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Islamic State of Bangladesh: An emerging Reality

Islamic State of Bangladesh reportedly came into being in March 2016

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Singaporean officials released a photo gallery of eight suspected Muslim radicals from Bangladesh, May 3, 2016. Courtesy of Singaporean Ministry of Home Affairs
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April 3,2016: Singaporean authorities said Tuesday they had arrested “eight radicalized Bangladeshi nationals” who were part of a group plotting terror attacks back home and calling itself the Islamic State in Bangladesh (ISB).

The eight Bangladeshis who worked in Singapore’s construction and marine industries were arrested in April and were being held under the island-state’s Internal Security Act, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced in a news release.

ISB was set up in March 2016 by one of the eight suspects, identified as 31-year-old Rahman Mizanur, and the group was plotting attacks in Bangladesh including targeting government and military officials for assassination, the MHA said.

“The ISB members had intended to join the terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as foreign fighters,” the Singaporean ministry said, using another name for Islamic State (IS).

Also read: ISIS eyes the land of Tagore and Nazrul,ie, Bangladesh

“However, as they felt that it would be difficult for them to make their way to Syria, they focused their plans instead on returning to Bangladesh to overthrow the democratically elected government through the use of force, establish an Islamic state in Bangladesh and bring it under ISIS’ self-declared caliphate.”

The arrests of the eight suspects came more than three months after Singapore announced it had arrested 27 Bangladeshis late last year on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda and IS, and deported 26 of them.

Officials in Bangladesh have consistently denied that IS has a presence in their country, where secular writers, religious minorities, foreigners, intellectuals and gay rights activists have been killed since last year in machete-attacks by suspected Islamic radicals. Such attacks have escalated sharply in recent weeks.

Plans for recruitment, growth

According to Singaporean officials, at least two more members of ISB were in Bangladesh, and investigators also seized a document from Mizanur, titled “We Need to Fight for Jihad,” along with documents on weapons and bomb making as well as propaganda materials from al-Qaeda and IS.

“The ISB members planned to recruit other Bangladeshi nationals working in Singapore to grow the group. The group had also raised money to purchase firearms to carry out their planned terror attacks in Bangladesh,” MHA officials said, noting that Singaporean authorities had since seized the cash.

In March, Singapore announced that it was beefing up security and counter-terrorism measures to protect the city-state from a threat posed by IS’s rising influence in Southeast Asia.

“ISB poses a security concern to Singapore because of its support for ISIS and its readiness to resort to the use of violence overseas,” the MHA said.

The ministry noted that another five Bangladeshi workers who were investigated under the Internal Security Act for possible links to Islamic State Bangladesh were sent home.

“Investigations showed that they were not involved in ISB but nevertheless possessed and/or proliferated jihadi-related materials, or supported the use of armed violence in pursuit of a religious cause,” the ministry said.

In Dhaka on Tuesday, Bangladesh’s police chief acknowledged that five Bangladeshis had been expelled from Singapore, but he did not say when they were sent home.

“They are in the custody of the detective branch, and we will question them extensively about their links with the militant groups. We have cooperation with Singapore on counter terrorism issues,” Police Inspector-General A.K.M. Shahidul Haque told BenarNews. (BenarNews)

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Violence And Intimidation Directed Towards Rohingyas In Bangladesh Camps

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies.

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Rohingya, Violence
Rohingya refugees carry a hume pipe in Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

The failed attempt to send thousands of Rohingya back to Myanmar starting this month has drawn attention to alleged violence and intimidation by security forces against members of the Muslim minority living in Bangladesh’s sprawling refugee camps.

Bangladesh has boosted its international reputation by hosting more than 730,000 Rohingya who fled a vicious campaign by Myanmar’s military last year that U.N. investigators have labelled genocide – an accusation Myanmar has consistently denied.

But Bangladesh appears keen to demonstrate that Rohingya refugees will not be welcome there indefinitely. The planned repatriations sparked fear and chaos last week as Rohingya went into hiding – and in a handful of reported cases attempted suicide – to avoid being sent back.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Meanwhile, allegations of sporadic beatings, looting and intimidation by Bangladeshi soldiers, police and camp officials have underscored the bleak conditions faced by Rohingya in their host country, where most are denied official refugee status and face restrictions on freedom of movement.

The repatriation of some 2,000 refugees was scheduled to begin last Thursday, but Bangladesh has now put the plans on hold until next year after failing to find any Rohingya willing to go back.

Rohingya in the camps have told VOA that soldiers were stationed near the homes of those who were told they would be sent back last week, fueling fears of forced repatriation and adding to widespread distress in communities already suffering extreme trauma after last year’s violence.

One Rohingya man told VOA anonymously that block leaders in the camps were also “announcing with loudspeakers… that it’s essential for everyone to carry ID with them whenever and wherever they go if they leave their homes.”

Late last month, security forces looted property from Rohingya shopkeepers at the Balukhali camp, said John Quinley, a human rights specialist with the non-profit organization Fortify Rights.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
Rohingya refugees walk under rain clouds on June 26, 2018, in Jamtoli refugee camp in Bangladesh. VOA

“Right now the security forces are operating in the camps with total impunity,” he said.

In another case earlier this month, Fortify Rights reported that security forces rounded up 18 Rohingya leaders and slapped and hit some of them while telling them to instruct other refugees to cooperate with a new U.N.-backed project to provide them with “smart cards.”

Many Rohingya oppose the identity cards because they fear the information on them will be shared with the Myanmar government.

Bangladesh’s refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner, Abul Kalam, told VOA he was unaware of the allegations of violence but would follow up. “Generally, it is not acceptable that someone would apply force on or beat someone to do or not to do something,” he said.

Quinley called on the U.N.’s refugee agency to “do everything in their power to make sure that the Bangladeshi authorities are respecting human rights.”

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
An elderly Rohingya refugee holds a placard during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh.VOA

Spokesperson Caroline Gluck said the agency has notified the authorities of a “small number” of reports of violence related to the smart card project. The agency has “been following up with them to ascertain the circumstances of what happened,” she told VOA.

Officials have responded that the incidents were “not linked” to the smart card project, she said.

She added, “The new ID card will enable refugees to be better protected and will streamline access to assistance and services.”

Mohammed Sheikh Anwar, a Rohingya activist, told VOA the Bangladeshi government “needs to keep the lower-level authorities in check. There should be an accountability measure.”

“Committing violence against genocide survivors to make them agree to the authorities’ terms is not the solution,” he added.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
A Rohingya refugee woman draws water from a hand pump at a temporary shelter in New Delhi, India.

Last week a Rohingya man named Ata Ullah said he was beaten at the office of an official at the Chakmarkul camp, the Guardian reported, after he failed to provide the official with a list of refugees.

Ata Ullah said in a video circulated on social media that when he couldn’t provide the official with a list he “was beaten with a large stick… they stepped on my neck, I could not stand it.”

Also Read: Bangladesh Government Build a New Rohingya Camp

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies and Rohingya refugees to “create any structures, infrastructure, or policies that suggest permanency.”

As a result, the report said, “refugee children do not go to school, but rather to ‘temporary learning centers,’ where ‘facilitators,’ not ‘teachers,’ preside over the classrooms. The learning centers are inadequate, only providing about two hours of instruction a day,” the report said. (VOA)