Overview: The pace and magnitude of terrorist attacks in Bangladesh continued to decline in 2018, although a secularist writer was killed and a university professor was seriously injured in separate incidents. Bangladeshi security forces continued a counterterrorism campaign that claimed to have disrupted planned attacks, captured suspected militant leaders, and seized caches of weapons, ammunition, and explosives. However, judicial impediments to the successful prosecution of terrorists and allegations of extrajudicial killings by security forces during counterterrorism raids have inhibited broader counterterrorism successes. The Government of Bangladesh continued to articulate a “zero-tolerance” policy toward terrorism and the use of its territory as a terrorist safe haven. While the Bangladeshi government often attributed terrorist violence to local militants, al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and ISIS have together claimed responsibility for nearly 40 attacks in Bangladesh since 2015. Terrorist organizations used social media to spread their ideologies and solicit followers from Bangladesh. Bangladeshi militants have been featured in multiple publications, videos, and websites associated with ISIS and AQIS.
2018 Terrorist Incidents:
- On June 11, suspected terrorists murdered Shajahan Bachchu, a secularist writer and political activist in Munshiganj, in central Bangladesh. While the investigation is ongoing, Bangladeshi security forces suspect that the perpetrators were affiliated with AQIS.
- On March 3, a man self-identifying as a member of an AQIS-affiliated group, attacked Zafar Iqbal, a professor at a university in Sylhet, claiming that Iqbal was an “enemy of Islam.” However, the Bangladeshi government’s investigation determined that the attacker did not have ties to AQIS or other terrorist organizations.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In 2018, Bangladesh’s criminal justice system was still in the process of fully implementing the Antiterrorism Act of 2009 as amended in 2012 and 2013. On April 5, the Government of Bangladesh formed the first two antiterrorism special tribunals authorized by the Antiterrorism Act in Dhaka and Chittagong. One of the Dhaka tribunal’s first cases was the trial of six defendants for the December 2016 Holey Artisan Bakery attack. Although Bangladesh’s Antiterrorism Act does not outlaw recruitment and travel in the furtherance of terrorism, the broad language of the Act provides several mechanisms by which Bangladesh can implement UNSCR 2178 on addressing FTFs. Despite lacking laws specific to FTFs, Bangladesh arrested suspected FTFs or facilitators of such fighters on other charges under existing law.
Bangladesh cooperated with the United States to strengthen control of its borders and ports of entry. The international community remains concerned about security procedures at Dhaka’s Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, although the International Civil Aviation Organization certified this airport as 77.46 percent effective in “implementation of aviation safety standard compliance” in September 2017, more than 26 percentage points higher than a previous audit in 2012. Bangladesh shared law enforcement information with INTERPOL, but does not have a dedicated terrorist watchlist. Bangladesh also does not have an interactive API system.
The Rapid Action Battalion and the Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, as well as other elements of the Bangladesh police, continued a campaign of arrests and raids against suspected militants. Many suspects died in these operations, sometimes described as the result of “shootouts” or “crossfire,” often euphemisms for extrajudicial killings. Observers questioned the veracity and significance of some of the reported counterterrorism operations, describing them as either staged by law enforcement or inaccurately portrayed by the media.
Bangladesh continued to participate in the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program and received counterterrorism training on building unit capacity in crisis response, evidence collection, crime scene investigation, infrastructure protection, leadership development, and train-the-trainers, as well as enhancing cyber and digital investigation capabilities. Bangladesh also received Department of Justice prosecutorial skills training, community policing support, and technical advice on the modernization of its Evidence Act. Bangladesh is receiving assistance from the United States in developing an Alert List of known and suspected terrorists and militants to better screen for persons of interest at its ports of entry.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Bangladesh is a member and incoming co-chair of the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), a FATF-style regional body. The Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) is a member of the Egmont Group. Bangladesh Bank and the BFIU lead the government’s efforts to comply with the international AML/CFT standards and international sanctions regimes.
The terrorist finance provisions of Bangladesh’s Antiterrorism Act make illegal the receipt and collection of money, services, and material support where “there are reasonable grounds to believe that the same has been used or may be used for any purpose by a terrorist entity.” The Act prohibits membership in and support of prohibited organizations, that is, organizations engaged or involved in terrorist activities, including the organizations listed in the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions list. Bangladesh Bank also publishes lists of domestically designated and UN-sanctioned individuals and groups on its website. The Act includes a broad provision for mutual legal cooperation on terrorism matters with other nations and a comprehensive forfeiture provision for assets involved in terrorism activities, although there was an absence of significant terrorist financing and money laundering cases in 2018. Bangladesh Bank and the U.S. Department of Justice sponsor an annual dialogue on AML/CFT with the chief executive officers of Bangladesh’s major financial institutions. In 2018, this public-private partnership on AML/CFT compliance was augmented by a separate conference with the Chief Anti-Money Laundering Compliance Officers of 40 Bangladeshi banks.
The judicial sector is under-resourced for carrying out prosecutions and obtaining convictions in complex financial and material support cases. The Evidence and Criminal Procedure Codes date back to the nineteenth century and there is no provision for plea bargaining. Government of Bangladesh counterparts agree that the lack of a career civil service prosecution unit remains a serious problem. Civilian attorneys are appointed ad hoc to prosecute cases. There is little coordination between law enforcement and prosecutors. Consequently, the overall conviction rate is below 20 percent, and a case can take as long as seven years from the filing of charges to sentencing.
Countering Violent Extremism: Bangladeshi organizations continued cooperative activities through the Country Support Mechanism under GCERF, a public-private global fund to support local, grassroots CVE efforts in at-risk communities. The Ministry of Religious Affairs and the National Committee on Militancy, Resistance, and Prevention work with imams and religious scholars to build public awareness against terrorism. The police are engaging religious leaders to counter terrorist propaganda with appropriate scripture-based messages and engaging imams to speak to surrendered militants to explain that the Quran does not support terrorist violence.
The police also are continuing community policing efforts. Law enforcement authorities are working with local universities to identify missing students and curb radicalization to violence among university students. Local research institutions, including private think tanks and both public and private universities, continued to engage in CVE-related research. However, Bangladesh’s lack of a publicly available CVE strategy hindered sustained engagement with the United States and the international community.
The Bangladeshi cities of Dhaka North, Dhaka South, and Narayanganj are members of the Strong Cities Network.
International and Regional Cooperation: There were no changes in 2018.