Neo JMB tries to get back on its feet

Arising in extreme brutality, neo JMB still poses as a threat to public safety. While several of its top leaders have been killed in operations of the law enforcement agencies, the organisation is trying to get back on its feet with new leadership. Its present leader is Kamrul alias Asad, who may have other aliases too.

Neo JMB reportedly had even been planning a large scale attack this Ramadan. Certain officials of the law enforcement have said that the militants failed to carry out their plans due to the precautions of the law enforcement agencies and the continuous anti-militant drives.

Certain intelligence agencies consider a former member of the security forces and another militant named Hasibur Rahman alias Sagar to be threats. The former security force member is now neo JMB’s military chief, according to the intelligence agencies. And Sagar is familiar with the channel to procure arms and explosives in the black market the other side of the border. He has the capability to amass arms and explosives anew.

Several sources of the law enforcement agencies involved in anti-militant activities told Prothom Alo, after the death of neo JMB’s top leader Tamim Chowdhury and his successor Sarwar Jahan, Rajshahi’s Mainul Islam alias Musa became the leader. Under his leadership, this group which follows IS ideology had planned yet another massive attack. They researched on various IEDs (improvised explosive devices), and then manufactured and stocked up on a new type of bomb. They carried out reconnaissance on several KPI (key point installments). It was learnt that they had been targeting foreign nationals and law enforcement agencies.

Then when Ahmed Ajwad and two militants were caught in Comilla along the Dhaka-Chittagong highway, the police unearthed a militant den last March in Sitakunda. The militants exploded a powerful bomb there and the law enforcers got to know about their fresh preparations. The police’s counter-terrorism unit then found out about the militant dens in Sylhet, Moulvibazar, Rajshahi and Jhenaidah. The militants had stocked up bombs and explosives in those hideouts. The police destroyed the hideouts.

A police officer, on condition of anonymity, said that after Tamim Chowdhury and others involved in the Holey Artisan Bakery attack were killed, it was assumed that neo JMB was destroyed and wouldn’t be able to rise up again anytime soon. But had it not been for Ajwad being caught in Comilla, it would have been some time before the reorganising of the militants was noticed. They would have perhaps gained in considerably more strength by then.

Chief of the police’s counter-terrorism unit Monirul Islam said perhaps the militants were planning an attack in Ramadan. But the continued operations from March had dislocated their capabilities.

Back in October 2013, the Canadian national of Bangladeshi origin, Tamim Chowdhury, came to Bangladesh. He gathered certain persons from the original JMB and began forming a new organisation, following IS ideology. Two years on, towards the end of September or beginning of October 2015, they began their killing spree in the country. They killed foreign nationals, persons of the Christian faith, Hindu priests and Shias, and launched attacks on the Ahmadiya and Shia mosques. IS claimed responsibility for these incidents.

However, right from the time that the Italian national Cesare Tavella was killed on 27 September 2015 in Dhaka, the Bangladesh government has been denying these claims of IS. Bangladesh police call this new militant group neo JMB. RAB calls it JMB’s Sarwar-Tamim group. Before coming to this country, Tamim had established ties with the Syria-Iraq-based IS and news of this had come out in Canadian newspapers and other international media.

Though they weren’t able to prevent the Holey Artisan Bakery attack, the law enforcement agencies very soon after that managed to identify the top leaders of this outfit, track them down and launch operations at their various hideouts. Tamim Chowdhury and almost all the top leaders of neo JMB were killed in these operations. Eight of them had been involved in the attack on Holey Artisan Bakery.

A senior police official said, after Tamim Chowdhury was killed in an operation on 27 August in Narayanganj, Sarwar Jahan alias took over leadership. The group began to reorganise under him. Sarwar Jahan was killed in a RAB raid in Savar in October. Next Mainul Islam alias Musa came to the helm of neo JMB. Under his leadership neo JMB was preparing to re-launch itself in a big way. Intelligence agencies learnt it had been gathering new members. In December and January particularly they had been collecting large numbers of members and expanding.

Counter terrorism unit head Monirul Islam, however, told Prothom Alo that they hadn’t grown into dangerous proportions. Within a short time after the Holey Artisan Bakery incident, the police managed to destroy the neo JMB network. Those remaining began to reorganise in December, January and February. But they were crushed in a continued stretch of operations.

Monirul Islam said, after the Holey Artisan Bakery attack, the only successful militant attack was in Sylhet. On 25 March when army commandos launched an operation on Atia Mahal in Sylhet, militants killed the RAB intelligence chief and a police officer as well as seven others. The evening on the before that, a militant strapped a bomb to himself and exploded it near a police check post at the intersection in front of the Dhaka airport. He died. He was carrying a luggage bomb (a powerful bomb concealed inside luggage). Another suicidal bomb attack was launched on 17 March at the RAB barracks in Ashkona.

Several officials of the counter terrorism unit said that the militants had made the luggage bombs in Atia Mahal, Sylhet. Musa was killed along with other militants in the commando raid on that hideout. The officers said that Musa had placed stress on procuring explosives, manufacturing powerful bombs and building up a stock. He was also interested in car bombs, as evidence indicated.

The police counter terrorism chief has recently said that after the death of Musa, the new chief of neo JMB is Ayub Bacchu. He is the new amir. The inspector general of police AKM Shahidul Huq yesterday told newsmen the police and other intelligence agencies were going all out to arrest Ayub Bacchu and the five absconding militants of the Holey Artisan attack and they would soon be caught.

An intelligence source said that Ayub Bacchu alias Mamun alias Habibur Rahman had studied at a college in Dhaka. After his name was made public, a new leader took control of neo JMB. His name is Kamrul alias Asad.

Police counter terrorism unit sources said that a vacuum of leadership had emerged in neo JMB. Those in the leadership at present were young. Three of the four bomb technicians Musa had trained up, were killed. The one remaining alive was Mamun. He made trolley bombs.

The sources said neo JMB presently has too few members to take part in any attack. They might have only 15 to 20 members at the most. They had left their homes long ago in the name of hijrat. But neo JMB did have a significant number of supporters and well-wishers, perhaps a few hundred. Then again, extremist outfits can transform simple supporters into brutal militants in no time at all. There were even examples of an insignificant member suddenly becoming a leader.

Counter terrorism unit chief Monirul Islam said, “The militants do not have the strength, capability or willpower to carry out a big attack like the Holey Artisan one now. They are scattered and might try to reorganise. We are continuing in our activities. We hope to succeed in arresting the remaining militants.”

Source: Prothom Alo