Wednesday, July 06, 2016

The Interconnected World of Islamism

"The methods employed and the savagery with which the killings were carried out are  hallmarks of international terrorist outfits like ISIL and al-Qaeda. This is clear."
"What is not clear is whether ... the official line will be one of denial?"
Daily Star newspaper, Bangladesh
Here's who carried out the Bangladesh attack: Mostly students from middle-class families
This combination of pictures shows five unidentified men, allegedly the gunmen who carried out an attack in the capital Dhaka on Friday, posing in front of an Islamic State flag. (AFP/Getty images)

How strange it is, how internationalized the world has become, how interconnected, how small a place where people turn up where they may least be expected to, under circumstances that really do require some explaining. The Dhaka Tribune identified Professor Hasnat Karim as a man now being investigated for his possible links to the slaughter of twenty people by Bangladeshi terrorists on the weekend. Dr. Karim taught at Dhaka's North South University, but had lived for 20 years in Britain.

An investigation has revealed that one of the Holey Artisanal Bakery's attackers, Nibras Islam, had been a student at the same university department where Dr. Karim taught. And Dr. Karim was observed by survivors of the massacre to have had what appeared to be friendly words with the jihadis, who allowed him to leave as they took others hostage, even while interrogating others, demanding they cite Koranic passages and if they could not, they were destined for torture and death.

Another British citizen of Bangladeshi origin who had been in the restaurant and released by the jihadis is being held by investigators for extensive interviews. As well as a University of Toronto student, Tahmid Hasib Khan, detained and questioned. Details of the attack are being sought in the investigation where Bangladeshi authorities are giving short shrift to the claim by the Islamic State that they were behind the attack.

Official Bangladesh would far more prefer to believe its version of events, that it was Bangladeshi extremist Islamists who planned and executed the attack, a departure from their usual practise of choosing a victim, approaching on a motorcycle, slashing the back of the neck with a machete, and speeding away. This time the attack was a massive one by the usual standards with a cast of seven terrorists all of whom but one were killed by security forces.

Amarnath Amarasingam, an investigator into Islamist terror and recruiting working out of Dalhousie University in Halifax, noted that the media strategy in the wake of the attack was quintessential ISIL: "They don't want this attack to be blamed on the wrong people", he said, although what he might have said, was "given credit to the wrong people". What happened was that photos and descriptions of the attack made their appearance on ISIL social media much before they did on mainstream media.

Those who took part in the attack also belied the belief that extremists who engage on such gruesomely murderous exploits do so because they come from deprived backgrounds and resentment against the privileged forms part of their reason for battling social norms in favour of fanaticism. All of the young men who were part of the group of seven terrorists were from wealthy homes and had been the beneficiaries of costly academic programs gearing them toward professions.

Tamim Chowdhury, another Bangladeshi-Canadian, formerly living in Windsor, Ontario, leads ISIL's Bangladeshi affiliate under the alias Shaykh AbuIbrahim Al-Hanif. His reputation, felt Mr. Amarasingam, may be the reason that the 22-year-old university student, Tahmid Hasib Khan had been taken into custody: "They probably just got spooked when they saw a Canadian [and are simply performing] due diligence".

Bangladeshi police also laid additional charges of attempted murder against seven members of Jamayetui Mujahideen Bangladesh (the Assembly of Holy Fighters in Bangladesh), a group which has seen members defecting to ISIL. The charges relate to three suspects at large who were involved in the 2015 attack on a Catholic priest and doctor who survived being shot. Of those three suspects at large is a university student whose father is a Canadian-Bangladeshi.

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