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Story of ISIS affiliated Bangladeshi jihadist sisters

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Story of ISIS affiliated Bangladeshi jihadist sisters

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

North South University (NSU), a privately-owned leading educational institution in Bangladesh has once again been accused of housing jihadists – more precisely Islamic State (ISIS) affiliated jihadists. Previously several students of NSU were tracked as jihadists by the Bangladeshi and foreign counterterrorism agencies. Following this latest incident, an internationally acclaimed counter-jihad expert has rightly questioned – “Why did North South University not oppose the jihadi culture and network it hosts?”

According to information, a large number of the students of North South University regularly join jihadist discussion through various groups on the Facebook. They also use secured apps like Telegram for communicating amongst themselves. It is further learnt that several students of NSU are already associated with another jihadist group named Hizbut Tahrir as well as terrorist student front of Jamaat e Islami Bangladesh.

Counter-jihad scholar and President of the Middle East Forum, Dr. Daniel Pipes, while commenting on two jihadist and ISIS connected sisters from Bangladesh has questioned – Why did the Bangladeshi police not take proper protective steps when it questioned Asmaul Husna (sister of a jihadist now under custody of the Australian authorities)? Let us first of all know who this Asmaul Husna is. She is the younger sister of Momena Shoma, a 24-year-old Bangladeshi ISIS jihadist in Australia.

Momena Shoma arrived in Melbourne on Feb. 1, 2018, to study linguistics on an excellence scholarship at La Trobe University. Describing herself as “an introvert and very shy in nature,” she spoke of an ambition to become a university instructor. Coming from an affluent and secular Dhaka family which considered her “brilliant,” Momena had been an ‘A’ student at some of the Dhaka’s elite English-language educational institutions such as Loreto School, Mastermind School, and North South University (NSU). She graduated from NSU with an honors degree in English language and literature in 2016, and then enrolled for a master’s degree at NSU before switching to La Trobe.

At the height of ISIS’ notoriety in 2014, Momena applied for a student visa to travel to Turkey to take up a scholarship from Ankara’s Atılım University, but probably really intending to join ISIS. However, the Turkish consulate in Dhaka turned her down, as it did about half the Bangladeshi student applicants. Momena may also have tried, unsuccessfully, to obtain visas for Tunisia and the United States.

A Bangladeshi police report found that Momena’s sister Asmaul Husna also became radicalized after their mother’s death from diabetes in June 2015; the sisters together took to watching Al-Qaeda and ISIS videos. Both sisters got inspired to devote [themselves] to jihad and vowed to fight for establishing an Islamic caliphate in Bangladesh. They joined a faction of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), an ISIS-linked jihadist group with a violent record dating back to 2005 (when it announced itself with 350 explosions in one hour) and culminating with the attack, killing 29 people [mostly foreigners] at the Holy Artisan Bakery in Dhaka’s posh diplomatic enclave named Gulshan on July 1, 2016. There had been allegations of some of the top figures of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), one of the two largest political parties in the country giving patronization to JMB and other radical Islamic groups.

Momena was in contact with many Bangladeshi jihadists, both local and fighting for ISIS in Syria. The latter included ATM Tajuddin and Gazi Sohan. Sohan, also an ISIS recruiter until his arrest in 2015, met Najibullah Ansari, a Bangladeshi marine engineer and JMB member, in an online chat room and introduced him to Momena in 2014. Momena and Najibullah hit it off and quickly planned to marry but did not due to family opposition. Soon after, Najibullah announced in January 2015 (in a Facebook message to his younger brother) that he was “going to Iraq to join ISIS,” though it appears he actually went to Syria. Najibullah’s father filed a report with the Chittagong police in 2015, informing them of his son’s travels.

Bangladeshi police also found evidence (on Momena’s smartphone and computer) pointing to an important jihadi connection in Australia: an unnamed female friend from an Islamic discussion group at NSU; the two then together communicated with ISIS recruiter Gazi Sohan. Momena’s female friend married a Bangladeshi resident in Australia and moved there after graduation in 2016. She stayed in steady electronic contact on WhatsApp, inciting each other with jihadist videos. The friend apparently convinced Momena to join her in Australia, leading to Momena’s enrolling at La Trobe.

Jihadist beasts beneath burqa:

Momena Shoma was like a regular female students before she got enrolled at the North South University. Before getting admitted with NSU, she never put on burqa or hijab and was living a regular life as any of the members of an elite family would do. But, the atmosphere at NSU had turned her into a jihadist. She immediately started wearing hijab and then burqa thus giving her soul the scope of turning into a monster.

Soon after arriving in Australia, Momena Shoma started looking for her targets. To the police, she calmly elaborated that she had come to Australia not to study but to kill “in the name of God.” She expected that a knife stab to the neck “would be fatal.” Seeing herself as a foot soldier of the Islamic State (ISIS), Momena had planned out the attack; indeed, before leaving Dhaka, she had told her younger sister Asmaul Husna, 22, of her murderous plan.

Momena had put herself in a jihadi mood that morning by watching a gruesome 55-minute ISIS video from 2014, Flames of War.

Momena took a 25 cm (10 inch) kitchen knife to her Bundoora room and repeatedly stabbed her bed, she signaled the danger to come. In the words of a magistrate, “She did the practice run on the mattress with the first family that hosted her and they felt intimidated enough to go to [AHN], saying, ‘We’re scared, we don’t want her to continue living with us’.” Out she went, facing homelessness.

