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ISIS eyes on the the land of Tagore and Nazrul (Bangladesh)

Bangladesh may be the next providing ground for global Jihadist groups, suggests LA Times

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Islamic Terrorism worldwide. Wikimedia Commons

By Saeed Naqvi

It was like a macabre end to a Chabrol movie. I had returned with images of such aesthetic delight from the Pahela Baishakh festivities in Dhaka that the news of Professor Rezaul Karim Siddique having been hacked to death by Islamists left me in something of a daze.

Promotion of Bangla syncretism, which I had found so compelling, was precisely his “guilt”: He was in the vanguard of progressive literary and cultural activities, on the Rajshahi university campus; keen that students take an interest in the poetry and music of Tagore and Qazi Nazrul Islam, modern dance dramas, just the sort of stuff that lends to the Bangla cultural scene so much vibrancy.

The Islamic State (IS), which claimed responsibility for the killing, said Siddique was inviting Muslims to the path of “atheism”. A few days later, the rampant culture of impunity claimed its next victim – Xulhaz Mannan, editor of the gay, transgender magazine, and his fellow activist Mahbul Rabbi Tonoy.

Bangladesh was carved out of India as East Bangladesh in 1947 as part of Pakistan. Wkimedia Commons
Bangladesh was carved out of India as East Bangladesh in 1947 as part of Pakistan. Wkimedia Commons

So far extremism had struck in the Bangla countryside. The latest attacks are in the heart of Dhaka, deepening concerns about Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed’s grip on the administration.

A criticism of the regime on these lines invites from Sheikh Hasina a knee-jerk response: darts are being fired by arch enemy Khaleda Zia, the BNP, Jamaat-e-Islami – the source of all Islamic militancy in Bangladesh. She is not exactly in denial of the IS presence but her focus is on the Khaleda-Jamaat mischief.

In this kind of polarization, what value does one place on an interview that a perfectly sensible, liberal editor in Dhaka places in my hand? Dabiq, the glossy IS magazine has in a Q and A, invited Shaikh Abu Ibrahim al Hanif, the Emir of the Khalifah’s soldiers in Bengal, to spell out his plans. The 13-page interview, if validated as being authentic, has a dreadful message for Bangladesh: IS headquarters may shift to the country where Shias, Qadianis, Hindus and other deviants espousing cultural syncretism will be terrorized to their knees.

“Jihad base in Bengal will facilitate guerilla attacks in India from both sides.” There is terrible news for Myanmar too: “Cells” will be helped until the nation is overwhelmed.

You may like to read this too: Naqvi says dignity of minorities not ‘political propaganda. 

Of course, there is institutional support for the ghastly killings of writers, teachers, artists with a liberal streak who have been hacked to death with machetes and meat cleavers. Los Angeles Times headline rings alarm: “Bangladesh may be the next providing ground for global Jihadist groups.”

Macabre attacks on soft targets in Bangladesh has multiple purposes: they discredit the Hasina government, intimidate liberals, the anti-Jamaat e Islami masses. Under stress, the Hasina establishment responds to such criticism by unfurling its authoritarian fangs. This explains the crackdown on editors and journalists: 84 cases against Mahfuz Anam, editor of the Daily Star, and arrest of 81-year-old Shafiq Rehman.

The regime’s authoritarian streak, disheartens the secular, liberal elite. True Hasina takes on the obscurantist forces but must a price be paid in civil liberties to contrive an unsteady, status quo?

Because Indo-Bangladesh relations have seldom been as good as they are today, there is a suggestion, in murmurs among the elite that New Delhi supports the illiberal regime. This kind of talk carries. At the popular level questions surface: why must Dhaka be so obsequious with an “RSS led government”?

An influential China lobby takes heart and looks for balance in the Dhaka, Beijing, New Delhi, Washington quadrangle. Any illiberal act by the regime in Bangladesh correspondingly causes tongues to wag about New Delhi’s heavy-handed handling of affairs like the JNU and Hyderabad universities. Between New Delhi-Dhaka official relations and the people-to-people perceptions, contradictions sharpen.

What can New Delhi do? It certainly is in no position to stand on high moral ground and proffer advice to a regime increasingly intolerant of dissent.

The BNP under Begum Khaleda Zia is a depleted force banking on the Jamaat-e-Islami’s excesses. But her antecedents do link her to powerful elements in the army, a source of great discomfort to the Prime Minister. She is, therefore, willing to give the armed forces all the toys they want including a nuclear submarine to be used against few know who.

