Dhaka police Friday announced the arrest of an Indian woman who allegedly recruited male and female members for a pro-Islamic State militant faction blamed for the deadliest terrorist attack on Bangladeshi soil, an attack at a local café in 2016.
Officers arrested Ayesha Jannat Mohona (also known as Jannatul Tasnim or Pragya Debnath), 25, who tried to pass herself off as a Bangladeshi for her suspected role in Neo-JMB, according to Saiful Islam, a deputy commissioner of the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime branch with the Dhaka Metropolitan Police.
“We arrested her Thursday evening in Dhaka,” he told BenarNews. “We recovered her Indian passport, a fake Bangladesh birth certificate, a Bangladesh national identity card and two mobile phones.”
She has been charged under the Anti-Terrorism Act on suspicion of recruiting militants and being involved in other militant activities, officials said.
Islam said Mohona, who is from West Bengal, an Indian state that borders Bangladesh, told investigators that she had converted from Hinduism to the Islamic faith in 2009 while in the ninth grade. She visited Bangladesh frequently and taught at Muslim boarding schools for girls, madrassas, where she hid her identity, he said.
“She was involved in recruiting members – both men and women – and in raising funds,” Islam said.
The police commissioner said the counter terrorism unit learned about Mohona in February when members arrested the suspected leader of the Neo-JMB’s women’s wing, Asmani Khatun (also known as Asma).
“After Asma’s arrest, Mohona went into hiding. Previously, she married an expatriate Bangladeshi man through a mobile phone call,” Islam said, adding she moved to Bangladesh in October 2019 at her husband’s suggestion.
“We produced her before the court on Friday and the court granted a four-day remand to interrogate her under the Anti-Terrorism Act,” he said.
The Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BenarNews. Efforts by BenarNews to reach authorities in West Bengal for more information about Mohana also did not succeed on Friday.
In Dhaka, a security analyst described Mohona’s arrest as unprecedented.
“To the best of my knowledge, this is the first arrest of Indian woman on charges linked to being involved with a Bangladeshi militant outfit. This arrest demonstrates that the militant outfit has been able to establish cross-boundary network,” retired Maj. Gen. A.K. Mohammad Ali Shikder, a security analyst and author, told BenarNews.
“All of the militant outfits operating in Bangladesh, namely JMB, Neo-JMB, Harkat-ul Jihad, Ansar-al-Islam Bangladesh have cross boundary networks. They have sympathizers, financers, backers both inside Bangladesh and in West Bengal,” he said.
Neo-JMB members, who have aligned with Islamic State (IS), were blamed for the July 2016 overnight siege at the Holey Artisan Bakery that killed 20 civilians. The group is an offshoot of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, whose members aligned with al-Qaeda.
Despite those claims, the home minister and other government officials here have insisted since that IS does not have a foothold in Bangladesh.
Counter-terrorism officials reported the arrests of at least 100 female members of the militant outfits since the Holey Artisan attack. In addition, 11 female militants have died.
“The IS has mainly introduced the idea of forming female squads. In most of the cases, the women get involved in militancy with the influence of family members,” Nur Khan, former executive director of Ain-O-Salish Kendra, a human rights advocacy group, told BenarNews.
Paritosh Kanti Paul contributed to this report from Kolkata, India.