Responding to her urgent need for accommodation, the Singaravelu family – husband and nightshift nurse Roger (56), wife Maha (45), and daughter Shayla (5) – on Feb. 7 welcomed Momena into their 4-bedroom house in Melbourne’s Mill Park suburb for a few days until she found more permanent lodgings. Maha explained her motive in accepting Momena: “I felt for her, being in a foreign country. I put myself in her shoes and her parents’ shoes.”

Themselves immigrants from Malaysia, the Singaravelus had come to Australia 30 years ago, Roger explained, “to seek opportunity.” They had hosted foreign students since 2014 in a spirit of multiculturalism, of giving back, and of teaching tolerance to their daughter. A neighbor, Neil Fitzroy, described the Singaravelus as engaging and open, taking in foreign students to give them “an Australian experience.”

Matters started well enough with Momena, Maha recalls: “She was very pleasant to deal with. She even offered to babysit our daughter if we ever went out.” Roger concurs: “Shoma gave a good impression right up before the attack.” He found her “well mannered” and noted that she spoke better English than he did.

Growing up in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, Roger tells me, he and Maha “understand the norms that are embraced by Muslims.” But AHN had not informed the family that Momena wore a burqa and her appearance, Roger recounts, “gave us a shock when she first arrived at our doorstep.” That she was constantly lifting the burqa during meal times to get food into her mouth caused the family to feel “uncomfortable having meals together.” Much less did AHN inform the couple about Momena having been thrown out of her prior homestay due to her practice at stabbing. And no one knew she had stolen the knife from the first homestay host.

On February 9, 2018, after two days with the Singaravelus, Momena struck. At 4:25 p.m., with Maha out of the house and Roger napping on a mattress in the lounge, child in arms, wearing her burqa, she used her stolen knife to stab her host in the neck. But the under-five-foot woman lacked the strength to cut the much larger Roger’s jugular vein, getting the knife only superficially into his neck – enough to make him bleed “like a fountain” but not enough to do him fatal damage.

In his words: “I thought I was dreaming as I felt a sharp pain on my neck. I woke up and started screaming.” He tried to pull the knife out as Momena leaned over him and pushed it in, yelling all the while, “Allahu Akbar.”

Bangladeshi ineptitude reached new heights when, three days after Momena’s attack on Feb. 9, a Dhaka Metropolitan Police team from the CTTC went to the Shoma family home at the Royal Aroma Garden apartment building to investigate. Moniruzzaman cooperated during the two-hour inquiry. But Momena’s sister Asmaul Husna (aka Sumona), who also attended elite English-language schools, was “very rough” in her attitude. Then, the CTTC reports: “when the police officers were leaving, Sumona surprisingly launched a knife attack, shouting Allahu Akbar. She also said, ‘You are Kafirs [infidels]. We must establish the rule of Islam in the country. We must do jihad if necessary’.” A press account quotes her adding, “I will kill [Bangladeshi Prime Minister] Sheikh Hasina, I will kill [Syrian President Bashar] Assad. They are all infidels. One day everyone will join jihad and Islam will rule the world.”

The injured policeman was taken to the hospital and quickly released. The CTTC subsequently found that, before departing for Melbourne, Momena had ordered her sister to murder a policeman and instructed her on use of a knife. Due to her JMB membership, Asmaul Husna was charged with terrorism. One would have expected a counterterrorism team to be a little better prepared for trouble from a potential jihadi.

Within three days, then, the two sisters, both inspired by Islamic motives, had stabbed two victims in two countries. In the face of Momena’s eventual guilty plea, the denial on the part of her family stands out. Her uncle asked, “How can she be involved in militancy after only eight days in Australia? We cannot picture her holding a knife. She is not aggressive or cruel person. No way she can be part of terrorism. We are Muslim, but we are not terrorists or extremists.” The uncle recently refused to reply to my question whether, after she pleaded guilty, he still maintains Momena’s innocence.

How she became a jihadist?

Although Momena’s uncle asked how she turned into a jihadist just within 8 days of her arrival in Australia, here is my reply to it. Momena Shoma, like many other students of the North South University must have been radicalized while she was in Bangladesh. A clear evidence of her becoming radicalized is – she put on hijab and then burqa, which are actually signs of a female becoming inclined towards radical Islam and jihad. Also I would like to tell the family of Momena Shoma – the way her younger sister Asmaul Husna [a student of Mastermind school] became radicalized being in Bangladesh – Shoma must have been radicalized in the same way. It certainly was a fault of the family to ignore the fact that Momena Shoma suddenly covered her head with Islamic scarf and stopped watching television. Her behavior was similar to that of any jihadist.

Beware of the radicalized Muslim females:

As I have been warning my readers for many years, I would like to remind them once again to keep vigilance on every Muslim female in the West in particular, who are wearing hijab or burqa. Before considering any of these females as mere innocent people, everyone should remember – they have put on hijab or burqa only after being substantially radicalized. Such radicalization can always lead them towards extreme notoriety and cruelty. They can be lone wolf or even worse. Most importantly, these Muslim females are filled with antisemitic and jihadist indoctrination.

Western nations and their diplomatic mission and consulates in the Muslim countries should follow certain strict rule before issuing visa to a Muslim male or female visa applicant. Western intelligence agencies need to keep eyes on the Muslim-dominated areas in particular especially the mosques and Muslim community centers to track female wearing hijab or burqa as well male growing beard, Moreover, social media accounts of these individuals must come under strict surveillance.

Unless we take such measures forthwith, we will never know, if any or many ‘Momena Shoma’ are already taking jihadist preparation and would cause severe harm to their victims.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is the editor of Blitz

Blitz’s Editorial Board is responsible for the stories published under this byline. This includes editorials, news stories, letters to the editor, and multimedia features on WeeklyBlitz.net

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