Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Quotable: Aminesh Roul on the influence of Islamist social media in Bangladesh


Roul image from

Monday, June 6th 2016
“Within a relatively short span of time, the Islamic State’s violent ideals have found traction in Bangladesh due to the Islamic State’s robust propaganda tools and through an already radicalized Bengali diaspora.”  This was one conclusion of a May 25, 2016, article by Animesh Roul, “How Bangladesh Became Fertile Ground for al-Qa`ida and the Islamic State,” published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point in its journal,CTC Sentinel.  Roul is the executive director of the New Delhi-based policy research group Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict.

The article largely focused on domestic Islamic militancy, but it noted “While local dynamics explain much of the rise of violence, . . . both al-Qa`ida and the Islamic State are increasingly eyeing Bangladesh for expansion and taking advantage of local radical networks to expand their presence and support base in the country.”  Here are some key points of interest to Public Diplomacy:

  • Over the last three years the country has become increasingly polarized between moderate and secular-leaning forces on one side and Islamists on the other, which has resulted in growing radicalization and increasingly energized and strengthened local radical networks.

  • Ever since Bangladesh emerged as a nominally secularist state in 1971 after a war against Pakistan, the country has witnessed a sporadic, internal politico-religious tug-of-war. Even though the constitution emphasizes secularism as one of its four state principles and has banned the use of religion in politics, the clamor for a sharia-based Islamic state, ostensibly propounded by the JeI, has powerful backers in the country even today.

  • ABT [a pro-al-Qa`ida-linked grouping calling itself Ansarullah Bangla Team – ed.] emerged in 2013 as a mostly online network with much of its early membership made up of students at North-South University in Dhaka. As one of its alternative names suggests, the group was modeled on Iraqi salafi-jihadi group Ansar al-Islam. Its key inspirational figure was the firebrand spiritual leader Mufti Jasimuddin Rahmani, who openly supported both al-Qa`ida and the Taliban. He and his followers were also particularly inspired by the teachings of American AQAP (al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula) cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Rahmani incited jihad in Bangladesh through online blogs and other social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook.

  • Within a relatively short span of time, the Islamic State’s violent ideals have found traction in Bangladesh due to the Islamic State’s robust propaganda tools and through an already radicalized Bengali diaspora. This vulnerability became apparent when a large number of Bengali-origin British nationals traveled to join the Islamic State on the Syrian and Iraqi battlefields.

  • Islamic State media units have waged an all-out propaganda campaign directed at Bangladesh, for example issuing a call in Dabiq magazine for “Muslims in Bengal to support the Khilafah and close their ranks, unite under the soldiers of the Khilafah in Bengal, and aid them in every possible way.”  Islamic State media units are also churning out jihadist nasheeds that exhort jihad and the caliphate in the Bengali language.

  • Recent issues of Dabiq magazine make claims about both a significant Bangladeshi presence within the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and a growing Islamic State presence in Bangladesh, in the form of the group calling itself the Caliphate’s Soldiers in Bangladesh. The most recent issue of Dabiq, posted in mid-April, included a eulogy to slain Bangladeshi fighter Abu Jundal al-Banghali (aka Ashequr Rahman),[ac] who died in a battle at Raqqa, Syria, that aimed to entice more volunteers from Bangladesh.

  • The same issue of Dabiq revealed the identity of the emir of the Islamic State Bangladesh chapter.

  • Islamist terrorism is on the rise in Bangladesh, fueled by militant groups taking advantage of the country’s version of the “culture wars.” With tens of thousands of Islamists angered by what they see as a secular war on Islam and with al-Qa`ida and the Islamic State maneuvering to exploit the ferment, the threat picture is darkening, especially because Bangladesh’s government has not acknowledged the presence of transnational groups.

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