Seventh anniversary of the worst terrorist attack that Bangladesh

My News Bangladesh

This July 1 marks the seventh anniversary of the worst terrorist attack that Bangladesh has ever witnessed, which left 20 people dead including nine Italians, seven Japanese, three Bangladeshis, and one Indian. Later, two police officers and two civilians died during the standoff. The brutality of the attack left Bangladesh shaken, shocked, and utterly devastated psychologically and later economically.

Since that horrific day, the government has been relentless in trying to combat militancy with an iron hand. The series of raids on militant dens and arrests of some of the most notorious leaders proved to be effective in diminishing the power of these deranged zealots. Most of the militants were young men, educated and from well-off families. Yet the masterminds of the Holey Artisan attack managed to brainwash them into carrying out such barbaric acts.

The government’s hard approach has initially borne fruit in terms of keeping militant attacks at bay after many were killed or arrested. Seven of the individuals who were involved in planning the attack have been sentenced to death by the lower court. The High Court is now hearing the case for disposal.

Holey Artisan Bakery attack

But what about the soft approach to curbing militancy, which is to counter the distorted ideology that these terror outfits are based on? Has the government been successful in preventing young men from joining militant outfits? What do we really know of the mobilisation of militant groups in the country?

Unfortunately, we are practically shooting in the dark when it comes to the softer approaches of counterterrorism. Since the Holey Artisan attack, many suspected militants have been sent to jail. With no effective de-radicalisation programme in operation, prisons have now become dens of militant regrouping and brainwashing. Many militants have come out on bail or have served their time and are now free. From 2005 till 2021, around 597 militant suspects were let out on bail with nine of them missing, as per a report by The My News quoting the police. Moreover, many of the 334 JMB militants convicted in the 93 cases filed over the simultaneous bomb blasts in 2005 served their ten-year sentence, and are now free men. Are we to believe that all these individuals have given up their radical ideology and are now peaceful, law-abiding citizens? Have the police or counterterrorism units kept tabs on their activities?

Recent reports have revealed that new militant groups are on the rise with some members coming from former militant groups that were once thought to have been dissolved. The Anti-Terrorism Unit, Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime unit, and the security forces are fighting militancy, but militant outfits are still gaining members, training in remote areas, and accumulating arms. With the national elections not far away, we cannot help but be worried about what these outfits have been up to, and what influence they have been exerting on young, impressionable minds.

The elaborate de-radicalisation programmes initiated by the government did not see adequate results, as they fizzled out or were stuck in bureaucratic tangles. The government must immediately target prison inmates. As suggested by security experts, religious clerics can be sent to the jails to give proper interpretation of Islam, a religion that promotes peace and tolerance. Teachers should be engaged to educate the inmates and help them reconnect with their families. Counselling must be a major part of de-radicalisation programmes in order for the inmates to cope with their mental health problems.

At the same time, counter-terrorism efforts must target young people who are the major targets of terrorist outfits. Sensitising them to social values, patriotism, and the spirit of our Liberation War, as well as engaging them in productive activities such as sports, debating and social work can provide alternative ideals to follow. For this, community involvement is essential.

Militancy and terrorism flourish when there is acute disgruntlement and a sense of despair in society. The government must take into account the socio-economic and political reasons that provide fodder for militancy. It must provide a sense of social justice, fairness and economic stability for all citizens in order to convince individuals vulnerable to militant ideology to abandon thoughts of hatred and violence towards the perceived enemy, and to embrace the ideals of acceptance of the other and empathy for fellow human beings.

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