A day after a deadly, Islamic State-claimed attack on a minority Shiite mosque in northern Bangladesh, Australia on Friday said it would withdraw citizens working as volunteers in the South Asian country by year’s end.
“The Australian Government has authorized the dependents of posted Australian staff to return to Australia on a voluntary basis, and will withdraw Australian Government funded volunteers by 31 December,” said a Bangladesh travel advisory updated on Friday by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
Australia is providing Bangladesh with a total of AUD $59.8 million (U.S. $43 million) for 2015-16 in overseas development assistance (ODA) for in-country projects in the education and poverty alleviation fields, according to the department.
The Australian government’s advisory, posted on DFAT’s website, did not state why Canberra planned to pull out its citizens who were volunteering with Australian-funded aid projects in Bangladesh, but the message did highlight Thursday’s attack on the Shiite mosque.
“On 27 November, ISIL claimed another attack against a Shiite mosque in northern Bangladesh,” the advisory said, using another acronym for IS. The advisory also noted that the Australian government’s security advice for its citizens in Bangladesh remained unchanged, but they “should exercise a high degree of caution” in the country. At press time, the news about the imminent withdrawal of volunteer aid workers could not be confirmed with the Australian High Commission in Dhaka.
The Islamic State (IS) terror group said it was responsible for Thursday’s attack by gunmen on the Shiite mosque in Bogra district, in which a muezzin in 70s was shot dead and three other people were wounded during an evening worship service, according to SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S.-based website that monitors jihadist messages posted online. On Friday, the Associated Press reported that a Bangladeshi affiliate of IS had claimed responsibility via messages posted on Twitter.
The shooting at the mosque was the second attack on members of Bangladesh’s tiny Shiite Muslim minority claimed by IS in a little more than a month. On Oct. 24, two people, including a teenager, were killed and scores of other worshipers injured in the bombing of a Shiite religious procession in Dhaka.
On the eve of the shooting at the mosque in the north, Bangladeshi police carried out raids in Dhaka, in which they arrested five suspected members of the banned militant group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and killed an alleged top JMB militant. He was accused of being a main suspect in the Oct. 24 attack on Shiites, Agence France-Presse reported.
"Albany was injured in an encounter with police on Wednesday night. Later he was brought to Dhaka Medical College Hospital where a duty doctor declared him dead," AFP quoted Dhaka police spokesman Monirul Islam as telling reporters but without revealing the dead militant’s real name.
IS, meanwhile, has also claimed that it carried out the attack on the Shiite procession as well as recent attacks on foreigners living in Bangladesh, including the murders of an Italian aid worker and Japanese farmer on Sept. 28 and Oct. 3.
Last week, the Mid-East jihadist group warned in the latest issue of its online magazine, Dabiq, that it would carry out more terrorist attacks in Bangladesh, although government officials have vehemently denied that IS has a presence in the country.
Despite those official denials, the Australian, American and British embassies in recent weeks have issued security advisories for their citizens traveling to or living in Bangladesh.
“There is a high threat from terrorism in Bangladesh and you should be particularly vigilant,” an updated travel advisory from Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said Friday.
The imminent withdrawal of the Aussie volunteers and voluntary departure of the spouses and families of Australian staffers follow a recent decision by Australia’s cricketing authorities to postpone indefinitely a tour of Bangladesh by its national squad, which had been planned for last month, because of concerns about deteriorating security in Bangladesh.
The postponement came three days after Italian aid worker Cesare Tavella was shot dead in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter, in the first of the recent spate of attacks claimed by IS. Australia is a member of a U.S.-led military coalition fighting IS in Syria and Iraq, and has committed troops to that effort.
However on Nov. 17, under tight security, Australia’s national football team did go ahead and play a World Cup qualifying match in Dhaka against Bangladesh. The Socceroos beat the Bangladeshis 4-0.