August 20, 2016 - 10:57am
Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) may have returned to the spotlight a decade later following the Jul 1 Dhaka terror attack, but it is another militant outfit – ‘Ansarullah Bangla Team’, or ABT, that is worrying Chittagong police more.
After arresting some top ABT leaders in Chittagong, police suspect the militants may have been converging in the port city with a plan to carry out a ‘big attack’.
Investigators, after interrogating the arrestees, also claim that these extremists are linked to Islami Chhatra Shibir, the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami.
Chittagong Metropolitan Police’s Additional Deputy Commissioner (Bandar) Nazmul Hasan told bdnews24.com: “The militants have not been able to do anything big in Chittagong. That’s why they could be getting organised with a plan for some kind of attack.”
Police came to know about ABT’s existence first while investigating the February 2013 murder of blogger and Ganajagaran Mancha activist Ahmed Rajib Haider.
After some members of the banned militant group had been arrested, the name of their leader Mufti Jasimuddin Rahmani surfaced.
Rahmani, who used to preach religious extremism from a mosque at capital Dhaka’s Mohammadpur, is the head of ABT, which was banned in May last year.
He is behind bars now along with several others following conviction for the Rajib murder.
Police officers say after many of its leaders and activists were caught, ABT is now carrying out its militant activities under a new name - ‘Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh’.
Inspector General of Police AKM Shahidul Hoque recently said that a disgraced army major named Syed Md Ziaul Haque was leading the Ansar.
Ziaul was one of the conspirators of a 2012 coup bid aimed at toppling the Hasina government. The army had foiled the attempt.
Police say the ABT was involved in all the killings of writers, bloggers, publishers, Ganajagaran Mancha activists and LGBT rights activists in past two years.
Even the six youths who Dhaka Metropolitan Police have identified as instrumental in these murders and announced rewards for their arrests are ABT operatives.
Amidst police efforts to curb militant activities, Bangladesh was rocked by an unprecedented attack on an upscale cafe in Dhaka’s Gulshan on the night of Jul 1.
Twenty-two people, including 17 foreigners and two police officers, were butchered in cold blood during the attack carried out by five gunmen.
Investigators looking into the massacre have said that operatives of Canadian-Bangladeshi Tamim Chowdhury-led 'Neo-JMB', a splinter group ofthe original militant outfit, were behind this attack.
Recently, police arrested several female JMB operatives as well from Dhaka and Gazipur.
But officials say most of those arrested in Chittagong in recent times were ABT members.
On Jul 10 night, the law enforcers arrested four men including top ABT organiser Musaib Ibn Umair in Barhabkunda’s Anantapur in Sitakunda.
They claimed the four had gathered there to plan acts of sabotage.
Additional Superintendent of Police Mostfizur Rahman at the time told bdnews24.com that the militants had planned to destabilise the country through attacks on factories and industries.
The four had managed to seek refuge at Barhabkunda using local help, Rahman said.
The militants had also planned to launch attacks on foreigners, law-enforcing agencies and on religious minority communities living in Chittagong.
Later on July 28, Dinajpur Medical College student Abdul Hannan alias ‘Abdullah’ alias ‘Laden’ was arrested at Bayezid Bostami in the port city.
Describing him as one of the ABT organisers in Thakurgaon, police said Abdullah had come to Chittagong to organise the members of the outfit.
Following leads given by Musa and Abdullah, police arrested five at Patenga on July 31 and said they had gathered at a house to plan an attack.
Information teased out from those held in Patenga had to the arrests of suspected ABT members Farhad Ahmed alias ‘Ripon’, 27, Md Imran, 26, and Ahmed Hossain Rony alias ‘Rubel’, 21, on Thursday night in the port city.
Rubel, a student of Shyamaly Polytechnic Institute, is involved with Jamaat-e-Islami’s student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir, police said.
Detective Maruf said the trio had been in touch with Umair.
CMP Deputy Commissioner Nazmul said police kept ‘some others’ linked to the ABT under surveillance and were crosschecking information on them.
He, however, thinks the recent arrests have ‘cornered’ the banned outfit.
“Ansarullah acts in sub-groups. Some members know one, but not all,” he said.
He also said they themselves donate in the organisation’s funds to run militant operations.