On January 25,
2016, a Dhaka Court ordered Bangladesh’s former Prime Minister
(PM) and head of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party
(BNP) Begum Khaleda Zia to appear in court on March 3, 2016, to
answer the charge of sedition. Momtaz Uddin Ahmad Mehdi, a lawyer
with the Bangladesh Supreme Court (SC) and a supporter of the
ruling Awami League (AL) had filed a case alleging that Zia’s
remarks about the Liberation War of 1971 were seditious.
On December 21,
2015, Zia, accused the AL of ‘patronising’ war criminals by giving
them freedom-fighter tags. At a programme in Dhaka city, she declared,
“He (Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman) wanted to be the Prime
Minister of Pakistan. He did not want an independent Bangladesh.
Those who are real Razakars (collaborators of Pakistani force),
who actually harassed, tortured and killed innocent people during
the war, will have to be tried and punished. Those who did not
fight the war but helped the war criminals are now very close
to the Awami League. There are many such examples.” Section 123
(A) of the Bangladesh Penal Code prescribes punishment "with
rigorous imprisonment of up to ten years for condemnation of the
creation of Bangladesh".
Reacting to the
development, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, acting Secretary General
of BNP, dismissed the case as politically motivated, arguing,
“This is nothing but a mockery and its aim is to deter Khaleda
from politics. The intent of the Government is to continue its
repression of the opposition by Police, making confrontational
politics (sic).” He went on to add that 17,000 opposition
activists had been arrested since 2014 and 3,000 were still in
Within the complex
web of claims and counter-claims, it is clear that the battle
of the Begums, who have a long history of
political rivalry, has intensified. This is primarily due to incumbent
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed’s decision to open an inquiry
into crimes committed during the Liberation War of 1971. Notably,
after assuming power in 2009, in her second stint as Prime Minister
of Bangladesh, Hasina fulfilled her electoral promise and constituted
the International Crimes Tribunal-1 (ICT-1) on March 25, 2010,
paving the way for prosecutions of war criminals. Subsequently,
on March 22, 2012, ICT-2 was constituted to expedite prosecutions.
So far, the two
ICTs have indicted 53 leaders, including 36 from Jamaat-e-Islami
(JeI), six from Muslim League (ML), five from Nezam-e-Islami (NeI),
four from BNP and two from the Jatiya Party (JP). Verdicts against
24 of them have already been delivered – 17 were awarded death
sentence while the remaining seven received life sentences. Four
of the 17 who received the death sentence have already been executed,
while 13 others cases are currently pending with the Appellate
Division of the SC.
and its main ally JeI, have been at the ‘receiving end’ of these
trials and have consequently been opposing the Government on this
issue. Hasina has refused to be cowed down by the opposition combine’s
disruptive campaigns, which have resulted in 419 deaths since
the delivery of the first verdict by ICT-2 against JeI leader
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad alias Bachchu Razakar on January
21, 2013. Only five such deaths were recorded in 2015, as the
verdicts and their implementation have received overwhelming
support across Bangladesh. In her latest assertion,
on December 14, 2015, Hasina declared that no force in world could
stop Bangladesh’s war crimes’ trials.
indictments and three verdicts came in 2015. Four persons were
awarded life sentences, while one received the death sentences.
More prominently, three of a total of four hangings in these cases
took place in 2015. On November 22, 2015, condemned war crimes
convicts JeI Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed (67)
and BNP Standing Committee member Salauddin Quader Chowdhury (66)
simultaneously at Dhaka Central Jail; and on April 11, 2015, JeI
Senior Assistant Secretary General Muhammad Kamaruzzaman (63),
the third most senior figure in the JeI, was hanged
at Dhaka Central Jail.
