Dhaka vows to thwart creation of terror hub

Bangladeshi workers spending their day off at the Lembu Road open space on Jan 21, 2016.
Bangladeshi workers spending their day off at the Lembu Road open space on Jan 21, 2016. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Minister says Bangladesh does not entertain terrorists; police still probing men deported from Singapore

The Bangladesh government has warned that it would not allow anyone to set up a terrorist hub within its borders.

This comes as police continue their investigations into a group of 26 Bangladeshi workers whom the Singapore authorities deported last month for plotting terror attacks in their own country.

Fourteen are currently detained in jail after they were arrested for having links with banned militant groups such as the Ansarullah Bangla Team. The remaining 12 were released but police are monitoring their movements.

The Bangladeshi authorities have said there was nothing to show the men had contact with terrorist groups before they left the country.

"When they were in Bangladesh, they were not connected (to any terror group). What they did in Singapore we do not know," Home Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told The Sunday Times yesterday.

Since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came to power in 2009, she has been cracking down on militant and terrorist groups in Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority country of 160 million people.

ZERO TOLERANCE

We don't allow anybody to create a hub for terrorists. Bangladesh is a secular country and we do not entertain terrorists.

BANGLADESHI HOME AFFAIRS MINISTER ASADUZZAMAN KHAN, noting that an investigation into the backgrounds of the 14 detained for terror links is under way.

Sounding a stern warning, Mr Khan said: "We don't allow anybody to create a hub for terrorists. Bangladesh is a secular country and we do not entertain terrorists."

In the past three years, leading members of the far-right Jamaat-e Islami party, the country's biggest Islamist political group, have been hanged after being convicted of genocide during the Liberation struggle of 1971.

Amid the government crackdown, groups determined to convert Bangladesh into an Islamic nation with a syariah legal system have increasingly targeted publishers and secular bloggers, four of whom were murdered last year.

In announcing the arrests in Singapore, the Ministry of Home Affairs said the 27 Bangladeshi workers were planning terror attacks back home. All but one of these construction workers, aged between 25 and 40, were deported. The last man is serving a 12-week jail term in Singapore for trying to leave the country illegally after learning his friends had been arrested.

The men, who belonged to a closed religious study group, believed they should "wage armed jihad" against the Bangladeshi government and also donated money to entities believed to be linked to extremist groups back home.

A Dhaka police official provided some insight into the investigation under way to find out, among other things, how the men became radicalised.

"The men are from different parts of the country, so we are trying to find out their backgrounds," the police official said on condition of anonymity.

One of the 14 detained in Bangladesh is 40-year-old Ali Abdul, who had worked in Saudi Arabia before he went to Singapore. He worked in Singapore for 10 years, according to a local newspaper report.

Police in his hometown of Chuadanga said a background check showed that he had no prior record.

"He left Chuadanga more than 15 years ago. There is nothing about him in our history. He went to Saudi Arabia and then Singapore... He comes from a very poor family," local police superintendent Rashidul Hasan told The Sunday Times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 24, 2016, with the headline 'Dhaka vows to thwart creation of terror hub'. Print Edition | Subscribe