The Assam Police have been tipped off by intelligence agencies about the presence of some operatives of a Bangladeshi terror group linked to the Islamic State or ISIS, in the northeastern state.
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Besides Assam, sleeper cells of the Neo-Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (Neo-JMB) are also hiding in North Bengal. Assam and West Bengal are among the five states that share a 4,096-km border with Bangladesh.
One-third of this border is still porous making these states vulnerable to illegal immigration, cattle smuggling beside the movement of terrorists.
“Neo-JMB’s ingress into Assam is a fact. We are getting prepared to counter the menace,” Assam Police chief B.J. Mahanta recently told News18.
It is believed that militants have fled Bangladesh following the Sheikh Hasina government’s sustained war on Islamist terror. The Neo-JMB is an offshoot of the JMB that first surfaced in the country way back in 2004. However, Dhaka’s continued crackdown forced them to lie low for several years.
The reign of terror
In 2013-14, there was a revival of the Islamist militancy in Bangladesh with targeted attacks and killings in the wake of the ‘Shanbagh Movement’. It was the time when the civil society and secular forces were demanding maximum punishment for 1971 war criminals, many of whom were pro-Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami leaders, notorious for killing innocent people and sexually assaulting women during the Bangladesh Liberation War.
Islamist terrorists then unleashed a reign of terror attacking writers, bloggers, activists, religious minority (Hindu and Christian) leaders. The most horrific of these was the massacre of 20 people, including 17 foreigners, at Gulshan Café in Dhaka on July 1, 2014.
While global terror outfits Islamic State and Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack, the JMB was identified as the prime facilitator of this dastardly attack.
The incident grabbed international headlines raising security concerns for not only Bangladesh but also for its next-door and ‘big brother’ India.
Following this, there was a nationwide crackdown on Jihadi and extremist elements by Bangladeshi security and law enforcement agencies. Several people were arrested and suspected terrorists were killed during shootouts.
JMB split into smaller groups
According to bdnews24.com, a leading Bangladeshi portal, the JMB was split into smaller groups after facing heat from police and security agencies. Some of them crossed the border and started hiding in India.
Quoting intelligence sources, the portal said one of the breakaway groups resurfaced as Neo-JMB. It also claimed that Canadian-Bangladeshi citizen Tamim Chowdhury is the leader of the Neo JMB. It made its presence felt with a terror attack on Holey Artisan restaurant in Dhaka in July 2016 killing 20 people.
According to reports, Neo-JMB members are English-speaking urban youths, including women, from affluent families. They are believed to be digitally savvy, something which has brought them closer to global terrorist outfits such as ISIS. It is widely known that ISIS uses a wide variety of communication technologies.
CNBC reported that the Islamic State devotes a division of its commanders to educating both sympathizers and members alike on how to use new, encrypted communications.
In India, police and security agencies first laid their hands on Neo-JMB sleeper cells with the arrest of three persons in connection with the 2018 Bodh Gaya blast. The low-intensity blast was triggered during the visit of the Dalai Lama to the Buddhist pilgrimage site.
The three terrorists from different Neo-JMB modules were arrested from various locations in West Bengal and the police launched a massive hunt to trace the whereabouts of their leader – Salauddin Ahmed – who was believed to have established a link between Neo-JMB and ISIS, according to a Times of India report.
At present, Neo-JMB sleeper cells are hiding in various locations in Assam and West Bengal, reports suggest. They are operating using fake identities and trying to radicalize Muslim youths and women.
The women network of the JMB came on the radar in July last year when the Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime branch of the Bangladeshi police arrested a 25-year-old Indian woman in Dhaka. The accused, Ayesha Jannat Mohona, was tasked with recruiting young Indian girls for Neo-JMB’s women’s wing, Zee News reported quoting a Bangladeshi police official.