The execution of
JeI and BNP leaders through 2015 unsettled entrenched elements
in these formations. The Government is, moreover, trying to expedite
the process of banning JeI. On January 17, 2016, Law Minister
Anisul Huq disclosed, “We are trying to revise the International
Crimes (Tribunals) Act of 1973 so that any political party including
Jamaat can be punished for committing crimes in 1971. A bill on
the amendment will be placed before Parliament in the next session.”
On August 1, 2013, JeI’s registration as a political party was
declared illegal by the High Court as its party charter had several
provisions contrary to the country’s Constitution.
during the course of 2015 had a far reaching impact on the security
environment of the country. While older terrorist and extremist
groups have been decimated by Hasina’s crackdown
since 2009, surviving splinters and new formations have come to
the fore again, and there has been a surge in both radical and
terrorist activities. At least 23 civilians and two Security Force
(SF) personnel were killed in acts of terror unleashed by terror
groups like Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), Al-Qaeda in the Indian
Subcontinent (AQIS), Islamic State (IS) and Jama'atul Mujahideen
through 2015. The number of such fatalities in 2014 stood at two,
including one civilian killed by the Hefazat-e-Islam (HeI) and
one SF trooper killed in a JMB ambush.
ABT, an Al Qaeda
to death five bloggers and publishers in 2015
for their alleged position ‘against Islam’. In the latest of series
of such attacks, on October 31, 2015, secular blogger and Jagriti
Prakashani publisher, Faisal Arefin Dipan (40), was hacked to
death at his office in Aziz Super Market, Dhaka city. ABT also
killed nine people during a robbery at the Bangladesh Commerce
Bank Limited (BCBL) in Ashulia near Dhaka city on April 21, 2015.
Later, on May 31, 2015, Police arrested Mahfuzul Islam aka
Suman (35), an ABT ‘operational commander’ and mastermind
of the bank robbery, from the Badda area in Dhaka.
pirs (revered religious instructors, usually of Sufi orientation)
and one attendant were also killed by Islamist extremists in 2015,
for their ‘deviant’ religious ideology. On October 5, 2015, Muhammad
Khijir Khan (66), the former chairman of the Power Development
Board (PDB), a freedom fighter and a pir, was killed by
seven unidentified armed men by slitting his throat at his Madhya
Badda house in Dhaka; on September 7, 2015, assailants shot dead
another pir, Hazrat Moulana Mohammad Salahuddin Khan Bishal
(30), in his sleep in the Vorotpur area of Atghoria upazila
(Sub-District) in Pabna District; on September 5, 2015, unknown
assailants slit the throat of a pir, Rahmat Ullah (60),
along with that of an attendant, inside a shrine in the Bayezid
area of Chittagong city.
also stunned by the killing of two foreign nationals in 2015.
On October 3, 2015, Japanese national Hoshi Kunio (66) was gunned
down by three unidentified assailants in the Kaunia sub-District
of Rangpur District. On September 28, 2015, an Italian charity
worker, Cesare Tavella (50), a technical director working with
the Netherlands-based Interchurch Organization for Development
Cooperation (ICCO), was killed in Dhaka city's Gulshan area. The
IS claimed the killings, though Dhaka maintained that they were
locally orchestrated, and that IS had no presence in the country.
IS also claimed
a suicide attack at the Chokpara Ahmadiyya Jamaat Mosque in Bagmara
sub-District of Rajshahi District on December 25, 2015, in which
one person (the suicide bomber) was killed and another three were
injured. The last suicide attack in Bangladesh was recorded on
November 13, 2010, in which three persons, including the two attackers
who carried the bomb and one civilian, were killed at Taragunia
in Kushtia District.
On December 13,
2015, ruling out the existence of IS in Bangladesh, Hasina observed,
"There's no IS in Bangladesh. So far probes into the [recent]
incidents [killings] have revealed that their [killers] motives
were primarily domestic. Our law enforcement agencies have demonstrated
their considerable success in arresting some of the killers of
bloggers and foreign nationals.” Similarly, Home Minister Asaduzzaman
Khan on December 16, 2015, reiterated, “We are saying always,
our Prime Minister also asserts that there is no IS here. We are
trying to control such militant groups that are trying to surface.”
