Ansar al Islam (AAI) Bangladesh
Al Qaeda-affiliated Jihadi groups in Bangladesh included AQIS, Ansarullah, and Ansar al-Islam. Islamist group Ansar al Islam (AAI), which claims to be the Bangladesh wing of al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), an affiliate of al-Qaida, and is believed to have been behind a series of killings of secular bloggers in Bangladesh. With the accusations of a political conspiracy aimed at embarrassing the government, and few arrests by police of the militants accused of taking part in the attacks, critics say there is a culture of impunity taking hold.
'Ansar al Islam Bangladesh-2' claimed responsibility for the killing of Rajshahi University teacher AKM Shafiul Islam 11 November 2014. The sociology teacher was struck with sharp weapons by several youths in front of Bihashpalli when he was on his way home.
The group's Facebook page, which was opened around five hours after the murder, says: "Our Mujahideens (fighters) executed a 'Murtad' (apostate) today in Rajshahi who had prohibited female students in his department to wear 'Burka' (veil)." The page shows a picture of the slain teacher with a red X-mark on it. Below it is written in Bangla: "AKM Shafiul Islam (file closed)/ Offence: Apr, 2010/ Punishment: Nov, 2014." It follows with an English statement: "We don't forget. Insha'Allah we will not forget others."
The Detective Branch (DB) of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police is yet to confirm whether Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh at all exists. "We do not know of any organisation by this name. But new outfits are emerging now and then. So the existence of Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh cannot be ruled out," a DB deputy commissioner said.
One secular blogger and publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan was hacked to death and three other bloggers injured at their workplaces in separate incidents in the capital’s Shahbagh and Lalmatia on 01 November 2015.
Ansar Al Islam claimed responsibility for the killing and attack on secular bloggers. Mufti Abdullah Ashraf, spokesperson of Ansar Al Islam which claimed to be the part of the Al Qaida Indian Subcontinent, also explained why the targeted attacks were carried out. It also explained the ‘crimes’ of publishers and accused them of patronising ‘anti-Islamic’ writers. Condemnations by different foreign missions in Dhaka and other local socio-cultural groups continued following the killing and attacks on free-thinkers.
With the latest attacks, at least five bloggers had been killed and four others injured in similar incidents in 2015 since the killing of Bangladeshi-origin American blogger Avijit Roy and injury to his wife near Dhaka University on 26 February 2015. A similar attack had left Ahmed Haidar Rajib dead in February 2013.
AAI released a target list online in November 2015, along with a statement. Suspected Islamists released a so-called “hit list," naming 34 secular Bangladeshi authors, journalists, bloggers, teachers and others as targets for their alleged anti-Islam activities.
“An identified list of Bangladeshi activists, blogger and intellectuals in worldwide who promote anti-Islamist group [sic]. They must die. Our All Mujahedin, this is our duty to slash their head," read the statement titled “Who’s Next." Signed off by Mufti Abdullah Ashraf, who claimed to be a spokesperson of Ansar al Islam, the statement added that “innocent Hindus, Buddhists, Christians" would not be targeted by the group.
Some of those named say that they do not fear being killed and unlike other threatened bloggers and activists, will not move out of Bangladesh. They say the death threats will not succeed to deter them from their usual writing and other activities. Some others say, they are indeed frightened to receive the death threats. They say because police have been unable to provide them security, they have no other option than to flee the country.
The domestic group of ABT is behind the hit list, said Muntasirul Islam, deputy commissioner of the media wing of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police. “We are sure that the ABT has been using the name of Ansar al Islam recently while issuing such hit lists and claiming responsibility following violent attacks. It’s a domestically raised group having no connection with al-Qaida or any other international Islamist group, our investigation has found," Islam said. “Our team has already hit the ground looking for the people who have issued the latest hit list. We will trace them out soon," he said.
Hit lists threatening mostly Bangladeshi bloggers had been issued at other times in the past. However, in the latest list, the Islamists have broadened their targets by including well-known authors, journalists and supporters of Bangladesh’s ongoing trial of crimes related to the country’s 1971 war of independence.
Popular Dhaka-based author Professor Muhammed Zafar Iqbal said more killings could result if the authorities fail to make progress against the militant groups. “They say, they target those who write against Islam. I never wrote one sentence hurting anyone's religious sentiment. Yet, I am in the latest hit list because I speak in support of Bangladesh's war for liberation and the related war crime trials," Prof Iqbal said 20 November 2015. Pro-war crime trial activist Shammi Haque is one among the 34 who have been named in the latest hit list.
“Since 2013, they killed almost a dozen bloggers and activists. Since the killers are virtually going unpunished, they are boldly issuing such open threats and launching violent attacks on their targets," Haque said to VOA from Germany, where she moved last month.