Mufti Jashimuddin Rahman – Leader of the militant Ansarullah Bangla Team.
Twenty bloggers, including nine based in the UK, are among writers and activists on a new “hit list” being circulated by a Bangladesh-based militant Islamist group blamed for a spate of horrific attacks on secular writers in the country.
The Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) revealed the list on Wednesday and includes writers based in Germany, the United States, Canada and Sweden, apart from the UK-based bloggers.
Many are Bangladeshi citizens whilst others are settled in the west.
ABT called on the Bangladeshi government to strip those named of their citizenship, describing them as “enemies of Islam”, “atheists”, “apostates” and even “agents of India”.
Otherwise, the group threatened to “kill them wherever they can be found in the Almighty’s world”.
The list is the first indication that the militant group is targeting bloggers and activists overseas.
One of those named is Ananya Azad, who fled to Germany after receiving threats in Bangladesh.
He told the Guardian: “Our weapon is [the] pen, and we can use it without hurting anybody. We just want to make people conscious about their rights. So that nobody can use them to fulfill bad intentions.”
ABT is thought to be behind the murders of at least three Bangladeshi bloggers in the past 18 months, all of whom were targeted in broad daylight in the capital Dhaka and hacked to death.
The ABT’s acting leader, Mohammad Abul Bashar, and his two associates, were arrested earlier this month for their involvement in the killing of Bangladeshi-American blogger and science writer Avijit Roy whose death caused an international outcry.
Mr Roy’s US-based wife, who was badly injured in the attack, is among those in the ABT’s hit list.
Earlier this month, police in Dhaka charged a 58-year-old British-Bangladeshi man and four others for the murder of another writer, Washiqur Rahman, who was killed in March.
SO WHO ARE ANSARULLAH BANGLA TEAM? AND WHY ARE SECULAR BLOGGERS BEING HACKED TO DEATH ON THE STREETS OF DHAKA?
Rafida Ahmed Banya, wife of Bangladeshi-American writer Avijit Roy, moments after he was hacked to death in a Dhaka street.
ABT is believed by officials to be affiliated with Ansar ul-Islam, an al Qaeda affiliated South Asian group which emerged last year.
Experts told the UKAsian that this new “hit list” is evidence of the group’s international reach.
In May, the Bangladesh government banned ABT under the country’s 2013 anti-terrorism laws following the murders of bloggers Roy, Rahman and Das.
ABT however, had been known to security services since at least 2013 when the group carried out the killing of Ahmed Rajib Haider, another secular blogger whose writings sparked the so-called ‘Shahbag Protests’, held against Islamist groups involved in Bangladesh’s 1971 War of Independence.
In August 2013, the ABT’s leader, Mufti Jashimuddin Rahmani, was arrested along with 30 of his followers for making incendiary speeches in mosques and madrassas.
Police later recovered from Rahmani a “hit list” that identified 12 secular liberals, including Haider, for elimination.
ABT’s rise can be attributed to the long-standing clash between the country’s secular liberals and religious fundamentalists.
Bangladesh has witnessed two waves of religious radicalism in recent decades. The first (1999-2005) was led by Bangladeshis who fought alongside the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s and was dominated by groups like Harakat ul-Jihad al-Islami-Bangladesh (HUJI-B) and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB); this wave included hundreds of Bangladeshi youth waging jihad in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq.
Upon returning home, they radicalized others and joined local extremist outfits. At the domestic level, a fundamentalist-friendly coalition led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which included the JI and the Islamic Oikya Jote came to power in 2001.
It was only in 2005 that the Bangladesh government, acting under international pressure, began banning various extremist and jihadist outfits. The crackdown caused a lull in extremist activity, although various banned outfits continued to function quietly under new names or front organizations.
A second wave in religious radicalism was sparked by the secular Awami League-led government’s setting up of a domestic tribunal in 2010 to try JI leaders and other Islamists accused of war crimes during the 1971 war.
Islamist mobilization gathered further momentum in early 2013 in response to the Shahbag Protests when secular liberals took to the streets and cyberspace to demand the death penalty for war crimes convicts.
In their blogs, these individuals were sharply critical of Islam and the intolerance of Islamists.
Islamists in return denounced secular liberals as “apostates” and openly called for their elimination.