Overview: In 2021, incidents causing injury and death derived from hate-based communal protests and political differences occurred, with some violent extremist group involvement. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reemphasized Bangladesh’s zero-tolerance policy on terrorism. Terrorist groups increased recruitment and funding activities online. U.S.-trained Bangladesh police units’ arrests of terrorist suspects prevented some attacks, although elements of the security forces have been accused of conducting extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations.
2021 Terrorist Incidents: Terrorist incidents in 2021 included the following:
- On May 17, police detected a remote-controlled homemade explosive device placed in front of a police box in the city of Narayanganj; U.S.-trained bomb disposal officers neutralized the IED with a U.S.-funded remote-controlled robot. The Counterterrorism and Transnational Crime Unit (CTTCU) suspected ISIS-aligned Neo-Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (Neo-JMB).
- On July 11, CTTC police in Narayanganj raided a Neo-JMB militants’ den, recovering IEDs, bomb making materials, weapons, ammunition, and Neo-JMB plans for future attacks.
- On September 16, Delwar Hossain hurled a petrol bomb in a lone-wolf attack in the Gulshan Diplomatic Zone of Dhaka at what he believed was a vehicle associated with the U.S. Embassy and was immediately arrested. Police believed Hossain was radicalized to violence online. No injuries were reported.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The Antiterrorism Act of 2009, as amended, remains the basis for the arrest and detention of terrorist suspects. Under the 2018 Digital Security Act (DSA), the police can counter alleged extremists propagating, funding, radicalizing, recruiting, or distributing hate speech online; domestic and international critics assert the DSA is used to target, harass, and arrest perceived government critics, particularly journalists and political opponents.
The CTTCU, the Anti-Terrorism Unit (ATU), and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) continued raids and arrests against suspected militants. The CTTCU investigated 40 cases and made 85 arrests, most in Dhaka. The Chattogram Metropolitan CT police responded to 40 incidents and arrested 10. The ATU, though not yet leading Bangladesh’s CT efforts, increased its capacity and reportedly investigated some 75 cases. In December, pursuant to the Global Magnitsky sanctions program, the U.S. government sanctioned RAB, several high-level RAB officers, and Bangladesh’s top law enforcement official, for serious human rights abuses. Additionally, several senior RAB officials were designated for involvement in gross violations of human rights under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriation Act of 2021. RAB and CTTCU’s Investigation Wing are ineligible for assistance under the Leahy law.
Other CT-related units included border guards, Special Branch, Aviation Security, the Airport Immigration Police, and the Airport Armed Police Battalion. Each worked independently. In addition to Metropolitan Police cyber, SWAT, and bomb disposal training, the U.S. government provided Anti-Terrorism Tribunal (ATT) judges and prosecutors courses on handling evidence, conducting investigations, and prosecuting terrorists and terrorism financing cases, as well as physical courtroom security upgrades. Police and judicial officials cited resource constraints and requested more training and support.
Bangladesh has the capacity to patrol land and maritime borders and has improved cargo and passenger airport screening with updated equipment, procedures, and increased staff. Airline security is not as strong. Bangladesh has initiated e-passports for all and shares information with INTERPOL but has no dedicated terrorist watchlist. A U.S. “Alert List” project is under government consideration. Bangladesh does not systematically use API/PNR passenger information to screen travelers before flights arrive. In 2019, the ATT sentenced to death seven terrorists for supporting roles in the 2016 Holey Artisan Bakery attack. The Bangladesh Supreme Court still has not ruled on their appeal.
The seven ATTs carried a caseload of about 700 cases. Eight Cyber Tribunals, which handle cases arising under the DSA, have a backlog of more than 4,600 cases; most suspects will not receive bail before long-delayed trials. Two ATT judges reportedly received numerous death threats in 2021. Based on CTTCU investigations, ATT in February sentenced five defendants to death for the 2015 murder of Bangladeshi-American Avijit Roy, who wrote books on atheism. The ATT also sentenced eight Ansar-Al-Islam members to death for murdering Roy’s publisher, also in 2015. The High Court upheld death sentences for 10 Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami/Bangladesh (HUJI-B) members for attempting to assassinate Sheikh Hasina in 2000, sentencing 14 additional HUJI-B members to death in March. On August 31, in a high-profile case, ATT sentenced six members of the banned Ansarullah Bangla Team to death, acquitting two, for brutally killing in 2016 Xulhaz Mannan, a USAID employee, and his partner Mahbub Rabby Tonoy, for promoting LGBTQI+ rights. On October 3 the ATT convicted two JMB leaders, sentencing one to life in prison and one to death, for a 2005 suicide bombing at a Chattogram court.
Counter Terrorist Financing: There have been no changes since 2020.
Countering Violent Extremism: Following a 2019 joint UN/USAID conference to jumpstart the process, police, academics, civil society organizations, and others continued drafting a National Counterterrorism Coordination Strategy. The CTTCU, think tanks, the UN, and universities conducted CVE-related research on such topics as social profiling, motivating factors, and female radicalization. CTTC led districtwide community engagement awareness workshops to counter extremism. Four U.S-funded NGOs conducted nationwide CVE programming for youth.
The CTTCU reported it had they worked to deradicalize 10 local violent extremists and reintegrated them and their families into their communities. Bangladeshi violent extremist groups tend to draw ideological inspiration from ISIS, though increased online chatter indicated that the Taliban and al-Qa’ida expanded their influence. The government influenced madrassas’ curricula, and police worked with community leaders to promote alternative messaging. The government had little capacity to address radicalization efforts in the prison system. Dhaka North, Dhaka South, and Narayanganj are members of the Strong Cities Network. Bangladesh is a partner country of GCERF.
International and Regional Cooperation: As international funding dwindled or ended, Bangladeshi organizations curtailed cooperative activities under GCERF and the UN, but the United States and the UN revitalized some programs to reach vulnerable populations, especially young adults 18 to 35 years old. Bangladesh was active in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.