Bangladeshi authorities are taking action to stop potential militant attacks in the country and in neighboring India after receiving intelligence information from New Delhi, the home minister said Monday.
The country’s border guard is on alert to be vigilant against any cross-border attack by the banned militant outfit Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews.
“Yes, we have had intelligence from India about probable JMB attacks. Mechanisms have been in place that we, Bangladesh and India, share intelligence and security threats with each other,” he said.
“We maintain zero tolerance for terrorists and militants. We have taken adequate precautionary measures to thwart the militants’ move to stage attacks in Bangladesh. At the same time, our border guard has been informed of probable suspicious movements of people along the border.”
Khan also responded to media reports about the Islamic State (IS) extremist group establishing a self-declared province in the region.
In April, IS-linked Al Mursalat Media released an electronic image in Bengali, English and Hindi on Telegram pages that threatened attacks.
A caption with the image stated: “Do you ever think that the anger of the mujahideen will suddenly bring destruction upon you? Then wait for that day … coming soon insha’Allah (God willing).”
Along with the threat, a group affiliated with IS had named someone identified as Abu Muhammed al-Bengali as the new emir of the “Bengal” province, according to an Indian National Investigation Agency officer who requested anonymity.
“We have shared the inputs with Bangladesh," the officer told BenarNews, referring to the alleged JMB terror plot.
Meanwhile, a source with the Special Task Force of Kolkata Police said it had arrested “some JMB operatives from different parts of West Bengal in the last few months.”
“We are aware that some JMB operatives are active in recruiting cadres for the group in bordering districts of the state,” the source, who also requested anonymity, told Benar.
Khan, the Bangladeshi home minister, said the government was aware of the IS declaration of “a so-called organizational unit covering India and Bangladesh,” adding that security forces had been alerted to the threat.
“The leader in charge of the IS unit is not in Bangladesh, that is what I can say. If he had been in Bangladesh, we would find him and capture him,” Khan said.
Khan has maintained that IS has no foothold in Bangladesh, a stance he first articulated after an overnight terrorist siege of a café in Dhaka in July 2016 that was claimed by IS. The attack left at 20 hostages dead.
The home minister spoke to BenarNews days after Indian media reported that India’s Intelligence Bureau had shared information that the Bangladesh-based JMB could carry out attacks on Bangladeshi soil, some parts of the Indian state of West Bengal, as well as northeastern states bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar.
“I hope that the militants would not be able to carry out an attack in Bangladesh or India. We will never allow any terrorists or militants to attack our neighbors, India and Myanmar, using our territory,” the minister said.
While he would not comment on specific targets or a timeframe for possible attacks, Indian media reported that a female suicide bomber could be involved and Buddhist temples could be targeted in a JMB plot.
JMB has some operatives in India, according to security analyst Sakhawat Hossain, a retired Bangladeshi brigadier general.
“The Indian authorities detected the presence of JMB in West Bengal following the Burdwan blast. They have crossed the border,” he told BenarNews.
“They are not finished. They cannot be finished with mere force,” Sakhawat said. “But this is very difficult to assess whether the JMB can attack in India as their chain of command has been in disarray due to repeated pre-emptive actions of law enforcing agencies both in Bangladesh and India.
“This is good that the law enforcers and the intelligence agencies share intelligence very quickly.”
In October 2014, two suspected JMB members were killed in an accidental blast while allegedly assembling explosives at a hideout in Burdwan.
Meanwhile, a counter terrorism and transnational crimes unit officer said JMB and its offshoot, Neo-JMB, have always been a threat to Bangladesh.
“We get intelligence from India, the United States and other countries. Actually, denying access to Bangladeshis from going to Syria and Iraq to fight for IS was a big challenge for us,” said the officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“After the defeat of the IS in Syria and Iraq, these militants have been trying to come back to stage attacks back home,” he said.
On guard for arrivals from Syria, Iraq
In addition to maintaining vigilance at the border, Khan said authorities were checking on foreign nationals with ties to Bangladesh who were trying to come from Iraq and Syria. Travel passes and permit issued by the Bangladesh mission in a foreign country are legal documents that permit a Bangladeshi to return.
“We have got the information that the militants ousted from Iraq and Syria have no Bangladeshi passports. So they report to the Bangladesh embassies in the Middle East and lie that their passports went missing,” he said.
“They then ask for travel passes to come to Bangladesh,” he said pointing out that a Saudi-born Bangladeshi militant arrived in Bangladesh using a travel pass and was arrested.
“We have instructed all airports and land ports to be alert about people using travel passes. They will first be detained at the airport, questioned and arrested if we see anything suspicious,” Khan said.
The home ministry sent a letter to the foreign ministry on May 16 asking it to stop direct issuance of travel permits at overseas embassies because of an increase in international militancy.
“Against this backdrop, Bangladesh’s internal security may be under threat if the nationalities of the returnees are not verified before issuing travel permits,” the letter states. “The militants taking part in wars and unwanted people may enter Bangladesh concealing their identities.”
Paritosh Kanti Paul in Kolkata, India, contributed to this report.