September 07, 2016

Bangladesh: ISB planned jihad from Panchagarh

The Daily Star, September 07, 2016

ISB planned jihad from Panchagarh
Reveals document produced to Singapore court during trial of radical group's jailed chief Mizanur
Mizanur Rahman ISB chief Rahman

[by] M Abul Kalam Azad

Islamic State of Bangladesh (ISB), founded in Singapore in March, planned to wage “jihad” in Bangladesh from the northern district of Panchagarh, according to a court document.

Its members discussed a timeline for attacks in Bangladesh and a list of targets including police personnel and people from Hindu, Christian and Buddhist communities.

The ultimate goal of the group was to overthrow the government and establish an Islamic State (IS)-sponsored caliphate in Bangladesh, said the document, produced in the court during the trial of ISB chief Rahman Mizanur earlier this year.

Mizanur, whose details could not be known, is now serving a five-year jail term in Singapore for terror financing. He is one of the six Bangladeshi workers convicted of providing, collecting and possessing properties in relation to terrorism.

“To this end, it was agreed that the group would begin in Panchagarh district because of the large number of Muslims in the area, and violent action would be taken against people who did not agree with ISB's beliefs,” reads the court paper.

The document didn't adequately mention why Panchagarh was chosen, but the northern region has always been a hotbed of militancy in Bangladesh.

According to the court document, ISB under the leadership of Mizanur had been planning to turn Bangladesh into a caliphate state with a view to eventually joining up with IS (also called ISIS or ISIL).

"The accused [ Mizanur] tried to join ISIS on three occasions but failed to do so due to his inability to obtain a visa allowing him to travel to Turkey and Algeria," it read.

Turkey is the easiest gateway to the IS-held territories in northern Syria and northwestern Iraq while Algeria in North Africa is increasingly becoming another stronghold of the world's most dangerous militant group.

“The accused's dream is still to join ISIS and become a mujahideen fighter to destroy all disbelievers' activities through an armed struggle with them.”

Mizanur became radicalised after meeting one Jahangir Alam during his trip to Bangladesh last year.

Jahangir's identities could not be known; usually, militants operate under different pseudonyms.

Mizanur, who went to Singapore in 2007 as a worker, developed a liking for IS sometimes in 2014 but became a hardcore radical after meeting Jahangir, who gave him many propaganda materials of IS.

After failing to join IS, Mizanur returned to Singapore on December 3 last year with a mission.

Police investigation found that in January, Mizanur met three workers at a void deck under Housing & Development Board (HDB) in Sembawang and convinced them that they should join and support IS.

A void deck is an open space typically found on the ground floor of apartment blocks in Singapore.

There, they discussed forming their own group, read another document on ISB member Miah Rubel reads.

Rubel, a worker, was in charge of financial affairs of the group; his identities could not be known either.

In meetings in Boon Lay Park and Waterfront Park in Woodland in February and March, Mizanur convinced four more workers to join and support IS. It was also decided that they will form ISB.

In the meetings, Mizanur shared “jihadi” materials with others, discussed joining “jihad” and created a fund to buy food and weapons for “jihad” in Bangladesh.

As the group leader, he also prepared an organisational chart according to which each member had a specific duty -- like handling finance, media, security or legal matters.

ISB started functioning while Bangladeshi workers were being monitored by Singapore police following the arrest and deportation of 27 workers in January.

In the meetings, all held before April, Mizanur also discussed the arrests and asked the group members whether they were aware of any other jihadist group in Singapore.

The group members swore an oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of Islamic State (IS), say the court documents.

They discussed using pseudonyms to hide from the authorities, and shared among themselves a five-page document on counter-surveillance techniques.

But the mission could not be accomplished due to the arrest of all the ISB members.

The documents said at least two ISB members were in Bangladesh, suggesting the group might have links with militants in the country.

“We don't have information about Mizanur's link with any militants in Bangladesh,” Monirul Islam, chief of Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told The Daily Star when asked about ISB's possible Bangladesh connection.

In the first conviction under the Terrorism (Suppression of Finance) Act of Singapore, four Bangladeshis, including Mizanur, were jailed in July, followed by two others on August 30.

All arrested under Singapore's Internal Security Act in May, the six were sentenced to two to five years' imprisonment.

Two other workers were arrested along with the six but faced no charges. They are now under two years of detention.

Apart from the eight, 32 Bangladeshi workers have been arrested in Singapore since December last year over their alleged involvement in radical activities.

The 32, who have been deported, were not members of ISB but they possessed or circulated “jihadi” materials or supported use of armed violence in pursuit of religious cause, according to investigation by Singapore police.

The city state is home to Bangladeshi community of about 160,000. Because of the arrest, deportation and imprisonment of the 40, Bangladeshi workers here are under special watch, facing some kind of image crisis despite being known as honest and hardworking.

[The reporter is in Singapore to attend the Asia Journalism Fellowship programme]