IPCS BriefcaseDHAKA TERROR ATTACK Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray Director, Mantraya.org, and Visiting Fellow​ & Columnist,​ IPCS A politically polarised


IPCS Briefcase


Bibhu Prasad Routray

Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray
Director, Mantraya.org, and Visiting Fellow​ & Columnist,​ IPCS

A politically polarised country, a weak-kneed government that convinces itself that denial is the best way to deal with the rising challenge of Islamist radicalism, and the remnants of a battered militancy who are out to exploit the enabling environment to the fullest. With these basic requirements fulfilled, it would be a surprise for the Holey Artisan Bakery attack not to have taken place.

20 dead bodies in Gulshan should therefore come as a rude shock only to the uninitiated. The preceding 18 months have produced more than 50 victims in Bangladesh, most of them a result of a macabre ideology-inspired wave of global jihad that is currently sweeping across many countries. The denial maintained by the government over the past months and its initial attempt to secure an end to the crisis through peaceful means was not only an insult to the dead bloggers, Hindus, Buddhists and Shias, but a pointer at how poorly the challenge posed by radicalisation has been understood by Dhaka. Ironically, non-Bangladeshi hostages were being slaughtered inside the restaurant when the police was hoping to negotiate with the terrorists.

The government led by Sheikh Hasina has called for unity to deal with the crisis. One wonders if it's already too late for Bangladesh to rein in the monsters. Nothing short of a sincere and professional counter-terrorism policy would suffice.

Ibtisam Ahmed

Ibtisam Ahmed
Doctoral Researcher, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham, UK

The hostage crisis at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which led to the death of 20 hostages, 2 security personnel and 6 hostage takers, is being heralded as a turning point in regional security and an attack like no other in the country. The latter is true; there has never been a coordinated attack against a public target of this magnitude before and the number of foreign nationals killed in the attack is the highest in recorded history.

However, it would be wrong to suggest that this incident has happed out of the blue. For the past two years, Bangladesh has seen rising intolerance and targeted killings of individuals speaking out against the growing influence of Islamic extremism. This has ranged from bloggers and academics to LGBTQ+ activists and religious minorities, as well as two previous foreign national deaths (1 Italian and 1 Japanese) before the bakery siege. It should be noted that no proven affiliation has been verified for any of the attacks yet.

The reaction, or lack thereof, from the authorities is troubling. For months now, the Government and Opposition have taken turns blaming each other for the rising violence without actually taking steps to investigate. In fact, some comments have actively blamed victims in previous incidents. Whether the latest instance, with its international repercussions, will change that is going to be a pivotal point going forward.

Wasbir Hussain

Wasbir Hussain
Executive Director, Centre for Development & Peace Studies, Guwahati, and Visiting Fellow & Columnist, IPCS

What concerns me the most about the murderous raid at the cafe in Dhaka’s posh Gulshan area on 1 July is the fact that the ruthless attackers—6 of whom were shot dead by the police and 1 captured—were Bangladeshis, as confirmed by top officials in Dhaka. Now that the Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the worst-ever terror raid in the country, and, that too, by posting photographs of their slaughtered victims on the outfit’s so-called news outlet, Amaq, one is convinced that the attackers were its cadres because they were the ones sending out the pictures to their handlers.

What this means is that Bangladesh is no longer a hub of some home-grown Islamist radicals with loose links to al Qaeda and other terror networks like the Ansar al-Islam, for instance. The jihadi plot has certainly thickened in the poor and over-populous country and this could be the result of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s tough action against the criminals and radicals who were involved in war crimes during the country’s liberation struggle.

That the jihadis were working to a plan was indicated by the two dozen or so killings of liberals like bloggers and others since 2013. Sheikh Hasina has been tough no doubt and appears bent on shielding her country from Islamist radicals, but her government and party has actually failed to crackdown on jihadi outfits like Ansar, Hefazat-e-Islam and Hizb ut-Tahrir. In fact, the Hizb ut-Tahrir chief, a university professor under house arrest, is said to be regularly drawing his salary.

The failure to crack most cases involving killing of liberals who push for a secular Bangladesh has certainly emboldened the Islamist radicals. Worse, Sheikh Hasina’s party and government sought to politicise the issue by blaming their main rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), for trying to radicalise the country rather than working to a plan to identity the jihadi forces and prevent the IS from expanding to the volatile country.

