Twelve suspected Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) operatives who are now in custody were plotting terrorist attacks across Bangladesh later this month, law enforcement officials announced Thursday.
Two top leaders of al-Qaeda’s South Asian affiliate were among the dozen suspects arrested in Dhaka area raids on Wednesday, officials said.
Maulana Mainul Islam (alias Badiul), 35, is chief coordinator of the Bangladesh chapter of AQIS, and Mufti Zafar Amin, 34, is an advisor to the group, Rapid Action Battalion spokesman Mufti Mahmud Khan said, as RAB presented all 12 suspects and material evidence to reporters at its headquarters in the Dhaka suburbs.
Before joining AQIS Badiul was actively involved with the banned Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) group, Khan told reporters.
The arrests are the first-known cases of suspected AQIS members taken into custody in Bangladesh since September 2014, when al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahari announced in an audio message posted online that AQ was forming an affiliate in South Asia.
Earlier this year AQIS claimed responsibility for the machete-killings in Bangladesh of two secular bloggers, Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das, in separate incidents.
A preliminary interrogation revealed that the 12 in police custody planned to launch nationwide attacks to spread the AQIS message across Bangladesh, according to Khan.
“They were assembling in Dhaka in order to carry out subversive activities in the capital after Eid,” Khan told BenarNews, adding, “They even rented a house here for this purpose.”
In Bangladesh, Eid falls on either July 18 or 19 this year, depending on the sighting of a full moon.
Acting on a tip, a RAB unit on Wednesday morning combed the Sadarghat ferry terminal in old Dhaka and rounded up six suspected militants, including Badiul.
Based on information extracted from the suspects, the other six were arrested in the evening at a house in Mirpur, a Dhaka suburb.
RAB personnel seized weapons and bomb-making materials, including sulfuric acid, potassium chloride, sharp weapons such as a Chinese ax and machete, and extremist literature, Khan said.
“They’ve selected a madrassa in (the northern district of) Bagra for training,” Agence France-Presse quoted the RAB spokesman as saying.
He added that the group had received money from people in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to AFP.
Khan’s statements, however, could not be independently verified. Reporters who attended Thursday’s press briefing were barred from asking questions – a standard practice among law enforcers in Bangladesh nowadays.
Arrests of militants of various affiliations are frequent in Bangladesh but judicial processes proving the guilt of the suspects or allowing them to defend themselves seldom follow.
That phenomenon has led some in Bangladesh to question the veracity of claims made by authorities in arrests of suspected extremists.
“Those who are being arrested and the manner in which they are being presented before journalists for the past few years is bound to raise some doubts,” Faruk Ahmed, a lawyer who has dealt with militant cases, told BenarNews.
“This whole thing should be transparent and the cases disposed off as quickly as possible in order to allay any suspicion about militancy.”
“These cases drag on for years without any final resolution as witnesses are hard to find and the lawyers do not want take up these cases for the tardy process,” he added.
Mohiuddin Ahmed, a leading columnist who writes frequently about militancy, raised similar doubts.
“It appears Bangladesh has become a fertile ground for militancy, especially when you look at the number of arrests taking place almost on a daily basis,” he told BenarNews.
But, he added, “We don’t know whether they are ever tried or where do they [the cases] go.”
“Police and the RAB seem to be happy by holding press conferences and presenting the alleged militants before reporters. That’s it,” Ahmed said.