LAHORE - Bangladesh prime minister has warned her British counterpart David Cameron that he needs to do more to combat radicalism amid concerns that British jihadis are fuelling a rise in extremism in the world’s third most populous Muslim nation.
Security and intelligence experts in Dhaka say British jihadis are stoking an Islamist revival in Bangladesh, schooling a new generation of young religious radicals sympathetic to ISIS, according to a report carried by British newspaper the Guardian.
Recruiters and extremist funding from Britain’s Bengali diaspora communities are encouraging locals to join the cause of international jihad, and the number of Bangladeshis involved in salafi groups is rising, the experts say. “The British government should take more steps on the ground,” the Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed told the Guardian. “Jamaat [-e-Islami – Bangladesh’s leading Islamist party] has a strong influence in east London. That’s true. They are collecting money, they are sending money.”
The warnings come after the arrest in Dhaka last month of Touhidur Rahman, a British man of Bangladeshi origin, who is alleged by police to be the “mastermind” behind the machete murders of two secular bloggers by Islamists earlier this year.
Several other cases linking individuals from Britain’s Bengali population to extremist groups active in Bangladesh and elsewhere, including Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB), Islamic State and al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), have come to light in recent months.
Most recently, it emerged that two of the three British citizens recruited by ISIS and killed by British and US drone strikes in Syria last month – Ruhul Amin and Reyaad Khan – were of Bangladeshi origin.
Security analysts, intelligence specialists and former officials in Dhaka warn that Bangladesh, a severely impoverished, low-middle income country with about 160 million people, is increasingly ripe for radicalisation.
Although the number of domestic terror attacks has fallen, in part due to a government crackdown, Sunni Muslim Bangladesh is undergoing a fundamentalist revival akin to that in Pakistan and several Middle East countries, the analysts said, and the lull in terrorist activity could quickly be reversed.
“ISIS has its eye on Bangladesh,” said an ex-army intelligence specialist, who like most of the people interviewed for this report asked not be identified.
“Unofficially, the number of Bangladeshis going to fight in Syria and Iraq is up to 30. Bangladesh is becoming a transit route to ISIS from India. We also have growing numbers of Bangladeshi diaspora guys coming here from Britain to recruit,” the intelligence specialist said.
Fertile ground awaits the foreign visitors. “There are very strong pockets of fundamentalism throughout Bangladesh,” said the director of an NGO specialising in security issues. “Jamaat-e-Islami [JEI] has a lot of grassroots support.” “There are very large numbers of young men who don’t have a job or any prospects. Their only experience is the madrasa [religious school] and the mosque. In rural areas they don’t even have access to social media.
“These people want to be used, so they are very easily manipulated. When Bengalis from the UK come in, they are very easy to lead. The jihadi recruiters are coming from London, from Germany, from the US.”
They are educated, they have been to university, so they are more sophisticated,” the director said.
“The lack of government services and political exclusion [JEI has been barred from standing in national elections] has created space for the fundamentalists. They tell people: come to the mosque, follow religious rules, bring your friends. It is all softly, softly … These kids will do whatever they’re told. Nobody asks any questions of religious leaders. If the leaders say ‘do it’, they do it.”
Britain and the US have backed the government’s hardline counter-terrorist stance, despite its negative impact on civil liberties. But Dhaka insiders say they are missing the bigger picture: the below-the-radar, large-scale radicalisation of younger generations.
Hasina defended her zero-tolerance approach to terrorism, which has provoked fierce criticism from human rights groups. She insisted the security situation in Bangladesh was under control.
“[The fundamentalist groups] are trying, no doubt about it, and there are some people trying to encourage them, but we have controlled the situation,” she said.
But Hasina said closer international cooperation was necessary to stop the spread of radical ideas from the west to Bangladesh: “Certainly we want cooperation from all other countries so that they should be very careful that no illegal money or arms or terrorists should take any chance to create any problem to any other country.”
While JEI is regarded by Britain and the US as a moderate Islamist political party, others strongly disagree.
Shahriar Kabir, a Dhaka journalist and author, described Jamaat as “the godfather of all terrorism” and said it posed an existentialist threat to Bangladesh’s secular tradition.
Although the number of domestic terror attacks has fallen, in part due to a government crackdown, Sunni Muslim Bangladesh is undergoing a fundamentalist revival akin to that in Pakistan and several Middle East countries, the analysts said, and the lull in terrorist activity could quickly be reversed.
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“ISIS has its eye on Bangladesh,” said an ex-army intelligence specialist, who like most of the people interviewed for this report asked not be identified.

“Unofficially, the number of Bangladeshis going to fight in Syria and Iraq is up to 30. Bangladesh is becoming a transit route to ISIS from India. We also have growing numbers of Bangladeshi diaspora guys coming here from Britain to recruit,” the intelligence specialist said.

Fertile ground awaits the foreign visitors. “There are very strong pockets of fundamentalism throughout Bangladesh,” said the director of an NGO specialising in security issues. “Jamaat-e-Islami [JEI] has a lot of grassroots support.”

“There are very large numbers of young men who don’t have a job or any prospects. Their only experience is the madrasa [religious school] and the mosque. In rural areas they don’t even have access to social media.

“These people want to be used, so they are very easily manipulated. When Bengalis from the UK come in, they are very easy to lead. The jihadi recruiters are coming from London, from Germany, from the US. They are educated, they have been to university, so they are more sophisticated,” the director said.

“The lack of government services and political exclusion [JEI has been barred from standing in national elections] has created space for the fundamentalists. They tell people: come to the mosque, follow religious rules, bring your friends. It is all softly, softly … These kids will do whatever they’re told. Nobody asks any questions of religious leaders. If the leaders say ‘do it’, they do it.”

Britain and the US have backed the government’s hardline counter-terrorist stance, despite its negative impact on civil liberties. But Dhaka insiders say they are missing the bigger picture: the below-the-radar, large-scale radicalisation of younger generations.

Hasina defended her zero-tolerance approach to terrorism, which has provoked fierce criticism from human rights groups. She insisted the security situation in Bangladesh was under control.

We are fighting to maintain a secular society … If we lose we will become a centre of global jihadi terrorism
“[The fundamentalist groups] are trying, no doubt about it, and there are some people trying to encourage them, but we have controlled the situation,” she said.
But Hasina said closer international cooperation was necessary to stop the spread of radical ideas from the west to Bangladesh: “Certainly we want cooperation from all other countries so that they should be very careful that no illegal money or arms or terrorists should take any chance to create any problem to any other country.”
While JEI is regarded by Britain and the US as a moderate Islamist political party, others strongly disagree.
Shahriar Kabir, a Dhaka journalist and author, described Jamaat as “the godfather of all terrorism” and said it posed an existentialist threat to Bangladesh’s secular tradition.