The U.S. State Department on Thursday named Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) a Foreign Terrorist Organization, pointing to its claims of responsibility for a series of killings in Bangladesh and its attack on a Pakistani Navy frigate in 2014.
AQIS claimed to have carried out the killings of Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy in Dhaka in February 2015 and U.S. Embassy employee and LGBT activist Xulhaz Mannan in Dhaka in April 2016, a State Department news release said Thursday.
It also claimed responsibility for killing blogger Washiqur Rahman Babu in March 2015, blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider in February 2013, and A.K.M. Shafiul Islam, a sociology professor, in November 2014.
All five were hacked to death, apparently for their secular thinking and questioning of Islamist fundamentalism.
The State Department also added AQIS leader Asim Umar to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The little-known figure was formerly affiliated with Pakistani terror outfit Harakat ul-Mujahidin, it said.
“Today’s action notifies the U.S. public and the international community that AQIS and Umar are actively engaged in terrorism,” the State Department said in its statement on Thursday.
AQIS and Umar face the possibility of U.S. sanctions, including denying them access to the U.S. financial system, it said.
The State Department’s designation occurred a year after Bangladesh police arrested a dozen AQIS operatives on July 2, 2015, for allegedly plotting terror attacks across the country. At the time, police said two top leaders, Maulana Mainul Islam and Mufti Zafar Amin, were among those arrested.
Police said the suspects had assembled in Dhaka to prepare for attacks following the Muslim holiday Eid-ul-Fitr, which fell on July 18 in 2015.
The roundup was the first arrest of AQIS suspects in Bangladesh since September 2014 when al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahari posted an audio message on the Internet that his organization was forming an affiliate in South Asia.
On June 2, it its “Country Reports on Terrorism 2015,” the State Department said that Bangladesh experienced “a significant increase in violent extremist activity” in 2015 compared with the previous year.
The report stated that deadly attacks in 2015 were notable because some, for the first time, were claimed in the names of transnational extremist groups including Islamic State (IS) and AQIS.
The report pointed out that the Bangladeshi government brushed off claims about the international groups, blaming instead political opponents and local terror groups. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal has been steadfast in his denial that the groups are in his country.