Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
We are hearing about car bombings by Islamic State (ISIS) in Afghanistan quite regularly. What we do not know is, these are just “practice runs” of bigger attacks in the United States, Europe and some of the Asian nations, including India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.
After ISIS (known as Daesh in Arabic) lost its caliphate in Iraq and Syria, everyone believed, it was an end to the so-called caliphate it declared in 2014. But, according to counterterrorism experts, ISIS was not eliminated in Afghanistan rather it was quiet for some time to increase its strength and supply. It is also learned by the experts, ISIS is armed with snipers, night vision equipment and sophisticated weapons, including those killer drones.
In northeastern Afghanistan, ISIS has been secretly growing in size very dramatically and just within the span of a few months, the number of its fighters have increased from few dozens to few thousands. Once again, Afghanistan is becoming into the base for international terrorism.
In May 2019, Alexander Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) told a conference in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan that 5,000 militants affiliated to Islamic State are active in northern Afghanistan, at least double the US estimate for the group’s fighters in the whole country.
According to US military estimation, there are 600-1,000 ISIS fighters in Afghanistan.
In April 2019, a senior US intelligence official told the media that ISIS-K [Islamic State Khosaran] had mounted six big attacks in Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan in 2016. That number grew to 18 in 2017 and 24 in 2018. The group had targeted its recruitment efforts at university students in Kabul who could get visas and travel to the Western countries. Meaning, ISIS is now taking full preparation in Afghanistan of exporting terrorism.
Let us remember, in spite of heavy casualties suffered in Iraq and Syria, Islamic State has retained a sufficient potential for launching attacks worldwide, especially with the support of its foreign counterparts.
Zamir Kabulov, special envoy of President Vladimir Putin to Afghanistan said, ISIS came to Afghanistan not for fighting against the Americans but to establish a jihadist Launchpad with the target of further expanding within Central Asia.
If Russia “sleeps through” this threat, then it and its allies in the region could face a “large force” of militants on their doorstep. He pointed out that the Amu Darya and Panj rivers separate Afghanistan from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. From there, Isis could try to move into Russia or establish stronger links with jihadists in the country’s North Caucasus region.
In 2017, British newspaper The Times reported that Russia was funding Taliban military operations against NATO in Afghanistan through laundered fuel sales. The same year, CNN said that the Taliban were using weaponry that appeared to have been supplied by the Russian government.
What is ISIS-K?
The K in ISIS-K stands for Khorasan, the Islamic State’s affiliate in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where U.S.-led forces have fought Taliban and al Qaeda militants since 2001. About 14,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, half of them assigned to counter-terrorism missions, including combating ISIS-K militants. The K in ISIS-K stands for Khorasan, the Islamic State’s affiliate in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where U.S.-led forces have fought Taliban and al Qaeda militants since 2001. About 14,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, half of them assigned to counter-terrorism missions, including combating ISIS-K militants.
Pakistani spy agency Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) has deeper connections with Talibans as well as the members of ISIS-K.
Recruitment of female jihadists
According to intelligence sources, ISIS-K has taken a very dangerous project of recruiting female jihadists from former Soviet republics, especially Uzbekistan as well as Azerbaijan, Armenia, Tajikistan, Belarus, Moldova, Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine and Georgia with the agenda of sending them to the Western and ‘non-Muslim’ nations in the world for launching suicide attacks as well as ‘sex jihad’.
What is ‘sex jihad’?
Jihadist groups are eyeing on spreading HIV viruses within the Western and ‘non-Muslim’ nations at a much higher number by sending girls and women who already are HIV positive. These girls and women would visit those nations under the disguise of sex workers, members of escort service or business executives. Their prime target would be infecting as many as people with HIV virus through physical relations.
According to information, hundreds of Uzbek girls and women have already spread throughout Thailand, Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Cambodia, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, China and the Western nations including the United States and Britain. Most of these girls and women already are part of ‘sex jihad’ promoted by ISIS as well as Al Qaeda. Well-organized crime racket is trafficking these girls and women by dodging the immigration authorities in the respective countries.