The army is in clover, what with both the ladies outbidding each other to keep it in good humour. The bonanza from UN Peace Keeping duties increases by the day. Recently Saudi Arabia very nearly extracted Dhaka’s participation in their year long war in Yemen. A decision to send troops was reversed by Sheikh Hasina: she agreed to troops only under the UN.

By seeking Dhaka’s help, Riyadh was out to spite Islamabad which said “no” earlier. That Sheikh Hasina even toyed with the idea was to undermine Khaleda Zia’s support in Islamabad. Her expectation also was that Riyadh would help tone down Jamaat-e-Islami opposition to her. Has the Saudi initiative failed or does it still have life in it?

Meanwhile, the diplomatic corps cannot take its eyes off the string of gruesome murders – four this month alone. American Human Rights group must have played a hand in 29 Bangladeshi bloggers being placed on the State Department list. In other words, if free thinking bloggers are threatened with death by IS, Al Qaeda and sundry extremists, they will be entitled to apply for US residence.

This has the potential to swell the ranks of would-be victims. It is a perfect arrangement: if militants wielding machetes, meat cleavers, and bombs can qualify for the houris of paradise, their potential victims can now aspire for a fallback position in the real land of milk and honey.

(A senior commentator on political and diplomatic affairs, Saeed Naqvi can be reached on saeednaqvi@hotmail.com. The views expressed are personal.) –IANS

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Syrian Militia: End Is Near for Islamic State in Raqqa

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Syria ISIS
Smoke rises near the stadium where the Islamic State militants are holed up after an airstrike by coalition forces at the frontline, in Raqqa, Syria. voa

Islamic State is on the verge of defeat in Syria’s Raqqa and the city may finally be cleared of the jihadists Saturday or Sunday, the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia told Reuters Saturday.

The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State said around 100 of the jihadist group’s fighters had surrendered in Raqqa in the last 24 hours and had been “removed from the city,” but it still expected difficult fighting “in the days ahead.”

It did not say how the fighters had been removed or where the fighters had been taken.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said remaining Islamic State fighters were being transported out of Raqqa by bus under a deal between Islamic State, the U.S.-led coalition and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the YPG. There was no immediate comment on that report from the coalition or the SDF.

Fighting since June

Civilians who escaped from Islamic State
Civilians who escaped from Islamic State militants rest at a mosque in Raqqa, Syria. voa

The SDF, backed by coalition airstrikes and special forces, has been battling since June to oust Islamic State from Raqqa city, formerly its de facto capital in Syria and a base of operations where it planned attacks against the West.

The final defeat of Islamic State at Raqqa will be a major milestone in efforts to roll back the group’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, where earlier this year the group was driven from the city of Mosul.

“The battles are continuing in Raqqa city. Daesh (Islamic State) is on the verge of being finished. Today or tomorrow the city may be liberated,” YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud told Reuters by telephone.

In emailed comments to Reuters, coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon said about 100 Islamic State fighters had surrendered in Raqqa in the last 24 hours and were “removed from the city,” without giving further details.

“We still expect difficult fighting in the days ahead and will not set a time for when we think (Islamic State) will be completely defeated in Raqqa,” he said, adding that around 85 percent of Raqqa had been liberated as of Oct. 13.

Some civilians escape

Around 1,500 civilians had been able to safely make it to SDF lines within the last week, he added.

Omar Alloush, a member of a civilian council set up to run Raqqa, told Reuters late Friday that efforts were under way to secure the release of civilians and “a possible way to expel terrorist elements from Raqqa province,” without giving further details.

An activist group that reports on Raqqa, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, said on its Facebook page Saturday that dozens of buses had entered Raqqa city overnight, having traveled from the northern Raqqa countryside.

The Observatory said Syrian Islamic State fighters and their families had left the city, and buses had arrived to evacuate remaining foreign fighters and their families. It did not say where they would be taken.

During the more than six-year Syrian war, the arrival of buses in a conflict zone has often signaled an evacuation of combatants and civilians.

The campaign against Islamic State in Syria is now focused on its last major foothold in the country, the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, which neighbors Iraq.
Islamic State is facing separate offensives in Deir el-Zour by the SDF on one hand, and Syrian government forces supported by Iranian-backed militia and Russian airstrikes on the other. (VOA)

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Iraqi Army continues Offensive on Islamic State to Regain Hawija, Anbar

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IS clamed territory Hawija in Iraq
A black sign belonging to Islamic State militants is seen on the road in Al-Al-Fateha military airport south of Hawija, Iraq.

The Iraqi army and its allied Shi’ite militias continue to press for the last pockets of Islamic State in Hawija and Anbar.

