Bangladesh’s government has ordered schools and colleges nationwide to notify it about students absent for 10 consecutive days or more, after a group of young men who were missing for months carried out the nation’s deadliest terrorist attack.
“We understand that more students may be missing. Their involvement with terrorist plots cannot be ruled out. The educational institutes will identify the students who remain absent for 10 consecutive days without showing any cause,” said a directive issued by the Ministry of Education on Sunday.
The five men who carried out an overnight assault at a Dhaka café on July 1 that resulted in the deaths of 20 hostages and two senior police officers had left their families, and belonged mostly to the country’s privileged and well-educated class, according to officials. They said the five were among 15 young men who were missing for months, but authorities have not been able to find the 10 others who are feared to have been indoctrinated and recruited by extremists.
The ministry issued its directive the same day that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Desai Biswal arrived in Bangladesh for bilateral meetings on counter-terrorism and security – her second such visit in a little more than two months. After meeting with Bangladesh’s home minister on Monday, Biswal pledged her government’s support for Bangladeshi efforts to combat radicalism and terrorism.
Biswal also met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
“Violent extremism is a global threat. As we have seen too frequently, international terrorist groups can recruit and operate anywhere,” Biswal, the undersecretary of state for Central and South Asian Affairs, said in a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Dhaka.
“I am here to offer U.S. assistance and support for Bangladesh’s own efforts against terrorism and extremism. This is an extension of our long and deep partnership based on shared values of democracy, tolerance, and inclusion, and the United States remains committed to this broad-based relationship with Bangladesh of which CT [counter terrorism] is but one part,” she added.
‘Threat is real and credible’
A U.S. citizen was among 17 foreign hostages who were hacked to death inside the Holey Artisan Bakery café in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter. The other foreigners included nine Italians and seven Japanese.
The Middle East-based extremist group Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, but Bangladeshi authorities say that banned militant group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB) was behind the café attack as well as Thursday’s terrorist attack on the country’s largest Eid prayer gathering, which killed two police officers and a woman in northwestern Bangladesh.
On Monday, officials in northern Rangpur district said that eight suspected JMB members had been charged in the Oct. 3, 2015, killing of a Japanese farmer, Kunio Hoshi, 66, who lived in the area. Four of the suspects were in custody but the remaining four were on the run, police officials told BenarNews.
“We will examine our [security] needs and communicate with them [the U.S. government],” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews after his meeting with Biswal.
As Biswal was wrapping up her visit to Bangladesh, the State Department issued its second travel advisory for Bangladesh in less than a week.
“The U.S. government assesses that the terrorist threat is real and credible,” said Monday’s travel alert, which noted that the department had authorized family members of U.S. personnel working at the embassy to leave Bangladesh voluntarily.
‘We hope to get these answers very soon’
Meanwhile, Bangladeshi authorities on Monday announced the blocking inside the country of cable television broadcasts of an Islamic program, Peace TV. The show features sermons by a radical preacher, Zakir Naik, that may have influenced at least two of the people who carried out the café attack, officials said.
Two of the attackers were following the preacher online, local news reports quoted authorities as saying.
The Information Ministry ordered that cable operators stop transmitting the Dubai-based program, which has also been banned in India.
“The information ministry has issued the directive, but we have yet to receive any instruction to stop online transmission of Peace TV. We will stop it as soon as we get the written permission from the [telecommunication] ministry,” Shahjahan Mahmood, chairman of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), the agency that regulates the internet in the country, told BenarNews.
YouTube also has been ordered to take down online videos of radical preachers.
Some of the parents of missing children have told media that they never monitored what their children were looking at online.
“We are looking whether they have been trained at home, or they were trained abroad. We don’t know the answers, but we hope to get these answers very soon,” Gowher Rizvi, an adviser to the prime minister told Voice of America, a sister entity of BenarNews. “As you know it is complex, it is hydra-headed, it has too many tentacles. Wrapping them all together may take time.”
“Unfortunately there was no systematic reporting of those who had left their homes or disappeared from their academic institutions. We hope to create a data base, we hope to see what connections these missing persons have,” Rizvi added.