New jihadist nexus in South Asia
For last few years, a notorious jihadist outfit named Hizbut Towhid (HT) has re-emerged in Bangladesh after remaining silent for some time. This group has started holding meetings in various cities and towns in Bangladesh. According to a video clip dated June 13, 2019, a leader of this notorious group is seen encouraging its members of continuing jihad and ‘qital’ [slaughter] of Jews and Christians. This group also has been running a channel on YouTube.
The YouTube channel named ‘Hezbut Tawheed’ has 17, 681 subscribers and thousands of people are watching these extremely disturbing videos. Website of this group is hezbuttawheed.org. Facebook page of this group are facebook.com/htiwot, facebook.com/systempaltai etc. This group also runs a vernacular newspaper named Dainik Bojrshokti, while it also runs a news portal named JTV Online. Another daily newspaper named Dainik Desher Potro was banned by the government in 2014.
It may be mentioned here that, due to series of investigative reports and research-based articles written by me and published in Blitz, the Bangladesh government had blacklisted this notorious group.
For years, Hizbut Towhid had published lots of jihadist propaganda materials and books promoting religious hatred, jihad and killing of non-Muslims. This group is clearly asking its followers to wage jihad and has been openly demonizing anti-jihadist forces.
Quoting Koran, leader of HT are seen asking people to wage jihad and confront those who are denouncing jihad and killing of innocent people in the name of jihad.
The leaders of HT even are claiming to have been cleared by the law enforcing and security agencies in Bangladesh for the continuation of their activities.
One of the notorious publications of HT is ‘Dajjal’, a book demonizing Jews and Christians and encouraging Muslims in waging jihad and killing Jews and Christians.
Leaders of this group clearly are pronouncing quoting Koranic verses are pronouncing jihad and killing of Jews and Christians as mandatory for the Muslims.
It is a matter of grave concern as to how Bangladesh authorities are allowing such open activities of HT. Such activities of this notorious militancy outfit are continuing in a time when fighters of Islamic State are displaced from Iraq and Syria and are feared to have been spreading throughout the world. Notorious jihadist outfits like Al Qaeda and Islamic State would find Hizbut Towhid as their ideological allies.
It may be mentioned here that, Hizbut Towhid denounces democratic system and advocated Caliphate. It also denounces empowerment of women.
What is Hizbut Towhid?
According to Wikipedia, this is a Bangladesh based religious group, which is currently blacklisted by Bangladeshi law enforcing agencies for their connection with militancy. Muhammad Bayazeed Khan Panni, the family of the traditional Panni family of Tangail, founded Hezbut Tawheed on 16 February 1995. After the death of Panni in 2012, Hossain Mohammad Selim of Noakhali district took charge of the organization. According to its website, it has offices and organizational activities in all the districts of Bangladesh. Hizbut Towhid’s current leader Salim’s father is a union council member in Noakhali district.
Although the organization claims that they are working against militancy and communalism, the group was blacklisted by Bangladeshi law enforcing agencies in 2008. Bangladesh Bank also issued a warning to the banking sectors of Bangladesh against joining any program organized by the group or its associated bodies.
As part of their determination of waging jihad, Hizbut Towhid members carry tobacco powder and hammer, which are considered to be the most convenient weapon in killing “enemies of Islam”. They spray tobacco powder on the eyes of their targets and his the target’s head with hammer.
Hizbut Towhid wants to destroy ‘Judeo-Christian’ populace
According to information, leaders of notorious Hizbut Towhid give extreme jihadist indoctrination to its members and encourage them to destroy ‘Judeo-Christian’ populace as well as the Western nations and Israel. With this mission, members of HT have been entering various Western nations since the formation of this group. It is also learned that members of HT are gathering information on various five-star hotels, restaurants and key-point installations in Bangladesh under the disguise of an event management company. Owner of this event management company has been an active member of this group for many years.
