By Taj Hashmi
11 May, 2015
Al Qaeda has recently claimed it was behind the killing of Avijit Roy – the freethinking author and founder of the Mukto Mona blog – who was killed on 26th February near Dhaka University. A couple of unknown assailants killed him and severely wounded his wife with meat cleavers in front of hundreds of onlookers, and in close proximity to police, who failed to catch the killers for some mysterious reasons. Purportedly, the India-based Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) has circulated a video in the social media, claiming their role in the killing of the blogger.
What we can make out of the “AQIS video”, about its alleged role in the killing of Avijit Roy are: a) the video cannot be authentic; the claim was phony, al Qaeda did not kill the blogger; b) the AQIS’s taking credit for killing someone with meat cleavers would have smacked of its weakness, not strength; c) it is least likely that al Qaeda – which staged the 9/11 attacks – is desperately trying to get some publicity, and that too two months after the killing of a blogger in Bangladesh; and c) some vested interest group might have produced the video to get some dividends by raising a false alarm about al Qaeda’s presence in Bangladesh.
Those who understand terrorism, especially the Islamist variant of the phenomenon espoused by al Qaeda and its ilk, know as to how terrorists operate; and politicians use the bogey of terrorism for the sake of legitimacy. It not only happens in the West but also in Bangladesh. Then again, while Bush and Blair successfully mobilized mass support for their “War on Terror” by lying to their people, politicians in Bangladesh have not so far learnt the art of raising the right alarm at the right time. We know in Bangladesh, implicating rival politicians in terrorist activities failed in the past. If the latest “AQIS video” was another political ploy or a false flag operation, then it has also failed miserably. Not only a U.S.-based Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE) – a private intelligence group – has rejected the AQIS claim that al Qaeda was behind the killing of Avijit Roy, but various intelligence agencies and media in Bangladesh have also rejected the claim as far fetched.
Al Qaeda is not a criminal group run by gangsters, smugglers and criminals, as we watch in Hollywood and Bollywood movies. Ayaman al Zawahiri is not a mafia boss, and al Qaeda has not run out of sophisticated weapons and bombs that it would resort to meat cleavers to kill people, especially those not known beyond a small circle of people. Avijit Roy could be a prime target for some fanatic groups or individuals in Bangladesh, but he was never a prime al Qaeda target for assassination. Al Qaeda and mega terrorist groups believe in mass killing or assassination of VIPs for drawing global attention to their cause.
Nevertheless, the propaganda about the presence of al Qaeda or its “India-based offshoots” like Ansarullah in Bangladesh is politically motivated. Although this sort of political propaganda seldom pays any political dividends (at least, not in Bangladesh), yet politicians are politicians! They never give up playing the game of mutual vilification. Portraying political opponents in Bangladesh – read arch enemies – as Indian or Pakistani agents, anti-Liberation, or even as agents of al Qaeda has been going on for decades.
And we know, as politics is negatively correlated with the truth, so is terrorism, which unlike ordinary crime is politically motivated (ideology-driven) publicity seeking violence against total strangers and innocent people. Margaret Thatcher, as early as in 1985, rightly asked the open society in the West to deny the terrorists any “oxygen of publicity”. Bangladesh would do better by not giving any publicity to terrorist propaganda, let alone using terrorist threats against political adversaries.
Interestingly, while criminals hide their crimes and deny committing any, terrorists publicly brag about their crime, make false claims, and threaten people and governments of further violent attacks in the future. The ISIS claim, “the gunmen were our soldiers”, in the wake of the 4th May shoot out at an exhibition of Prophet Muhammad’s cartoons at Garland, Texas, is possibly a false claim. Then again, White House’s skepticism about any ISIS links to the attacks is an example of good counterterrorism (CT) operation.
We want similar mature behaviour from our government, politicians, analysts and experts. There are hardly any well-versed and well-trained CT experts in Bangladesh. Some of those who think they are, are not free from political bias, arrogance, and ignorance about what they write in newspaper columns and discuss in media about terrorism and counterterrorism. Watching some “terrorism experts” exchanging verbal slurs at each other on television is not amusing at all. These are all signs of lack of CT expertise in the public and private sectors. Politicians, journalists and analysts seem to be busy encashing dividends from imaginary and exaggerated terrorist threats from al Qaeda and other Islamist terror outfits.
Some Bangladeshi politicians raise alarm about the “impending terrorist attacks” in the country, and even worse, portray their political opponents as al Qaeda, HUJI or JMB agents. The cry wolf about “terrorists are coming”, or “terrorists are already inside”, predates 9/11 attacks; and is grossly counterproductive to effective CT operation. One recalls the Bangladesh Government’s cancelling President Clinton’s scheduled visit to a NGO-run rural development project in the outskirts of Dhaka city in March 2000, on the specious ground that Islamist terrorists might ambush his motorcade. One understands the actuality was somewhat different; and the theatrical was all about portraying the “others” as untrustworthy and terrorist sympathizers.
Some political rivals of the BNP played the terrorist card again on the eve of the Parliamentary Elections in October 2001. Colourful posters came out overnight on walls in Dhaka city displaying Khaleda Zia’s portrait side by side with Osama bin Laden’s. This was done days after 9/11, obviously to gain political leverage by portraying the BNP as an al Qaeda operative, hence untrustworthy.
Within weeks after the circulation of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s video message in late January 2014 in the social media, that urged Bangladeshi Muslims to wage an intifada against the Government for its alleged killing of Muslim clerics in Dhaka, some armed miscreants ambushed a prison van at Trishal (in Mymensingh), killed one guard, and snatched away three JMB prisoners, two of them in death rows. This was a false flag operation, another attempt to give credence to the false alarms about the presence of al Qaeda in Bangladesh. Soon it was evident that not al Qaeda operatives but some local ruling party activists were involved in the ambush of the prison van.
In view of the false flag operations, overblown al Qaeda and Islamist terror threats, the culture of vilifying political opponents as al Qaeda agents, and the tendency to generalize all Islamist parties and movements, including the “Islam-loving” BNP and obscurantist Jamaat-e-Islami as Islamist terror outfits – out of prejudice and ignorance, and to gain political leverage – it appears that Bangladesh is not going to recover from the endemic political crisis and social unrest in the foreseeable future.
The upshot being the state of perpetual uncertainties in the country, there has been a rapid erosion in the level of civility, democracy, accountability and transparency of the government machinery. Since the nation has already created so many Frankenstein’s Monsters collectively – through sham elections, compliant judiciary, bureaucracy and election commission, partisan police and security apparatus – it does not need al Qaeda to destabilize it further.
The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University. Sage has recently published his latest book, Global Jihad and America: the Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.