South Asia

Christian Minorities Under Threat in Bangladesh

 

In-depth Report by Surinder Kaur

South Asia Editor

 

The murders of secular bloggers, aid workers, and tourists has led to growing concern about the rise of Islamic radicalism in Bangladesh

Traditionally people in Bangladesh have identified themselves as Bengalis first and as moderate Muslims later. However, this is changing as groups like Jamaat-e-Islami, backed with resources from extremist groups outside Bangladesh, continue to indoctrinate many young boys through their many Madrasas (religious schools) in the country.

The world first took a large notice of this after liberal and secular bloggers came under attack since 2013. Six secular bloggers have been murdered since February 2013, the latest being Nazimuddin Samad, a law student and a secular blogger who was hacked to death by machetes and shot on April 6, 2016.

Earlier, Italian aid worker, Caesar Tavello, was shot and murdered in the same Gulshan area in September 2015.

On the same day as the Gulshan Café terror attack, three militants in Jhenaidah, southwestern Bangladesh, killed Shaymanonda Das, a Hindu temple worker.

The worrying trend is the spread of the ideology among educated young men. In the recent terror attack at the Gulshan café in media reports point to the ‘cosmopolitan’, ‘polite’ young men who carried out the attacks.

“They were all smart and handsome and educated. If you look at those guys, nobody could believe they could do this,” said Sumir Barai, a cook in the café to the New York Times.

Radicals have targeted Christians and other minorities in the past through attacks that have sometimes resulted in deaths. On June 5, 2016, Sunil Gomes (65), a Christian was murdered in the village of Bonpara while in March 2016; members of ISIS allegedly killed an Evangelist Habib Alam as reported by Open Doors, a Christian agency working for

Bangladesh image of terrorists - variations of the image that first appeared with Amaq news Agency
Bangladesh image of terrorists – variations of the image that first appeared with Amaq news Agency

religious freedom.

The majority of the 160 million people in Bangladesh are Sunnis, with 52.8 percent of the population being less than 25 years old, according to the latest census. The growing influence of Islamic extremism and the possibility of the country as a fertile recruiting ground for the ISIS is a major cause of concern and the latest attack does little to dissipate the fears.

Police in Bangladesh arrested a Professor from an Elite University claiming that he was involved in the terror attack on a café at the Gulshan diplomatic area of Dhaka, earlier this month, which resulted in the killing of 29 people, mainly foreigners.

On July 1, a group of six terrorists had stormed into the Holey Artisan Bakery located in the Gulshan area, an affluent neighbourhood that also hosts many embassies and high commissions in Dhaka.

The heavily armed attackers shouting, “Allahu Akbhar” stormed into the café spewing bullets, and took the patrons hostage, which included several foreigners, for many hours over gunpoint. As the Dhaka metropolitan police attempted to control the situation and to take control of the café, the terrorist killed two of their police officers besides killing 20 hostages.

After the police was unable to diffuse the situation, Bangladesh Armed Forces launched a counter attack called Operation Thunderbolt, and killed five terrorists and captured the sixth alive. Thirteen hostages were rescued.

Twenty-Nine people were killed as a result of the terror attack, which included, twenty hostages, 18 foreigners and two Bangladeshis. The foreign nationals included Nine Italians, seven Japanese, one American, and one Indian citizen. Close to 53 people sustained injuries as a result of the gunfire exchange between the police and the terrorist. Later weapons including a pistol, a folded AK 22 rifle, IEDs, handheld transceiver sets and a large quantity of local made weapons were recovered from the site.

Media reports stating the survivors of the attack said that the terrorists asked the people present to recite verses from the Quran by memory. Those who could were spared. This was an apparent attempt to kill only non-Muslims.

The Islamic State was quick to claim responsibility of the attack and posted photographs of the attack online through Amaq, its propaganda agency. The Government in Bangladesh, however, dismissed the claim, calling the attack the handiwork of the home-grown Jamaeytul Mujahdeen, a group which has been banned in Bangladesh for more than a decade.

The police in Bangladesh now claim that they have identified the “king-pin” and “mastermind” of the attack and in the first arrests made outside the café on July 16, the police arrested Professor Giasuddin Ahsan from the North South University, a private university, along with two other people. The authorities have not yet disclosed the identity of the “mastermind”.

The police in a statement released to the media said that the professor was arrested for “renting the house to the Gulshan (café) attackers and hiding information,” The other two arrested people are a nephew of the professor and the manager of the apartment building.