Hizbut Towhid joined hands with JMB
Members of the Bangladeshi security agencies are completely unaware of a fact that since 2014, Hizbut Towhid has secretly formed an alliance with banned militancy outfit Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB). It was already learned by the counter-militancy and counter-terrorism organizations that since 2015, JMB has been working as the franchise of Islamic State (ISIS) in Bangladesh. It is a matter of grave concern as to how the Bangladesh authorities are allowing a notorious group like Hizbut Towhid to operate openly in the country, recruit members and continue giving jihadist indoctrination to people.
Alliance between HT and JMB and ISIS
As because, ideologically Hizbut Towhid, Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh and Islamic State are almost similar, there already is indication of formation of a nexus amongst these jihadist outfits. Counterterrorism experts even are seeing the risk of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) joining this nexus in the near future, if it already has not joined.
What is ARSA?
Rohingya Muslims have also constituted a few terrorist organizations, including the Rohingya Solidarity Organization, the Harkat-al Yaqin, the Arakan Rohingya and Salvation Army (ARSA) to wage war and establish an independent Muslim state. Unfortunately, a few Muslim terrorist organizations, especially in Pakistan, started assisting these terrorist outfits. Besides Pakistan, few Muslim organizations in the Afro-Arab nations, such as Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas etc., also pumped petro dollars into the coffers of Rohingya terrorist outfits.
ARSA was formed by Ataullah Abu Ammar Jununi, a Rohingya man born in Karachi, Pakistan and grew up in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Jununi, in a video posted online stated, “Our primary objective under ARSA is to liberate out people from dehumanizing operation perpetrated by all successive Burmese regimes”. Although the groups claims themselves as ‘ethno-nationalist’ and denied allegations of being Islamists, it follows many traditional Islamic practices such as having recruits swear an oath to the Quran, referring to the leader as emir and asking for fatwas [sermons] from foreign Muslim clerics.
The Islamic State (IS), which has put a massive hate material on the Internet, was able to recruit a few Rohingya Muslims who went to Syria and Iraq to fight in conjunction with the IS. There are also reports that the IS and the Lashkar-e-Taiba are trying to recruit Rohingyas staying in Jammu while the Al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent has also supported the Rohingyas.
AqaMul members, the terrorist outfit of Rohingya Muslims, has links with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Pakistan, Joish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba. There are also reports that the Rohingyas, settled in Jammu illegally.
A large number of NGOs, working with the Rohingyas, especially funded by Iran and Turkey, have Islamic extremist leanings and inculcate radicalism in them.
ARSA poses security threat
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an Islamist militancy group, whose attacks on Burmese security posts triggered the Myanmar army’s indiscriminate “clearance operations,” has already pledged to continue its insurgent campaign against what it calls “Burmese state-sponsored terrorism.” The Bangladeshi security establishment is concerned both that ARSA will try to recruit within camps, and that it will use the camps as a base for cross-border fighting.
There had always been a big question about any connections between ARSA and regional or international terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Joish-e-Mohammed (JeM) etc. On January 23, 2017, Al Qaeda is the subcontinent issued a declaration urging Bangladeshi Muslims to mount an armed rebellion in support of the Rohingyas. Similar statement had also been repeated by other militancy groups.
The Rohingya crisis
The United Nations termed it as “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya in Myanmar while the Army over there said that military action is against terrorists and that they are not averse to civilians. Unqualified Rohingya refugees are unacceptable as they are regarded as a burden on the economy. A majority of the Buddhist community in Myanmar considers Rohingyas as illegal Bengali migrants. No citizenship rights were given to the Rohingyas and numerous restrictions were imposed on them. Rohingyas are Sunni Muslims and have fought for an independent country in the past. In 1947 and 1971, they struggled to join East Pakistan and Bangladesh respectively.
In 2017, as Myanmar military began a crackdown on the Rohingya ethnic minority group, over one million fled the Rakhine state and took refuge in Bangladesh. In today’s world, Rohingya refugee is the highest size of refugees. A developing nation like Bangladesh has to bear the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars each year towards food, housing, medical and other basic needs of these unfortunate people. Ever since the emergence of this crisis, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government have been relentlessly trying to mobilize global communities in putting pressure on Myanmar in immediately resolving the crisis. Unfortunately, until now, none of the mighty nations in the world, including the United States, China, Russia, and India, in particular, are showing real interest in this issue, except for some mere lip-service, while China and India in particular, as well as Russia, are silently siding towards Myanmar.
