|| By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd.)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army
On the night of July 1, 21:20 hours local time, seven terrorists (all Bangladeshi citizens) armed with assault rifles, bombs and a sword attacked the Holey Artisan Bakery-cum-Café in the Gulshan area close to in the diplomatic enclave of Dhaka, Bangladesh firing indiscriminately, lobbing bombs, taking hostages and killed two police officers. Bangladesh’s army commandos stormed the scene next day at 7:40 in the morning killing six terrorists, capturing one terrorist alive and rescuing 13 hostages. Overall 28 people were killed; six terrorists, four Bangladeshis and 18 foreigners (nine Italians, seven Japanese, one Indian and one US national). Some 50 others were also reported injured – mostly police personnel. The terrorists had made following demands to release the hostages: Khaled Saifullah, leader of JuM be released from prison; safe exit of hostage takers, and; terrorist mission to establish extremist interpretation of Islam be recognized. These demands were not accepted.
As per media reports, the foreigners were put to the sword – throats slit brutally. The ISIS claimed responsibility of the attack albeit as per one media report the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam (also called Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) or Ansar Bangla) had announced the upcoming attack via a tweet almost 10 hours before the actual attack took place. Significantly, ABT is an al Qaeda front group that became active in Bangladesh during 2007 as the Jama’atul Muslemin funded by many NGOs, subsided when funding dried up, and resurfaced in 2010 as the ABT. ABT is a banned organization notorious for killing liberal bloggers, bank heists, and is reportedly linked to the Islami Chhatra Shibir; student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami party of Bangladesh. The fact remains that while ISIS and Al Qaeda remain different organizations, their aims largely coalesce and many instances have been reported of their helping each other in the Iraq-Syria region. What has been established now is that the terrorists of the Dhaka terror attack were all Bangladeshis who significantly were “missing” past few months – trained under tutelage of Pakistan’s ISI? Very recently, Hasan ul-Haq, Bangladesh Information Minister had told journalists on April 14 that some 8,000 Bangladeshi youth had returned home after being trained by Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, adding, “There is an alliance between the military forces (read Pakistani military-ISI), home-grown terrorists and international terror networks and we are fighting them.” Yes, the killing of Hindus in Bangladesh continues to occur but such incidences were much more in the past during the Khaleda Zia’s BNP regime when four major anti-India terrorist training camps were operating in Bangladesh with Al Qaeda and ISI instructors, with Hindus being killed by the dozens, raped and forced to flee leaving their properties behind.
Ironically, the Indian media remained silent because of the ruling mafia. It is true that Sheikh Hasina and her government have come down heavily on terrorism and radical organizations. So, such incidents may recur to put pressure on her. It is to her credit that she did not bow to the terrorist demands. No doubt intelligence agencies had been warning of Dhaka like attacks but that has become routine in most parts of the world. While the world acknowledges there can be no fool-proof cyber security, same applies to terror strikes in democracies like India and Bangladesh. India must also remember: Pakistan’s ISI is inexorably linked to AHAB, ABT, JMB / JMJB and HUJI in Bangladesh; while Pakistani armed modules were being identified pan-India in 1992-1993, SIMI had already started deputing volunteers to Pakistan for training along with the mujahideen, Taliban and Al Qaeda cadres, had established linkages with Islamic Chhatra Shibir, Al Qaeda affiliated HUJI, Al Badr, Al Jihad and other organisations in Bangladesh, and were trained in facilities located inside Bangladesh and under the very noses of DGFI and BDR, as scripted by MK Dhar, former Joint Director IB; Pakistani terrorist Asim Umar heading Al Qaeda in South Asia, tasked for terrorist activities from Afghanistan to Myanmar, sprouted from his mother organization HUJI that used to run branches in Kashmir, Bangladesh and Myanmar; in December last year, our media had quoted intelligence agencies assessing that there may be 23 Indians in Iraq and Syria fighting for the ISIS; the internet is being optimized for radicalization within India and abroad and needs to be monitored continuously; busting of three terror modules in recent months from Roorkee and Hyderabad had pan-India profiles. One module in Hyderabad was preparing the deadly explosive traicetone triperoxide (TATP) used in the Paris and Brussels attacks; the JMB in Bangladesh has aligned with the ISIS with Shaykh Abu Ibrahim, JMB chief declaring ISIS intends to use fighters from Pakistan and Bangladesh to mount guerilla type of attacks.
The bottom-line is that whether ISIS or Al Qaeda or both, terrorism is one big radical mass that has developed guttural linkages with most terrorist organizations in the world, and the threat is increasing exponentially. From present media reports, our NIA is conducting itself well in clamping down on terrorists, their modules and organizations. The obvious need is to accord priority to ‘prevent’ terrorist acts and should an act take place with alacrity minimizing the losses. At the same time we need to monitor and minimize radicalization, which is the very basis on which terrorism and support to terrorism thrives. Therefore, sustained de-radicalization plans need to be evolved and applied which must be specifically tailored for various sections of the society. At the same time, the politico-terror-narcotics nexus must be ruthlessly stamped out. Our counter-terrorism cooperation with the Sheikh Hasina government in Bangladesh must be sustained at the highest level. Reading between the lines, Bangladesh did not appear to be too happy in this context with the happenings in West Bengal some months back. Having been subjected to terror past two and a half decades plus, India must optimize counter-terrorism efforts internally, and globally in concert with its strategic / defence partners, countries facing similarly and like-minded countries.