Defeating non-state violent actors

Mokerrom Hossain | Published: September 22, 2017 20:54:12 | Updated: October 23, 2017 22:32:49

RAB members examine on September 07, 2017 the place where militants had exploded bombs at Komol Prova, Mirpur, Dhaka.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US soil, there began a new kind of war across the world to haunt and kill terrorists. Afghanistan was attacked under the UN resolution but before it accomplished its prime goal, the US lead coalition attacked Iraq. These two wars did not accomplish much in terms of defeating terrorism. Rather with the passage of time, activities of non-state violent terrorists have become a worldwide phenomenon. Alongside, the wave of religious terrorism has sent serious alarm signals globally and not even sparing Bangladesh with its usual destruction.



There have been many terrorist activities across Bangladesh during the last fifteen years. The 2015 attacks at Holey Artisan bakery and Sholakila have created a different kind of urgency and country's counter-terrorism strategies reached a critical level. Since these two attacks, the special law enforcement agents have adopted newer strategies and took many pre-emptive measures to disintegrate terrorist cells across the country. These new strategies have so far worked well except in some cases where law enforcement agents were hurt and killed. On Friday, September 8, 2017, a week long siege of "KomolProva" apartment building at Mirpur, Dhaka by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) came to an end when RAB declared the formal completion of the siege. Inside the house seven dead bodies were found. It was suspected that these dead people were the members of new-JMB terrorist outfit. This operation also found 24 high impacted bombs, 60 improvised hand grenades, 70 'chemical bombs', 15 kilograms of splinters, 20 kilograms of charcoal, and 150 pieces of igniting cords. Prior to this Mirpur operation, there was another operation in another house in Alenga, Tangail and the law enforcers were successful in foiling a plan of attack where two brothers were making preparation to launch a drone attack. These two brothers were arrested and found to be members of new-JMB. There were also couple of other operations prior to these two operations. These operations do suggest that members of different law enforcement agencies are meaningfully sharing information and responding appropriately.



However, with the successful closure of "KomolProva", can we draw a curtain and declare that we have defeated the non-state violent terrorists? My guess, maybe not; because during the last 16 years of 'war on terror', many high-profile world leaders declared victory-- only to be ridiculed later. So, common sense understanding of law enforcement strategies used to combat non-state violent acts suggests that society needs to add other kinds of strategies to snuff these, once and for all. Thus question pops up, what else is needed to be added to the existing strategies to defeat the violent acts of terrorists?



Though terrorism as a political strategy has been with in the Western culture since 1887, the rise of religious non-state violent actors is due to many complex political miscalculations made by the super powers and many other small countries who have agreed, for whatever reasons, to play proxy roles for the super powers. Over the years, the phenomenon of modern religious terrorism has spread across the world and taken different dimensions due to different local environments. Thus, digging the past to figure out who did what would not help much because what Bangladesh is facing has its own character. Whether these non-state violent actors belong to new-JMB and or another outfit, fact remains that they have been radicalised and are willing to act violently to inflict pain and suffering, even at the cost their own lives. 



Many Dhaka dailies while covering the success story of "KomolProva" siege, included another news about a recent conference that took place in Washington, DC on terrorism where a bunch of anti-terror chiefs sought social media's help in tracking the home grown jihadists across the world. This appeal was made to the social media companies because the anti-terror experts have realised that elimination and/or apprehension of terrorists would not help them much in fighting terrorism unless recruiting of terrorists via social media is stopped. In this context, I want to mention that this realisation of the inadequacy of military and law enforcement operations has been there since the mid-2000. From then on, many experts started recognising the limited success of pure military or criminal justice control mechanisms to disintegrate terrorist cells. Though the infamous Osama bin Laden, Anwar Awlaki, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour and 'Jihadi John' were killed and members of ISIS are now on the run, terrorist acts continue to surface. The success of anti-terror proxy wars in Syria and Iraq are actually displacing members of ISIS who have come from many countries of the world and their numbers are as high as 20,000. We have reasons to ask where would they go eventually? For a while, they would go underground to be recruited by different terrorist groups. As there is no guarantee, that the non-state terrorists pushed out of Iraq and Syria will not emerge somewhere else, similarly, no one can guarantee that the success of "Komol-Prova" would be the end of new-JMB activities in Bangladesh.



Scholars and law enforcers are at one that these religious terrorists are products of radicalisation, and their recruitment is done through internet-based platforms. The Western state authorities are being warned to divert resources toward monitoring internet sources but in reality, little has been done in this regard. It took time for the Western authorities to accept the reality that although law enforcement strategy is required, it must not be taken as the only method to combat non-state violent terrorists. Defeating today's non-state violent actors needs multi-prong steps. Here I am suggesting five very specific strategies: 1) treat these actors as radicalised operatives, 2) design programmes to intervene internet based recruiting process, 3) take necessary steps to dry down the financial support, 4) destabilise hidden support base, and 5) de-radicalise current radicals who are in police custody.



There might be some measures in place to address the issues that have been identified in the above five stratgies. If this is true, it is time to re-evaluate and determine the effectiveness of these programmes/policies. If there are no specific programmes/policies other than law enforcement strategies, it is time to take the initiative. To determine the nature and character of the radicalisation process, there is the need for close cooperation between social scientists and the law enforcement agencies currently involved in fighting terrorism.



There were a few hundred terrorists either in custody or on bail who could be the sources of information. There should be appropriate methodology to gather data which would help in designing the model of de-radicalisation. It is time for Bangladesh to have its own model to explain the new-JMB radicalisation process and find effective ways to combat it.



Dr. Mokerrom Hossain is a Professor, Department of Sociology & Criminal Justice, Virginia State University, USA and Chairperson, Bangladesh Institute of Crime and Justice Studies (BICJS). mhossain@vsu.edu


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