Why world powers are silent on Myanmar issue
According to Myanmar’s own Department of Geological Survey and Mineral Exploration (DGSE), there is a huge stock of mineral resources such as gold, copper, tin, and zinc, within the Rakhine state, which are yet to be explored. In addition to this, there are potential gas and oil reserves. It may be mentioned here that, several nations are already competing – either openly or discreetly in deepening relations with Myanmar with the hope of getting a stake in the huge stock of mineral resources within the Rakhine state as well as other parts of the country. For this particular reason, many of the nations, particularly China and India even are shy in uttering the word ‘Rohingya’ thinking it may hurt their Burmese counterpart.
Every nation is actually eyeing on Myanmar’s natural resources and that is one of the key reasons that stop them from speaking out loud enough on the Rohingya issue. In this case, China and India already have greatly succeeded in deepening relations with Myanmar, and most definitely, for this reason, both the nations are unwilling to annoy Myanmar by helping Bangladesh in a real sense in resolving the crisis.
Rohingya a crisis is not a lone burden for Bangladesh and Myanmar
Until now, everyone in the world may think, Rohingya refugee the issue is a lone burden on Bangladesh and Myanmar and it is the responsibility of Dhaka and Naypyitaw to resolve the matter through “mutual dialogues”. What some of the countries do not realize is, for Myanmar, it is actually a priority in keeping the Rohingyas out of the land for the sake of ensuring a favorable atmosphere in the Rakhine state, which would enable Naypyitaw in having foreign investors in larger number for investing billions of dollars in the exploration of mineral resources.
Why Myanmar wants Rohingyas out of the land
The 1.5 million Muslim population in the Rakhine state in Myanmar actually is considered as a liability than human resources by the policymakers in Naypyitaw. The main reason behind such perception is –the majority of these Rohingyas are uneducated, unskilled and to some extent radicalized Muslims. Rohingyas have tried in 1947 and again in 1971 for making Rakhine state a part of the then East Pakistan and then Bangladesh. It means they are not loyal to Naypyitaw. The reason behind such sentiment is decade-old persecution and hostilities these Rohingyas have been enduring mostly from the Buddhist majority populace as well as Myanmar’s military junta. Myanmar’s military and the Buddhists see Islam as a threat to country’s peace, stability, and even integrity because the next-door neighbors of Myanmar are Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country and India, a country with over 180 million Muslim population. Myanmar does not want the Rohingyas to attain legitimacy as a citizen of the country and ultimate form any type of nexus under the garb of solidarity of the Muslim ummah.
Extreme advantageous situation for ISIS and Al Qaeda
As the counterterrorism experts already are seeing the possibility of ISIS expanding into central and south Asia, while Rohingya crisis may open the scope for both ISIS and Al Qaeda in finding ‘partners’ in ARSA, JMB, and HT; it may also extend further and establish relations with the Chechen jihadists as well as Uyghur Muslims in China.
Pakistani spy agency becomes the key handler of jihadists
For decades, Pakistan has been harboring terrorism and jihad by extending support to the jihadist groups in Asia. In recent years, its spy agency, Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) has been actively helping ARSA as well as other regional terror outfits with logistics and training. Pakistani ISI has hands behind trafficking in narcotics as well as printing and distributing counterfeit currency [mostly Indian rupees], which helps it in generating fund.
Another type of drugs named Yaba is being manufactured in Myanmar, which also is trafficked into Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and China, Philippines, the Middle East, and the Western nations. According to intelligence sources, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and Myanmar Army are mainly controlling those Yaba manufacturing factories in Myanmar, while it is being trafficked internationally under the supervision of notorious terrorist Dawood Ibrahim’s D-Company and Pakistani spy agency. In recent years, the volume of Yaba trade crosses a few billion dollars per year.
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is the editor of Blitz. Follow him on Twitter Salah_Shoaib