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News Analysis: Failure to detain kingpins blamed for Bangladesh's worst hostage crisis

Updated: 07 04 , 2016 15:03
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DHAKA, July 4 -- In the aftermath of Bangladesh's worst hostage crisis that left dozens of people, including 18 foreigners and two police officers dead, questions about the efficacy of the country's mechanisms to rein in militant threats are now being asked.

Owing to the government's feeble "special anti-militant drive," Bangladesh has become a global hotspot for dissenting voices from marginalized groups, both religious and secular groups, and foreigners, being murdered or targeted by militant groups on an almost daily basis.

Assailants severely injured a Hindu priest early on Saturday in the southwestern Satkhira district, a day after the killing of another Hindu priest and a Buddhist man in southeastern Banderban.

Earlier, two people, including a writer of an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) magazine, were hacked to death by unidentified assailants in Dhaka, days after an English professor was shot dead in a separate incident.

Dozens of people including secularists and other religious groups have also been targeted in recent months.

Last month's special anti-militant drive has been heavily criticized for failing to detain the leaders and masterminds behind the militant groups.

Local reports said that of over 13,000 rounded up within a week only 200 were listed as militants.

Unfortunately no militant ringleader has subsequently been re-arrested raising questions about the efficacy of such a special anti-militancy drive.

Friday's hostage tragedy has once again revived questions as to the productiveness of such special anti-militancy efforts that have so far even failed to prevent militants from freely posting propaganda materials on public walls in Dhaka without getting caught.

Enraged over the deaths of 28 people in the attack on the Spanish restaurant in Dhaka's diplomatic enclave of Gulshan on Friday night, some experts point to the state's inept ability to institute mechanisms to deal with militants and the country's education system as contributing to such a tragedy, claiming that they pave the way to fostering a radicalized ideology.

From a political perspective, sources have also claimed that the killings happened because the state machinery ignored the threats for too long due to political convenience and administrative inefficiency.

In one of the worst tragedies in Bangladesh's history, nine Italians, seven Japanese, two Bangladeshis, an Indian and a Bangladeshi-born American were among the 20 hostages hacked to death by the terrorists who stormed the upmarket restaurant on Friday night.

Seven gunmen armed with blades, guns and explosives, also murdered two Bangladeshi police officers in the early hours of the attack.

The gunmen killed the victims soon after they stormed the Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan, a spokesperson from the Bangladesh Army told a media briefing on operation "Thunderbolt" that ended the 13-hour hostage crisis on Saturday.

The commandos managed to rescue 13 hostages and kill all but one of the terrorists and capture one.

The crucial question being asked among observers, however, is what was the aim of the hostage takers? As yet, the answer remains elusive. There were reportedly no demands made from the terrorists while they were holding the hostages during the siege.

The killing of innocent people also poses the question as to what has actually been achieved by the assailants.

Bangladesh faces a growing threat of militant violence with a string of incidents this year including the killing of several liberal activists and attacks on minority Shiite Muslims, a Christian priest and Hindu temples.

Almost every time after such an incident occurs, Islamic State (IS) claims responsibility while Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government denies its presence in the country.

In the aftermath of Friday's heinous hostage crisis, security analysts said the government must realize that denials don't alter facts.

"So far we understand that that some of Bangladeshi banned radical groups have opened channels of communication with the IS kingpins in Iraq and Syria and declared solidarity with them," a Dhaka University professor told Xinhua, requesting anonymity.

He underscored the need for all-out efforts to detain local militant leaders who maintain channels of communication with IS kingpins in a bid to thwart violent attacks in the future.

"We hope we would not be remiss in asking if there is a crisis management group that would take up the central command and coordination in times of a situation like the one we have just encountered," wrote Brigadier General Shahedul Anam Khan, who is also associate editor of leading English newspaper The Daily Star, in an article on the matter.

"If not then there should be one that can assess the situation and initiate actions to save time and lives," Khan wrote.

An expert at a think tank in Bangladesh told Xinhua that there are so many unanswered questions that reveal the incapacity of the security agencies in handling the most sensitive matters related to militancy.

And all these must be addressed if the security agencies want the locals and foreigners to have faith in what they are doing in their daily contributions to society and international efforts to develop Bangladesh's economy and development, he said.

A notable security analyst said that an incident like this may reoccur if the masterminds behind the scenes remain untouchable.

Referring to many previous incidents involving militancy, he said dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the militant suspects but were subsequently dismissed.

"One culprit has been arrested for Friday's hostage crisis but it remains to be seen whether he will be punished when the dust finally settles," the analyst said.

Other experts have expressed the opinion that the culprit should be properly interrogated to reach the kingpins and ascertain the details of IS cells operating in Bangladesh.

They added that there is need for massive anti-militant drive free from political influence if the remittance-reliant Bangladesh economy is to continue its role in the global market.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has condemned the attack, reiterating her commitment to combating terrorism and militancy.

"None of the terrorists can stop our growth and progress. Come let us forget all our differences, and make Bangladesh a prosperous, golden nation," she said in a televised address to the nation on Saturday night.

by Naim-Ul-Karim

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