Bangladesh: Police Watching for Militants Returning from Overseas

Prapti Rahman
170201-BD-militants-620.jpg A Free Syrian Army fighter plays with a dog at a checkpoint captured from the Islamic State (IS) extremist group near the town of Qabasin, Syria, Jan. 8, 2017.

Updated at 6:58 a.m. ET on 2017-02-02

Security forces in Bangladesh are on alert for citizens suspected of having joined Islamic State (IS) or other extremist groups abroad and who are trying to re-enter the country, senior police officials told BenarNews.

The authorities have ordered security personnel at the nation’s airports, ports and other entry points to increase vigilance for and arrest any suspects coming home particularly as IS loses territory to military offensives against its strongholds in Syria and Iraq, officials said.

They said the potential threat stemmed from dual passport holders using Bangladesh to transit to IS-controlled areas in the Middle East, and from suspected militants known to have left the country.

In September 2016, Bangladesh police had announced that of 60 people who had gone missing, 30 were known to have left the country. Police believe that at least 20 of these missing Bangladeshis joined IS, including some who took their families with them to Syria or Iraq.

“We hope they would not be able to go into hiding after returning [home]. Those who already returned have been in jail,” Monirul Islam, the national police’s counter-terrorism chief, told BenarNews.

At least three returnees have been taken into custody since September on suspicion of having joined IS abroad, police said.

Bangladeshi government officials have denied that Islamic State has any presence in the country. They instead have blamed home-grown militant groups for deadly attacks against secular writers and religious minorities as well as an attack on a café in Dhaka last year. It was the country’s deadliest ever terrorist act but was claimed by IS.

“The government’s move to keep vigil on return of the Bangladeshi IS members was timely and right decision,” Ashiqur Rahman, a fellow of the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), told BenarNews.

He likened the situation to when Bangladeshi veterans of past wars in Afghanistan came home and sowed the seeds of domestic militancy.

“The [Bangladeshis] involved with IS can be a new threat, so their movements and activities must be monitored,” he said.


Police said they were compiling information about supporters of IS, who are of Bangladeshi origin and hold more than one passport.

“We are collecting the list of the foreign fighters in the IS and updating the same. The IS has been weakened and they have been fleeing,” Md. Moniruzzaman, Bangladesh’s assistant inspector-general of police, told BenarNews, referring to IS strongholds under siege in Syria and Iraq.

Of the citizens who allegedly travelled overseas to join militant groups, two men, Siful Haque Sujan and Ashiqur Rahman, have been killed, police said.

Sujan, an engineer educated in Britain and who worked as an operations planner for Islamic State, died in a U.S. airstrike in Syria in December 2015, according to the American military. Sujan’s wife, his sister and his brother-in-law are still believed to be living in IS-held areas in the Middle East, Bangladeshi police said.

Rahman, a senior operative of al-Qaeda in the Indian Sub-Continent (AQIS), died in a drone strike in Pakistan, according the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.

The other citizens believed to be abroad include a family of 12 who held dual British and Bangladeshi citizenship and who transited through Bangladesh in May 2015 while on their way to Syria via Turkey, police said.

Among the rest, Saifullah Ozaki, a Hindu converted to Islam while studying in Japan, has been missing since last year. He came to Dhaka before he vanished from Japan, where he taught at a university, police said.

A police official who spoke to BenarNews on condition of anonymity said Ozaki had helped two Bangladeshis go to Syria. Police are trying to find the two.

The missing also include a pediatrician from Dhaka, Md Rokonuddin, who is suspected of having joined IS in Syria, and taken his wife, two daughters, son-in-law and other relatives along with him, according to police.

Halima Begum, Rokonuddin’s sister-in-law, said she had not received any information about whether he and his family planned to return to Bangladesh.

“I had talks with my sister in August-September last year; she used to call us. I asked her where they were. She did not give any clear-cut answer. Nowadays, they do not contact; we have not confirmed whether they are alive at all,” Begum told BenarNews.

Among those who have been caught on suspicion of traveling abroad to join Islamic State is Gazi Quamrus Salam Shohan. The electrical engineer and former employee of a state-run utility was deported from Turkey after trying to cross over Syria.

He was arrested in Dhaka on Nov. 17, 2016, by Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion.


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