6 years of Holey Artisan café attack: Neo JMB on the wane, some groups active online
Militant group Neo-JMB, which carried out a deadly attack at a Gulshan restaurant in 2016, currently has no strength to carry out another attack, but officers and security analysts see several other groups as threats.
Militant groups and extremists continue to be active online, they said, adding that individuals get motivated and radicalised by the large volume of extremist content available on the internet.
"Neo-JMB is now in an existential crisis. It has no activists or leaders," said Asaduzzaman, chief of Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of police.
The banned outfit's chief Mehedy Hasan John is believed to be working from a hideout in Turkey, CTTC officers said.
But there is no room for complacency as other groups like Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) and Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT) are still active. The former is still a major concern because its top leaders Major (sacked) Syed Ziaul Haque and Akram Hussain are on the run, they added.
The group operates through what police say are the "sleeper cells" in which the members do not know each other's identity and their leaders operate anonymously.
They use encrypted messaging apps to communicate and use unique codes as their virtual identity, said a CTTC officer. "Even if one of them gets arrested, law enforcers cannot detect the others."
CTTC chief Asaduzzaman said ABT has been neutralised to some extent because its key operatives were arrested at different times.
Online activities of militants and radicalisation of individuals increased amid the coronavirus restrictions, but they are now largely under control, he said.
Banned outfit HuT's members, who are mostly students of well-off families, are now trying to get recruited in government and private jobs as part of their plan to establish a caliphate, said an officer with years of experience in tracking down militants.
Banned outfits Harkatul Jihad al Islam, Bangladesh (Huji-B) and Jam'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) have been inactive in the last few years, officials added. According to CTTC data, Huji'B killed 145 people in 16 attacks between 1999 and 2004. The JMB killed 70 in 23 attacks from 2002 to 2016.
Monirul Islam, former CTTC chief and current additional inspector general of the special branch of police, wrote in an article published in Counter Terrorism Journal last year that militants were using the cyber space to disseminate extremist messages and spread hatred toward their targets, make recruitment, collect funds, provide training to new members and prepare for terror attacks.
Just like many other countries, Bangladesh was seeing a rise in radicalisation. Counterterrorism is a complex and lengthy task that requires the involvement of the whole of society, he observed.
Security analyst Maj Gen ANM Muniruzzaman (retd) said the periodic arrest of suspects and recovery of arms and ammunition were an indication that the militants were active.
There should be a national counter militancy strategic policy in which the government, police, and other stakeholders of the society will have specific roles to play, he said.
CTTC chief Asaduzzaman said police have been intervening in online activities of suspects, adding that it had become increasingly difficult for militants to make new recruits as people were more aware now.
HOLEY ARTISAN ATTACK AND NEO-JMB
Neo-JMB was formed after late Bangladeshi-Canadian Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, who was inspired by the global terror organisation Islamic State, came to Bangladesh in October 2013.
The group was behind the attack on Holey Artisan, killing 22 people, including 17 foreigners and two police officers, on July 1, 2016.
In 2016, Neo-JMB and Al Qaeda inspired Ansar Al Islam (AAI) killed a total of 60 people in 53 attacks. The following year, neo-JMB carried out an attack killing five people, including three police officers, in Sylhet.
After the Holey Artisan attack, the CTTC started countrywide intelligence operations and led preemptive operations.
Rab and different units of police also strengthened their efforts against terrorism.
Since the Holey Artisan attack, the CTTC has arrested 512 suspects. Law enforcers carried out 28 operations at militant dens where 79 militants were killed and large stashes of explosives were destroyed or seized.