Pakistan civil society activists light candles outside the French consulate in Karachi on Nov. 15, as they condemned the deadly attacks in Paris. (Photo by AFP)
While the detention of eight suspected members of the group that calls itself the Islamic State in Malaysia on Jan. 22, following the deadly bomb attacks in Jakarta earlier this month, confirmed the arrival of the terrorist group in Southeast Asia, it had already been murderously active in the South Asian countries of Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The Sunni jihadist network first made headlines in Bangladesh on Sept. 28 when three unknown attackers shot dead Italian aid worker Cesare Tabella in Dhaka. IS claimed responsibility for the shooting through its social media accounts, the first claim of militant terror by the group in this Muslim-majority country. Five days later, a Japanese man was shot dead in northern Rangpur district on Oct. 3 and IS took credit for the attack in the similar manner.
Since then a series of shooting and bombings targeted Christian clergy as well as the Muslim minority groups Shia and Ahamadiyya. On Oct. 24, several bombs exploded at a major Shia shrine in Dhaka during the annual Ashura procession, leaving two people killed and scores injured.
Father Parolari Piero, an Italian Catholic missionary, narrowly escaped death after three gunmen shot him in northern Dinajpur town on Nov. 18. Since the shooting more than two dozens Catholic priests including two bishops, protestant ministers and aid workers received death threats from alleged local IS commanders through telephone, text message and mail.
Bangladesh’s Awami League government has repeatedly brushed aside IS links to the violence, instead blaming these on local militant groups allegedly connected to opposition forces.
“There is no IS in the country. Though there are some small militant groups, their activities are in control,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters in Dhaka in early January. The minister also alleged that there is a local and foreign conspiracy against Bangladesh to obstruct development and to establish that IS cohorts are active in the country.
Police stand guard in front of a Shiite mosque in Dhaka on Nov. 27 after the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on worshippers at a Shiite mosque in northern Bangladesh. (Photo by AFP)
Over the past year, police in Bangladesh arrested more than one dozen so-called IS recruiters and coordinators. However, their identities beyond alleged IS-connection remain untraceable, while their traction beyond recruiting is unclear.
There is no firm evidence of an IS presence in Bangladesh, but local militants loyal to IS ideology pose great danger to the country, retired Brig. Gen. M. Sakhawat Hossain, a Dhaka-based security analyst said in a recent interview.
“Easily, we can claim that extremism here has a philosophical connection with the outside world’s extremism. So, what is happening out there, local extremists are trying to do the same here,” Hossain said.
“Instead of the blame-game we must … find out if the extremism is local or if it has an international connection and take action to uproot it,” he added.
In Pakistan typical denials by about the existence of IS has given way more recently to officials beginning to speak more openly about the threat posed by the global terror network.
Rana Sanaullah, a law minister in Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province, formally admitted in early January that some 100 Pakistani militants had joined the IS in Syria and Iraq.
“We have intelligence reports that around 100 people have gone from Pakistan to Syria and Iraq and joined Daesh (IS),” Sanaullah said. But he was quick to add that the number of people joining from Pakistan was far lower than those who had come from countries like France and England to join the terror group.
His statement came after 42 people suspected of links with the IS were rounded up in a major crackdown launched in different districts of Punjab in recent weeks.
“They had been tasked with setting up sleeper cells for IS. Among them are IS Islamabad chief Amir Mansoor, his deputy Abdullah Mansoori and the group’s chief for Sindh province, Umer Kathio,” he said.
In a separate raid in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi last December, four IS militants were arrested on suspicions of their involvement in a deadly attack on the country’s minority Shia Ismaili community.
At least 47 Ismaili Shias were shot dead by suspected IS gunmen in an armed ambush on their community bus in Karachi’s Safoora Goth area in May last year.
Pakistani Christians pray for victims of the Paris terrorist attacks. (Photo by AFP)
The suspected attackers are well educated and some of them studied in the country’s most prestigious institutes.
“What makes the IS even more dangerous than al-Qaida or the Taliban is that their core ideology is based on the restoration of the Islamic caliphate, an idea which has always fascinated the educated youth,” an official with the counter terrorism department told ucanews.com.
“There is more tendency among the educated youth to join the IS just because it propagates the establishment of a caliphate across the Islamic world,” he said.
A caliphate is a form of Islamic government led by a caliph — a person considered a political and religious successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad and a leader of the entire Muslim community. During the history of Islam after the Rashidun period, many Muslim states, almost all of them hereditary monarchies, have claimed to be caliphates.
The latest attack, which the group carried out in Pakistan on Jan. 13, was on the office of a popular news channel ARY.
Counter terrorism official Raja Umer Khattab said that an al-Qaida splinter group wanted to establish its link with Islamic States.
“The arrest we have made after Safoora Goth bus attack revealed that a group of people parted ways with al-Qaida after developing differences with its Pakistan-based leadership.
“Those who left al-Qaida after developing differences formed an unnamed group, which wanted to establish its links with self-styled Islamic States,” Khattab added.
Khattab maintained that the accused of Safoora Bus attack confessed that they carried out more than a dozen terror activities in parts of Pakistan.
Speaking on the subject of the Islamic State and its emergence in Pakistan, another anti-terror official Malir S.S.P. Rao Anwar said many terrorists who were first associated with different factions of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have joined the IS, he said.