It just cannot be the country the world knows of.
The blast at Ashura gathering in Old Dhaka killed one. A Pabna pastor survived a throat-slit attempt. A leader of Baha’i community was shot in Rangpur. An Italian pastor came under a gun attack in Dinajpur after living in countryside peacefully for decades. Armed attack on people in prayers at a Shia mosque in Bogra left the muezzin dead and three others injured. Explosions in two prominent Hindu temples — Kantaji Mandir and ISKCON temple — left eight injured. Bomb attacks on two Sunni mosques inside a well-fortified navy area in Chittagong left six injured with one attacker held with “14 improvised grenades” in pockets of his “suicide vest”.
Over three dozen Christian religious leaders including a Bishop received death threats in SMS in the process.
And then came the latest: a suicide blast during Jummah prayers at a mosque of another Muslim sect — Ahmadiyya — in Rajshahi’s Bagmara upazila, the birthplace of banned militant group Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).
The spate of attacks and threat messages since September, presumably by religious extremists, seems to have left Bangladesh, a country of moderate Muslims, surprised than shocked.
Who and why? These two questions must be haunting most of the Bangladeshis now. Sadly though, law-enforcers are still grappling with suspicion as yet. The vague answers that we got so far in the last three months are: A Western intelligence agency is conspiring to portray Bangladesh as an Islamic State-infested country, or the BNP-Jamaat axis which is out with a plot to foil war crimes trial, or the JMB is regrouping to destabilise the country.
All these attacks and threats are unprecedented as well as unnerving. Unprecedented as these kinds of attack never happened before, and it simply does not go with the country that has a legacy of communal and sectarian harmony for centuries. And, unnerving as, looking either at Iraq or at Pakistan, we can say for sure the consequences of these religious extremism.
There have been reports of some rare attacks in the past on Ahmadiyyas, for which the community squarely blamed Jamaat-e-Islami. The complaints of Ahmadiyyas understandably saw no light as most of those incidents took place when Jamaat’s main ally BNP was in power.
But there has been no report of tensions between Sunni-majority population and people from minority Muslim sects — the Shia and Baha’i. Rather, Bangladesh has the unique culture of Shia-Sunni presence at traditional Ashura gathering. And the two killed and 90pc of the injured in the October 24 attack in Old Dhaka were Sunni Muslims.
Who would dare kill Sunni Muslims in a predominantly Sunni-majority country, and what for?
Never before in Bangladesh were such attacks carried out on mosques, let alone on people in prayers. Just imagine what could have happened if all the 14 grenades exploded at the two navy mosques. We have been told that the attacker was planted in the navy with the sole purpose of causing massacre. We also know that the culprit concealed his education qualification as a textile engineer to be employed as batman in the navy. But what was the ultimate goal?
The attack on the Ahmadiyya mosque on Xmas day must have caught law-enforcers completely off-guard. The most chilling disclosure is that it was a suicide blast. The body of the Ahmadiyya mosque bomber was found with the circuit of the bomb tied to his chest and the switch held in his right hand.
This is the second such attack after a JMB man blew himself off at a Gazipur court in 2005 leaving eight dead.
If we take the suspicion of law-enforcement and intelligence agencies as truth that the JMB is most likely behind all the recent attacks too, then a serious question is bound to come up. What was the basis of the previous claims of “successful” anti-militant drives?
“We’ve torn apart the JMB network.”
“Its backbone has been broken.”
“JMB is no longer capable of causing anarchy.”
These are the most frequent statements from law enforcers since 2007
following the execution of top six JMB leaders. All the arrests of militant suspects since then were labelled as Ansarullah, Hizb-ut Tahrir, or Islamic State.
Even after last year’s Burdwan blast, as Indian officials linked the incident to JMB, our militant experts here went on record as saying “JMB, even if it exists in Bangladesh, may be fragmented and weak.”
If we can recall, a number of suspected IS agents or recruiters were arrested a few months back. Interestingly, all those suspects have now become “JMB men” while officials deny any IS presence in Bangladesh.
People are getting all too confused with these “findings”.
It’s the job of the government — law-enforcers to be precise — to find out the culprits and their motives. The government must nip the devil in the bud. And sooner is the better as people’s nerves are fraying. Together, we must prevent Bangladesh from becoming a Pakistan or Iraq.