lintner, a specialist on cross-country terrorism, published an article titled ‘Bangladesh: A Cocoon of Terror’ in the now-defunct Far Eastern Economic Review. The article stated that a branch of Pakistani militant organization Harkat-ul-Jihad Al-Islami, or HuJI, was established in Bangladesh in 1992. Osama bin Laden, head of al-Qaeda, allegedly aided the formation of HuJI.
According to Bangladeshi law enforcers, HuJI was the first organization to conduct militant activity in Bangladesh. HuJI carried out its first bomb attack on an Udichi event in Jashore on Mar 6, 1999. Ten people were killed and over a hundred injured.
From 1999 to 2005, HuJi orchestrated 13 bomb and grenade attacks across the country, killing at least 103 and injuring over 700.
The most violent of these incidents was the grenade attack on a public rally joined by the then leader of the opposition Sheikh Hasina in 2004. Twenty-two people were killed in the blasts. The top leaders of HuJI were arrested in 2009 when the Awami League came to power.
Police officials say that the militants of that time would often travel to Afghanistan because those who trained there were highly respected by their peers.
In the past decade, extremists have made their hegira to Syria with the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. Several Bangladeshis travelled to Syria to take part in the so-called ‘jihad’. Police say some of them are said to have died there.
Police officials involved in counterterror work say HuJI has started showing inklings of activity once again.