Bangladeshi police Tuesday announced the arrest of the suspected IT chief of a banned militant group that they have blamed for a series of murders targeting secular bloggers since 2013.
Ashfaqur Rahman (alias Ayan, Arif and Anik), who headed the information technology division of Ansarullah Bangla Team’s (ABT) military wing, was arrested in the Norda neighborhood of Dhaka on Monday night, police said.
Rahman used his IT skills and computer science training to hack into social media accounts and collect information related to bloggers targeted for assassination by ABT, including obtaining their names and addresses as well as tracking their movements, authorities allege.
“Based on the information, the attacks were carried out,” Monirul Islam, chief of the Bangladeshi police’s counter-terrorist unit, told a news conference in Dhaka on Tuesday.
At the time of Rahman’s arrest, police said they recovered extremist-related literature and sermons by Osama bin Laden and another late senior al-Qaeda figure, the U.S.-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, along with a training manual for ABT members on how to kill bloggers.
On Tuesday, a court in Dhaka granted police a five-day remand to hold Rahman for questioning.
“We sought a 10-day remand for extracting information from him, but we got five days,” Masudur Rahman, spokesman for Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), told BenarNews.
Police said Ashfaqur Rahman worked closely with and maintained contact with a renegade ex-army major, Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haque, who is also known as “Major Zia” and is suspected of now leading ABT. Haque remains at-large.
“Ashfaqur … in the primary interrogation confessed that he headed the information technology wing of the ABT. He has been very close to sacked Major Zia,” Islam said during the news conference.
Rahman and Major Zia met outside the Bangladeshi capital “several months ago,” Islam said.
“They had contacts two months ago,” he told reporters, adding, “Ashfaqur came to Dhaka to see another member of the outfit. Acting on a tip, we arrested him.”
Rahman joined the ABT while studying computer science student at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology in the northeastern city of Sylhet, police said.
He rose in the ranks of Ansarullah Bangla Team and “took part in Major Zia’s trainings on the killings of bloggers in Dhaka’s Uttara and Kalapani areas,” according to Monirul Islam.
ABT, which is known by various names including Ansar al Islam, has sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda and is suspected of carrying out seven separate machete-murders of secular bloggers and writers dating back to February 2013.
Six of the victims were hacked to death since February 2015, starting with U.S.-Bangladeshi blogger Avijit Roy, who had openly criticized Bangladeshi Islamic extremists and had questioned religion in blog postings. Roy was slain by a group of men as he and his wife were leaving the Ekushey Book Festival in Dhaka on the night of Feb. 26, 2015.
“The arrest of the ABT’s IT head is really a good news, but this arrest will not weaken them since they have backups,” Mahfujul Haque Marzan, a professor of criminology at Dhaka University, told BenarNews.