ucanews.com reporter, DhakaUpdated: August 08, 2016 07:52 AM GMT
Bangladesh army personnel patrol near a Dhaka cafe on July 2 where Islamic militants killed 22 hostages in the deadliest terror attack in Muslim-majority country. A report from U.S. broadcaster NBC says the so-called Islamic State terror group has a presence in Bangladesh. (Photo by Stephan Uttom)
A report from the U.S. National Broadcasting Company (NBC) claiming that the so-called Islamic State (IS) has grown roots in Bangladesh has raised alarm bells in the Muslim-majority country, which is already reeling from a surge in Islamic militancy.
The report refers to a leaked classified document from the U.S. State Department citing a "heat map" from the National Counterterrorism Center that shows 18 countries where Islamic State is fully operational.
The map also displays a category called "aspiring branches" and lists six countries where IS are taking root: Egypt, Indonesia, Mali, the Philippines, Somalia and Bangladesh, according to the NBC report on Aug. 4.
It followed a report from the New York Times on Aug. 3 that claimed IS have sent foot soldiers to Bangladesh as well to Indonesia and Malaysia. The report includes an interview with a former Islamic State militant from Germany who said he was told by the extremist group's external operations branch about their plans to build an infrastructure in Bangladesh.
The reports reveal how much of a threat IS-inspired militancy is to Bangladesh, said Theophil Nokrek, secretary of Catholic Bishops' Justice and Peace Commission.
"Here we have local militants who are well connected with the global terror group," said Nokrek. "Bangladesh's economy and international relations have badly suffered over the recent terror attacks, and it is likely to get worse if IS continues to gain strength here through their local agents," he said.
"The government must take the Islamic State threat seriously," he continued. "Although IS has a small group of sympathizers in the political arena and general public, but they can still carry out massive acts of terrorism that destabilize the country."
Nokrek added that an Islamic State presence in Bangladesh might not last for long, as their support base in the country is small.
Despite Bangladesh's long tradition of pluralism and harmony, there are favorable conditions for IS to grow roots, said Nirmol Rozario, secretary of Bangladesh Christian Association.
"The people of Bangladesh have always been in favor of harmony and tolerance, and denounced extremism and militancy," said Rozario, a Catholic.
"But there are favorable conditions for Islamic State to grow roots in the country," he said. "Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority nation where there are political parties and militant groups that pledge allegiance to an IS-style ideology or dream of setting up Islamic rule here."
Rozario noted that recent religiously motivated killings and deadly terror attacks including July 1 killing of 22 hostages were a "show of strength" for local agents of Islamic State and an "act of allegiance" to its radical ideology.
"IS doesn't need to come from Syria to set up operations here. They are connected with their local agents and they can fulfill their mission with them," Rozario added.
Jewel Areng, a Catholic lawmaker from the ruling Awami League party, says the government is determined to uproot militancy but doesn't believe there is an Islamic State presence.
"We don't think IS has any presence in Bangladesh," Areng said. "Because recent terror attacks were carried out by some old and new militant groups. The government takes militant threats seriously and it has continued to crackdown on militancy."
"Islamic State can never set up operations here because people would never support them. So, we are concerned about local militants not about IS," he said.
Security analyst retired Major General Abdur Rashid also expressed skepticism about Islamic State operations in Bangladesh.
"The main targets of IS are Western countries and the terror group is weakening day by day," said Rashid, director of Dhaka-based Institute of Conflict, Law and Development Studies. "It might have some ambitions to be active in the East, but currently it doesn't have financial and personnel strength to do so."