In a news conference held in Geneva, on 3rd October 2017, U.N. spokesperson Jens Laerke, said that an estimated 12,500 civilians have fled their homes in Hawija since the start of the Iraqi operation on September 21 and nearly 78,000 people could still be trapped in their homes as the fighting reaches densely populated areas.

Hawija

Hawija is a Sunni-majority city in the al-Hawija district with a population of about 100,000. It had a population of 500,000 before IS took control in mid-2014 as many residents fled the violence.

Iraqi army and allied Shi’ite Popular Mobilization Forces claim the fight for Hawija has entered its final stages as they recently gained a strategic foothold in the district by capturing an air base from IS on Monday. The base, known as Rashad air base, is about 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of Hawija and serves as a training camp and logistic base for IS in the region.

Anbar

In western Iraq’s Anbar province, where the Iraqi army launched a separate offensive last month against IS, the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration said it has identified more than 8,500 newly displaced people, raising the number of displaced in the province to more than 54,000 since January 2017.

“People newly displaced from their homes often arrive dehydrated, suffering from hunger and thirst,” said IOM’s Hamed Amro. “Many require psychosocial support and need medical care. Some have chronic illness and exacerbated conditions due to a long-term lack of care, and others suffer from malnutrition. We have also received a few trauma cases.”

Commanders on the ground say IS has set fire to oil wells and has forced civilians who remained to serve as human shields to inhibit airstrikes. (voa)

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Will the Latest Message From Islamic State Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Provoke New Attacks in the West?

IS remains a potent organization, despite its continued losses in United States and Europe

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Islamic State
This image taken from a militant website July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (VOA)

Washington, September 30, 2017 : U.S. intelligence officials examining the latest audio statement claiming to be from Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi say, so far, they have no reason to doubt its authenticity.

However, there are questions as to whether the message from the leader of the collapsing, self-declared caliphate will cause IS operatives to spring into action. Some analysts see Baghdadi’s continued call to arms as almost a shot in the dark, aimed at rekindling interest despite the terror group’s fading fortunes in Syria and Iraq.

The still-early U.S. intelligence assessment comes just a day after the Islamic State’s al-Furqan media wing issued the 46-minute audio recording featuring Baghdadi, in which he calls on followers to “fan the flames of war on your enemies, take it to them and besiege them in every corner.”

“Continue your jihad and your blessed operations and do not let the crusaders rest in their homes and enjoy life and stability while your brethren are being shelled and killed,” he says.

islamic state
A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighter takes cover behind a wall on a street where they fight against Islamic State militants, on the front line on the western side of Raqqa, Syria (VOA)

Despite such threats, U.S. officials say the release of the latest audio message is not changing Washington’s approach.

“We are aware of the tape,” a National Security Council spokesman said Friday. “But whether it’s al-Baghdadi or any member of ISIS, the Trump administration’s policy is destroying ISIS in Iraq, Syria and around the globe.” ISIS is an acronym for Islamic State.

Still, intelligence and counterterror officials, both in the United States and in Europe, warn that IS remains a potent organization, despite its continued losses on the ground.

“We do not think battlefield losses alone will be sufficient to degrade its terrorism capabilities,” the head of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, Nick Rasmussen, warned in written testimony to U.S. lawmakers earlier this week, calling IS’s reach on social media “unprecedented.”

And while Western counterterror officials say the expected wave of returning IS foreign fighters has yet to materialize, the experience and skill sets of the operatives who have made it back home are ample reasons to worry.

But some caution the new Baghdadi audio message may have more to do with the terror group’s long-term strategy than its desire to carry out attacks in the near term.

“The broadcast boosts morale by contextualizing the hardships facing the group as their losses accumulate by reminding Islamic State militants and their supporters that day-to-day actions are part of a broader struggle, and metrics of progress shouldn’t be assessed in a vacuum,” according to Jade Parker, a senior research associate at the Terror Asymmetrics Project (TAPSTRI).

ALSO READ  intelligence officials , Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, al-Furqan, war, enemies, threats, US officials, raqqa, National Security Council, isis, Iraq, Syria, U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, Nick Rasmussen, terrorism, Terror Asymmetrics Project ,

Parker also believes that while it is “extremely unlikely” the latest Baghdadi audio will spark or accelerate any IS plots, it might prevent fraying within the organization’s ranks.

“Baghdadi’s silence during the final days of IS’s battle for Mosul was a sore point for many IS fighters and supporters who felt confused and abandoned by their leader,” she added. “This statement was likely released in part to avoid that sentiment with respect to the fight to retain ground in Raqqa.” (VOA)