The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a series of brutal terrorist attacks in Bangladesh, and is said to be intensifying its effort to recruit from the country’s huge Sunni Muslim population. Despite these developments, the Bangladeshi government continues to insist ISIS has no significant presence in their country.
At most, the government allows that local troublemakers could be inspired by the savage exploits of the Islamic State.
“There is an effort by a group of people in different parts of the country – probably being supported from foreign lands – to destabilize Bangladesh. We are not immune to what is happening in the rest of the world. But the government is determined not to allow them to succeed,” said minister of foreign affairs Mohammed Shahriar Alam, as quoted by the L.A. Times.
That destabilization effort includes at least 45 attacks since September, with ISIS claiming responsibility for 10 of them. The atrocities include the murder of several foreign visitors, the murder of a police constable, the bombing of an Ahmadi Muslim mosque (a branch of Islam derided as a “polytheist Qadiani sect” by ISIS), a murderous attack on a Shiite mosque, the shooting of a Sufi Muslim shrine chief, and an attempt to slit the throat of a Christian pastor. The earlier machete slayings of atheist bloggers, and other attacks on members of minority Muslim groups, are seen by some as linked into the same deadly campaign.
A.N.M. Muniruzzaman of the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies described these attacks as a full-spectrum assault on society, hitting “sectarian, law enforcement, military, and foreigners.”
This assault takes place against the background of a heated battle between the secular government and Islamists, with human-rights groups sometimes criticizing the government for going too far. The banned Jamaat-e-Islami party is tied to an even more militant group, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, which has lately been getting good notices in the Islamic State’s gruesome magazine, Dabiq. The Islamic State’s enthusiasm for JMB as “a proper jihad organization” is taken as a sign that ISIS has big plans for Bangladesh.
Some of the Islamic State’s claims of responsibility for terrorist attacks in Bangladesh are disputed, but the destabilization of society is unmistakable. After a long period of harmony under secular government, the Shiite minority is fearful of violence against mosques, especially given ISIS’ penchant for high-casualty attacks during busy prayer services. Newspapers fear to challenge the official government line about ISIS, despite widespread belief the government is dangerously downplaying the threat. Islamist parties like Jamaat-e-Islami complain about unfair trials and oppression by a government desperate to cling to power.
Foreign visitors and residents speak of how life in formerly friendly Bangladesh has become more tense, curtailing their activities and abandoning suddenly dangerous pursuits like jogging and bicycling, or leaving the country altogether. India publicly worries about ISIS infiltration through Bangladesh. If the attacks are all the work of “lone wolf” ISIS wannabes, then Bangladesh has been overrun by one of the biggest packs of lone wolves in the world.