ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Crisis of Islamist Extremism in Contemporary Bangladesh

Islamist extremism in Bangladesh emerged as a response to authoritarian populism and in the absence of a credible anti-establishment left-wing political project to articulate an alternative agenda to the existing status quo. Islamist extremists represent a politics of revenge and hatred with no clear objective to uplift the socio-economic conditions and livelihood prospects of the people.

On the evening of 1 July 2016, seven gunmen, allegedly associated with the Islamist extremist group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), had stormed into a Spanish cafe, Holey Artisan Bakery in the Gulshan area of Dhaka’s high security diplomatic zone. These militants took over the cafe, eventually killing mostly foreigners who were first taken as hostages. Similarly, on 7 July, a terror attack was organised with crude bombs and gun shooting before the morning Eid prayers in the Sholakia Idgah of Kishoreganj district in Bangladesh. Sholakia has the biggest Eid congregation in the country with at least two lakh people attending the Eid prayers. Both the incidents in Gulshan and Sholakia are organised forms of terror in the wake of recent attacks by a section of Bangladeshi Islamists who have adopted extremist methods to target civil society members, religious minorities (Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Bahais), Ahmadiyas, atheist bloggers, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and progressive political activists.

Before the twin terror attacks, militancy expert, Zayadul Ahsan (2016) reported that in the last 18 months, at least 47 persons have been killed by the Islamist extremists in Dhaka. Out of 47, eight persons were allegedly killed by the pro-Al-Qaeda group, Ansar al-Islam, previously known as Ansarullah Bangla Team, led by the dismissed Bangladesh army officer, Major Ziaul Haq. Haq triggered an attempted military coup within the Bangladesh army in 2012. Haq-led Ansar recruits are from various Islamist organisations like Ahl al-Hadith, Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Hefazat-e-Islam and are usually poor madrasa students. Ansar’s operation areas are generally in the northern part of the country and have so far targeted free thinkers, bloggers and gay rights activists.

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