Updated at 8:10 a.m. ET on 2015-11-27
Bangladeshi police Wednesday announced the separate arrests of a suspected Islamic State (IS) sympathizer and a man suspected of sending threats to more than 150 intellectuals via mobile phones.
One of the two men in custody, Nahid Hasan, was arrested Tuesday night in Dhaka’s Gazipur district on suspicion of posting pro-IS content on his Facebook pages, including on a page that used the name of “Jihadi John” – the alleged masked executioner who appeared in various videotaped IS executions of hostages. American officials say they believe that Jihadi John, a British citizen also known as Mohammed Emwazi, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Syria that targeted him on Nov. 13.
“He [Hasan] opened a Facebook-styled al-Dawla-al-Islamiya account to circulate propaganda in favor of the Islamic State. He also created Facebook accounts with the names of Jihadi John and Khalid ibn al-Walid to spread propaganda,” Dhaka Metropolitan Police Joint Commissioner Monirul Islam told reporters Wednesday at the department's media center in the capital. Khalid ibn al-Walid was a cohort of Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century.
The second suspect, Abdul Haque, who is from the northeastern district of Sunamganj, was arrested in Dhaka's Tejgoan area late Tuesday. Police have charged Haque, a teacher at a madrassa, with sending threats from mobile phones to Dhaka University Professor Emeritus Anisuzzaman and 153 other intellectuals, Islam said.
On Nov. 10, Anisuzzaman complained to police that he received a death threat sent via a text message, after he had publically demanded that the killers of five secular bloggers and publisher Arefin Dipan in separate attacks be brought to justice.
IS threatens attacks in Bangladesh
The Islamic State, for its part, has claimed responsibility for recent attacks in Bangladesh that targeted foreigners – including the murders of an Italian aid worker and a Japanese farmer, as well as the attempted murder of an Italian priest.
In the latest issue of its online magazine Dabiq, which came out last week, IS devoted an entire article to “The Revival of Jihad in Bengal.” In it, IS praised the recent attacks on the foreigners in Bangladesh and the bombing of a Shiite religious procession in Dhaka on Oct. 24, which killed two people and injured scores more.
“[T]he soldiers of the [caliphate] in Bengal are busy preparing for further attacks…,” the article warned.
But even after the four suspected Bangladeshi IS operatives were arrested on Tuesday and identified by an assistant public prosecutor as “IS agents in Bangladesh,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal reiterated that “IS has no presence in Bangladesh.”
Local militants were carrying out such acts under the IS name, Kamal said.
The attacks on the foreigners, as well as on secular bloggers and publishers, were all aimed at creating disarray in the lead-up to the Nov. 21 executions of opposition figures Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid on war-crime convictions, the minister had said earlier.
Suspects Hasan and Haque both are supporters of Jemaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party that is allied with the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), police said. Hasan is member of Islami Chhatra Shibir, Jamaat’s student wing, according to Monirul Islam. The late Mojahid was the party’s secretary general.
Social media shut-down goes on
Meanwhile, a government shut down on selected social media services, including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Viber remained in force for an eighth straight day on Wednesday.
A week ago, the government ordered that the sites be blocked out of fears that trouble makers could use such online communication tools to foment violence in the lead-up to and aftermath of the executions of Chowdhury and Mohjahid, who were hanged in Dhaka on Saturday.
The home minister did not say when the social media sites might be restored, but he said he hoped they would be up and running again as soon as possible.
“The term as soon as possible is a vague term – it may be one day, one week, a month or more,” journalist Muhammad Zahidul Islam, the general secretary of the Bangladesh Telecom Reporters’ Network of Bangladesh, told BenarNews.
An earlier version incorrectly identified the location of Abdul Haque's arrest and where police briefed reporters about the arrests of the two suspects.