Following the recent jihadist attacks in Sri Lanka and Islamic States’ threats of launching attacks in Bangladesh or West Bengal in India, experts have identified indicators of radicalization of individuals saying meritorious students of educated and affluent families from several South Asian nations including Bangladesh were brainwashed with wrong teachings of Islam and concocted glories of becoming martyrs as per militant ideology that eventually leads them to radical Islam and jihad.
The deadly attack in Sri Lanka during Easter Sunday left over 250 people killed. This has generated question in the minds of the security analysts, counter-militancy experts and intelligence agencies to assess the reason behind the rise of radical Islam and jihadism, which has been spreading in countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and some other parts of South Asia.
According to counter-militancy experts, in the recent days, youths from the affluent or upper-class societies are being brainwashed and lured towards joining jihad and becoming ‘martyrs’. Some of these youths start considering martyrdom as the easiest way of directly landing in heaven and enjoying unending luxuries and amusement including the company of 72 virgins. These youths are taught to ‘sacrifice their lives’ for the cause of ‘saving Islam’.
Commenting on this issue, counter-militancy expert Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury said, “Decades back, we have the impression that only people from madrassa education background or from the poor families do join jihad or become radicalized. But now we have seen in Sri Lanka, for example, those attackers belonged to wealthy families. What we have seen there? At least three of the suicide bombers who struck Sri Lanka on Easter belonged to the same extended family. They are fabulously wealthy and known as spice tycoons. The group that unleashed Sunday’s attacks on Sri Lanka included nine suicide bombers who detonated explosives in churches, hotels and inside the home belonging to the family, authorities said. The leader was a man named Zahran Hashim, who was believed to be in his 40s and expounded extremist views in online sermons. Authorities said the group’s leader carried out a suicide attack on Colombo’s Shangri-La Hotel. Let’s not forget, before they blew them off in the suicide attacks, everyone in the society knew them as decent people and even they were regularly visiting posh hotels and socializing. It means, a Muslim family, no matter whether they are wealthy or poor, they can turn into jihadists at any point”.
Mr. Choudhury, who has won several international awards for his firm stand against radical Islam further said, “I can also give a classic example of another family, which too are wealthy and to some extend in attire at least, they look to be secular. But in reality, they not only are radicalized but also do take active part in jihad and terrorism. Take the example of Md. Shahid Uddin Khan, his wife Farjana Anjum or their daughters. They have plenty of black money and are living very posh life in Britain. But this year, Khan’s Dhaka residence was raided by the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC). During the raid, large volume of weapons, detonator, counterfeit Bangladesh currency notes and jihadist materials of ISIS were recovered by the CTTC unit. Following this recovery, three separate cases against ISIS-funder Md. Shahid Uddin Khan, his wife Farjana Anjum, daughters and other accomplices were lodged. The cases are: Cantonment PS, Case no 10, Section-6(2)/7/11/12 of Anti Terrorism Act 2009 (amendment 2013); Cantonment PS, Case no 11, Section-25-A, Special Power Act 1974; and Cantonment PS, Case no 12, Section-19-A of Arms Act 1878. It means, they are funding Islamic State (ISIS). Under the disguise of secular Muslims, they actually are dangerous predators – possibly finalizing location of their jihadist attacks”.
Md. Shahid Uddin Khan (Army No: BA002428, Course: 8-BMA, Commission Date: 10-06-1983), who along with his wife Farjana Anjum and daughters had smuggled out millions of dollars from Bangladesh and invested in various business ventures in United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom.
In 2009, he invested two million pounds in the United Kingdom in exchange of obtaining immigrant status under Visa Tier 1, vide VAF No. 511702. Later the family had laundered an unknown amount of money and brought that into the United Kingdom.
On April 24, 2019, Md. Shahid Uddin Khan released two video messages through the social media calling upon the people of Bangladesh to get united against the government and establish Caliphate. Just days after the release of these video messages, Islamic State has released the poster, proving there clearly is connection between Shahid’s ‘Astha’ and ISIS.
In Bangladesh, another jihadist outfit named Hizbut Tahrir also has got itself affiliated with Islamic State. Moreover, sitting in Britain, a fugitive sacked military officer named Md. Shahid Uddin Khan has formed a platform named ‘Astha’ (faith), through which he is trying to unseat the democratically elected government in Bangladesh and turn the country into a Caliphate. Md. Shahid Uddin Khan’s cohort M. Sajjad Hussain is coordinating the activities of ‘Astha’ in the United States. It is matter of grave surprise as to why the UK government is allowing Md. Shahid Uddin Khan in continuing jihadist activities using the British soil.
According to immigration records, Shahid Uddin Khan and his family members are regularly visiting United Arab Emirates. British intelligence agencies never wanted to know the reason behind this family’s visit to UAE.
According to media reports, four months before the Sri Lanka attacks, ISIS funder Md. Shahid Uddin Khan had sent large amount of money to his Colombo-based jihadist contact via Dubai. Khan has been living in the United Kingdom for last few years along with his family.
According to documents available with various intelligence agencies in Bangladesh, Md. Shahid Uddin Khan hails from a radical Muslim family while his wife Farjana Anjum too hails from a similar family background. This couple’s daughters though are living and being educated in Britain is notoriously radicalized and is working as lone wolves. They have been targeting various individuals and trying to convert them into Islam.
In January this year, Md. Shahid Uddin Khan used illegal channel in transferring an amount equivalent to ninety-two thousand dollars. This amount went from Dubai to Colombo. In other words, Khans funded the Sri Lanka jihadists – on behalf of ISIS.
ISIS threat on Bangladesh and India:
Recently, Islamic State (ISIS), through one of its channels has openly threatened of launching attack either on Bangladesh or West Bengal in India. Intelligence agencies in both the countries have taken the matter seriously and are trying to know further details on this matter. But, according to counter-militancy experts, South Asian intelligence agencies are not fully capable of either understanding the broader impact of such threats nor in initiating due measures in preventing the same. Although senior officials of the counter terrorism unit of Bangladesh Police had already trashed the possibility of ISIS attack in the country, experts say, such over-confidence always may turn into a blunder. Authorities in Sri Lanka had ignored an intelligence report about possible ISIS attacks, and we are aware of the result. For effectively countering militancy or jihadist threat, every nation needs to initiate effective measure. But for taking such measures, they need to consult details with the experts in this field. To my knowledge, none of the internationally known counter-militancy experts would work for free. Rather, they are quite expensive.
Damsana Ranadhiran is a retired intelligence official.