Among the more
established of the terror outfits operating inside Bangladesh,
JMB militants on November 4, 2015, stabbed to death Constable
Mukul Hossain and injured four other Policemen when they tried
to stop JMB militants at a checkpoint on the Dhaka-Tangail Highway
in Savar, an industrial suburb some 30 kilometers from Dhaka.
Further, on December 10, 2015, two people were injured when JMB
militants launched a bomb attack on the International Society
for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) Temple in Dinajpur District.
Seven JMB militants were arrested when Police neutralized their
hideout in the Mirpur area in Dhaka city on December 24, 2015.
17 improvised grenades, explosives with which about 200 such grenades
could be made, and a sack-full of suicide vests were recovered.
Another JMB den was discovered and neutralized on December 26,
2015, in the Aminbazar area of Chittagong District. Three JMB
terrorists were arrested with one MK 11 precision semi-automatic
sniper rifle, five kilograms of explosive gel, 13 military uniforms,
252 rounds of ammunition and 25 detonators.
the link between JeI, the largest Islamist party of Bangladesh,
and JMB, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Joint Commissioner Monirul
Islam stated, on November 26, 2015, “At least one-fourth of banned
militant outfit JMB members are former Jamaat-e-Islami members
and are now involved in acts of destruction across the country.
The new members are also reportedly financing JMB's terror and
criminal acts. JMB members are using the money to buy motorcycles,
explosives and ammunition to commit crimes.” Further, the Police’s
Detective Branch (DB) claimed, on December 29, 2015, that JMB
was planning countrywide attacks on March 25, 2016, a day before
the country’s Independence Day.
Despite these simmering,
the Government has continued its policy of containing Islamist
extremist forces through 2015. A total of 1,888 extremists and
terrorists, including 1,729 cadres of JeI and its students’ wing
Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS),
83 of the JMB, 16 each of Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT) and ABT, 12 of
AQIS, nine of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B),
eight of Shaeed Hamja Brigade (SHB), six of Mujahid of Bangladesh,
two each of Bangladesh Jihadi Group (BJG) and the HeI, and five
who were engaged in IS propaganda and recruitment were arrested.
on January 20, 2016, Singapore deported a batch of 26 Bangladeshi
construction workers, with Singapore’s Home Ministry stating that
the deportees “supported the armed jihad ideology of terrorist
groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”
Bangladesh Police charged 14 of them, while 12 were released in
Bangladesh after questioning. Bangladesh has, however, denied
their links with Al Qaeda and IS, claiming that those charged
were, "linked with banned Islamist militant group Ansarullah
Bangla Team (ABT)," according to Bangladesh Police spokesman
Maruf Hussain Sarder’s statement of January 21, 2016.
Dhaka has also
continued its campaign against the Left Wing Extremist (LWE) movement.
Through 2015, 17 LWE cadres were killed including 10 of the Purbo
Banglar Communist Party (PBCP), three of the Biplobi Communist
Party (BCP), two of the Gono Mukti Fauj (GMF), one each of the
Purbo Banglar Sarbahara Party (PBSP) and the Alfu Bahini. No civilian
or SF fatality took place in LWE-linked violence through 2015.
16 LWE cadres were killed in 2014 as well, with no civilian or
SF fatality recorded.
In an effort to
shore up capacities against terrorism, the “Counter Terrorism
and Transnational Crime” unit, a 600-men Police Force specializing
in technology, was formed on December 31, 2015, under the Dhaka
The AL-led Government’s
achievements on the counter-terrorism and internal security fronts
have been remarkable.
But, the frequent attacks and periodic discovery of terrorist
cells and hideouts, with stockpiles of weapons and explosives,
particularly in Dhaka city and the Chittagong District, indicate
continuous efforts by terrorists to reorganize in spaces created
by the polarized politics of the country.