For India, it is a cause for real alarm because it is clear now that we have the IS active in our backyard. India must scale-up its counter-terror efforts and try to build a global coalition to identify the states financing or backing groups like the IS and choke their sources of funds. New Delhi needs to push hard for the immediate adoption of the long-pending Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT). This would help make accountable states that support terrorists, provide them safe havens and finance them. At the recent G20 meet, Russian President Vladimir Putin had apparently presented a list of 40 countries that directly back groups like the IS. New Delhi must pick up from this and focus on more areas to combat terror.

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Prof Delwar Hossain
Professor, Department of International Relations, Dhaka University, & Columnist, IPCS

The 1 July Dhaka attack is the first terrorist incident of its kind to take place in Bangladesh: an organised group took hostages in an upscale, high security area and the incident ended in bloodshed. As called by the joint forces, the Operation Thunderbolt ended the 12-hour hostage crisis through a brief military intervention that has been applauded by the people and government in Bangladesh as well as international terrorism experts, particularly because of the rescue of 13 hostages and precision in time. No members of the para commando operation were killed, although 2 high-level officials of the Bangladesh Police lost their lives before Operation Thunderbolt was initiated. During the operation, 6 terrorists were also killed and 1 was arrested. The terrorists killed 20 hostages before the operation started, including 17 foreign nationals and 3 Bangladeshis.

Despite the operational success, the incident clearly marks the magnitude of terrorism as a threat to Bangladesh as well as to the region and beyond. It also clearly demonstrates a new dimension of the attacks that Bangladesh has been witnessing over the past two years. Terrorist attacks are not new to Bangladesh - since 2005, bombs have exploded in all districts of Bangladesh except one. What is significant in the current context is the targeting strategy and capacity of the terrorists. In addition to Bangladesh’s liberals, this time the terrorists have deliberately targeted foreign nationals, members of minority religious communities, and sectarian groups like the Shia. One does not need to be an expert to understand that the current spell of terrorism in Bangladesh is aimed at destabilising internal security and development in Bangladesh, and souring the growing friendship between Bangladesh and the international community in general, and Bangladesh and India, in particular. It appears to be an integral part of a regime change strategy as may be pursued by a section in Bangladesh and beyond. This marks the critical difference between terrorism in Bangladesh and other parts of the world.

The Dhaka attacks have reinforced the imperatives of bilateral and global cooperation for Bangladesh. Internally, the capacity building of security forces to combat terrorism and the pursuit of de-radicalisation in Bangladesh are critically important. Unlike many terrorism-prone countries in the world, like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Nigeria, and Pakistan, Bangladesh is a strong unitary state with homogenous ethnic and linguistic groups and it clearly enjoys geographical and historical advantages. Since it is less for long-term religious and ideological reasons, effective anti-terrorism and countering violent extremism with the active engagement of civil society may help to successfully combat terrorist forces in the country.

N Manoharan

Dr N Manoharan
Associate Professor, Department of International Relations, Christ University, Bengaluru

Bangladesh witnessed its bloodiest ever terror attack on 1 July 2016 at its capital Dhaka. The heavily armed attackers chose the time and place carefully to inflict maximum damage on high-profile targets. It was a weekly holiday; and the place was Dhaka’s diplomatic enclave’s Holey Artisan Bakery, where foreigners flock. The 12-hour stand-off resulted in nearly 30 fatalities, including foreigners, terrorists and security personnel.

The Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility, but the veracity of it is questioned. The IS has the habit of claiming ownership of any Islamist attack – lone wolf or group – to perpetuate its global presence and, in turn, attract potential recruits. But, the attack was clearly the handiwork of radical Islamists who are opposed to the present Awami League’s moderate politics.

In light of the increase in the frequency of attacks in the South Asian neighbourhood, it is important for India to proactively strengthen Bangladesh's hand in every way possible. The counter-terror strike forces of Bangladesh could be trained and equipped. Bangladesh’s intelligence also requires Indian help in honing their skills, both in HUMINT and TECHINT. This would send a strong signal to the terror groups in the region that India cannot be taken lightly and violence will not be tolerated.


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