‘We haven’t been able to uproot the militants’

Sohrab Hasan and Rozina Islam | Update: 18:48, Jul 06, 2017

A year has passed since the militant attack on Holey Artisan Bakery, but many questions remain unanswered. Investigations into the incident remain incomplete. Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan talked to Prothom Alo in an exclusive interview.

Prothom Alo: With one militant den after the other being uncovered, how satisfied are you with the steps against militancy?

Asaduzzaman Khan: We have not been able to completely uproot the militants, but most of the top militants, the leaders and organisers, have been caught. The remaining ones may include supporters of the ideology or activists, but there is no one capable of taking leadership at present.

PA: But you haven’t managed to catch the five persons who were actually the ones behind the scenes in last year’s Holey Artisan Bakery attack.

AK: They remain behind the scenes. Many of those who have been caught, are now mentioning many other names. These seem to be based on assumptions. But we have caught all those against whom we have information, except retired major Ziaul Huq.

PA: Where is Ziaul Huq now?

AK: We are rather unclear about that and haven’t been able to locate him.

PA: If all the top leaders have been caught, then why is it taking so long to come up with the investigation report for the Holey Artisan Bakery case?

AK: We want an accurate report. We need a few more elements to finalise the report. Italian, Japanese and Indian nationals were killed in the incident, as well as our own officers. Unless proper charge sheets are issued, proper sentences can’t be passed against the accused. We will finalise the report very soon.

PA: Certain photographs of Hasnat Karim and Tahmid Khan appeared in the media. This gave rise to all sorts of questions in the media, especially the social media.

AK: The charge sheet will state everything about the roles everyone played.

PA: Why did the government not take up any programme marking the one-year anniversary of the Holey Artisan Bakery attack? Japan and Italy sent representatives to commemorate the day.

AK: We told the Holey Artisan Bakery authorities to set up a dais and make necessary arrangements to show respect to the victims. The home ministry paid its respects there. There were condolence meetings and discussions in various places and we extended our cooperation.

PA: When such disastrous occurrences take place, generally speaking, a commission is formed to look into the matter and unearth the truth. This happened in the US after the 1/11 attack and in Bangladesh after the Pilkhana incident. Why was no such commission formed for the Holey Artisan Bakery attack?

AK: No such demand or appeal was made. In accordance with the prime minister’s orders, we are jointly working towards finding out who were behind the incident.

PA: Before the 1 July incident, did any other country issue a warning or did your intelligence have any information?

AK: Our intelligence discerned that something big was being planned. But that was just an assumption. There was no information as to when this would happen or who would be carrying this out. We did not get any information from outside. A lot of intelligence information comes in from outside which later doesn’t prove to be true. But there are certain matters which we take into cognizance. A foreign agency had told us something serious was to take place at the Dhamrai fair and we closed it down for a day. We do take note of certain important information like that.

PA: The operations against the militants continue, that is, the use of force. But there is gaping inadequacy when it comes to the social or political motivation for the prevention of militancy.

AK: We have done a lot to mobilise public opinion. I sat with the ulema (Islamic scholars) every day. I held meetings with leaders of the Hindu, Buddhist and Christian faiths every day. I visited the madrassas in various districts, held human chains. I had repeated meetings with representatives of various universities and the education ministry. Anti-militant material is being included in the syllabuses. I have held meetings with the cultural ministry and its relevant departments, telling them to step up their activities. I have had extensive meetings with madrassa teachers. Our anti-militant committee is also working in full strength. This all has turned people around. When debate emerged over khutba (sermons) in the mosques, we advised the imams to first discuss the matters before delivering the sermons. It is true, however, that those in charge of this have not been able to carry this task out properly.

PA: Then there is this debate about the presence of IS. Why are you not admitting the presence of IS?

AK: IS is an international group or ideology. Why will it be instilled here? There were attempts to link up with Al Qaeda, that failed. Whenever any incident occurred in Bangladesh, photographs were uploaded within five minutes. This was done as a part of an international conspiracy. Just because it is the same website, how can you prove it’s IS? They might have contact over the internet, but IS has no presence in Bangladesh. It is true that Tamim Chowdhury, known as the mastermind behind the Holey Artisan Bakery attack, came from abroad. We asked Canada for his pictures, passport and all information. We found out that a certain Tamim Chowdhury entered Bangladesh quite some time back, but we did not think he came and established IS here. Prior to that, a British national of Bangladeshi origin had come and he was suspected to be IS. But he later left.

Then there were those involved in religion-based politics who went underground and formed various organisations. Most of them are former leaders or workers of Jamaat and Shibir.

PA: Politically, BNP was blamed after the killing of the Italian national Cesare Tavella and the Japanese national Kunio Hoshi.

AK: We have proof of BNP leader Qayyum’s involvement in the killing of Cesare Tavella. He provided the funding.

PA: Who are funding the militancy?

AK: Funds are coming in from various groups in Saudi Arabia and various countries of the Middle East. Investigations are being carried out. These funds don’t come through the banking system, they come by hundi (informal money transfer) and so it is hard to detect.

PA: Are you receiving any ‘logistic support’ from outside to tackle the militants?

AK: We are not getting any such support, but there is sharing of intelligence. That is nothing specific, just based on hypothetical. But many are interested in helping out with investigations.

PA: The militants are being released one after the other on bail. Is nothing being done about that?

AK: This is very unfortunate. Sometimes there are no witnesses, sometimes we delay in submitting the charge sheet, and perhaps the state prosecutors are not competent enough. We will soon be holding meetings with the concerned persons. Then again, the judiciary is independent.

PA: Word is going round that the government has reached an understanding with Hefazat?

AK: I am the home minister. Have to work with everyone to prevent militancy. I have told the Hefazat leaders that we can at last reach a minimum level of understanding. We have told them that there is no use in being divided, that they should unify. They have six boards and 11 groups. Now they have united. Allama Shah Ahmad Shafi and Junaid Babunagari have agreed to this. They are speaking against militancy. Shah Ahmad Shafi has even raised his hands in prayer for the prime minister. I think this is something good.

PA: How many young people have gone to Syria from Bangladesh? Do you have any information on this? Or have any come from Syria to Bangladesh?

AK: No one has gone from Bangladesh. We know that many of Bangladeshi origin have gone from Britain, Singapore and Japan. No one has managed to come here from Syria. There are strict instructions regarding them.

PA: It is heard that Rohingyas are getting involved in militancy?

AK: We have taken this matter very seriously. Driven by poverty, they may get involved in such activities. They can easily be lured into this. As it is, they have already become involved in all sorts of crime.

PA: What measures are you taking to rehabilitate the young persons who want to give up militancy and return to normal life.

AK: We are providing financial and other forms of assistance to those who have surrendered. They will be kept under surveillance. We are assisting them in any way they need. We have appealed to the militants to give up their destructive ways. We will provide all support.

PA: Thank you.

AK: Thank you.


*The interview originally published in Prothom Alo Bangla print edition has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.