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In addition to continued terrorist activity in Afghanistan and Pakistan, South Asia in 2019 saw a volatile mix of insurgent attacks punctuated by major incidents of terrorism in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (now known as the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir) and in Sri Lanka. A February 14 suicide bombing attack against an Indian paramilitary convoy in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir led to military hostilities and heightened tensions between India and Pakistan. Although ISIS lost the last remnants of its territory in Syria in March, it announced new branches in Pakistan and India in May and claimed responsibility for the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka in April.
Although al-Qa’ida in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been seriously degraded, key figures among AQ’s global leadership, as well as its regional affiliate al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), continued to operate from remote locations in the region that historically served as safe havens.
Afghanistan continued to experience aggressive and coordinated terrorist attacks by ISIS’s branch in the region, ISIS Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), and by the Afghan Taliban, including the affiliated Haqqani Network (HQN). Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) retained full responsibility for security in Afghanistan and, in partnership with NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, took aggressive action against terrorist elements across Afghanistan. In offensives in late 2019, the ANDSF and the Taliban significantly degraded ISIS-K in Nangarhar province, denying ISIS territory, but the group continues to operate and regroup.
While Pakistan continued to experience terrorist attacks, there were fewer attacks and casualties than in 2018, continuing an overall decline. Pakistani military and security forces undertook CT operations against groups that conducted attacks within Pakistan, such as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), ISIS-K, and the Balochistan Liberation Army. Pakistan took modest steps in 2019 to counter terror financing and restrain India-focused militant groups from conducting large-scale attacks following the February attack on a security convoy in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir linked to Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). Pakistan took action against some externally focused groups, including indicting Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Saeed and associates in three separate terrorism financing cases.
However, Pakistan remained a safe harbor for other regionally focused terrorist groups. It allowed groups targeting Afghanistan, including the Afghan Taliban and affiliated HQN, as well as groups targeting India, including LeT and its affiliated front organizations, and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), to operate from its territory. It did not take action against other known terrorists such as JeM founder and UN-designated terrorist Masood Azhar and 2008 Mumbai attack “project manager” Sajid Mir, both of whom are believed to remain free in Pakistan. Pakistan, however, did make some positive contributions to the Afghanistan peace process, such as encouraging Taliban reductions in violence. Pakistan made some progress toward meeting the Action Plan requirements for the FATF, allowing it to avoid being blacklisted, but did not complete all Action Plan items in 2019.
In August, India amended the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 1967 to authorize the designation of individuals as terrorists – which it did a month later by designating four terrorists, including the leaders of LeT and JeM. The Indian Parliament also amended the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act of 2008 to provide the NIA the ability to investigate terrorism cases overseas. The United States continues to build its strategic partnership with the Government of India, including through the bilateral Counterterrorism Joint Working Group meeting in March and the second 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in December.
In April, ISIS-inspired terrorists conducted sophisticated suicide bombing attacks against churches and hotels across Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, resulting in hundreds of deaths. It was a vivid example of ISIS’s determination, after the loss of its so-called “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq, to continue the fight from its global branches and networks and by inspiring attacks.
In Maldives, the Solih administration continues to make progress bolstering its CT efforts. In July, President Solih announced Maldives’ intent to facilitate the return and prosecution of Maldivian FTFs and families in Syria. The Maldivian government also passed an amendment strengthening its 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act and designated 17 terrorist organizations in September. In October, Maldivian police arrested Specially Designated Global Terrorist and ISIS recruiter Mohamad Ameen on “suspicion of spreading extremist ideology.”
In Bangladesh, ISIS-affiliated terrorists claimed six IED attacks, five of which were directed against Bangladesh police. ISIS’s At-Tamkin media outlet released a Bangla-language propaganda video outlining its campaign against the Bangladesh government and other declared enemies.
Central Asian countries remained concerned about the potential spillover of terrorism from Afghanistan, as well as the potential threat posed by the return of their citizens who traveled to Iraq or Syria to fight with terrorist groups, including ISIS. Between January and June, the Kazakhstan government led the world in FTF repatriations by bringing back 595 Kazakhstani fighters and family members from Syria, prosecuting those suspected of participating in terrorist activity abroad, and providing rehabilitation and reintegration services to the remainder. Also in 2019, the Uzbekistan government repatriated 220 FTF family members from Iraq and Syria, mostly women and children, while the Tajikistan government repatriated 95. The Kyrgyz Republic saw the return of about 300 FTFs and family members.
In November, ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on the Tajik-Uzbek border. Through the C5+1 (the United States plus the Central Asian countries), officials from Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan participated in the associated C5+1 Security Working Group focused on regional cooperation on CT.
Bangladesh experienced a small increase in terrorist activity in 2019. ISIS claimed six IED attacks, five of which were directed at Bangladesh police. ISIS’s At-Tamkin media outlet released a Bangla-language propaganda video outlining its campaign against the Bangladesh government and other declared enemies. As in prior years, the Bangladesh government denied that Bangladesh-based terrorists have meaningful ties to transnational terror groups, including ISIS or AQIS. In November, the Bangladesh government formally granted operational authority to a national Antiterrorism Unit. Also in November, the CT Special Tribunal in Dhaka sentenced seven individuals to death for their supporting roles in the 2016 Holey Artisan Bakery attack, in which attackers claiming allegiance to ISIS killed 20 people, including one American. However, ongoing deficits in Bangladesh’s judicial system contribute to a decade-long backlog of terrorism cases and a conviction rate estimated at less than 15 percent. The Bangladesh government continued to articulate a “zero tolerance” policy toward terrorism and the use of its territory as a terrorist safe haven. In December, the Bangladesh government, in concert with the U.S. Embassy, the UN, and other partners, hosted its inaugural National CVE Conference aimed at producing a national CVE strategy.
2019 Terrorist Incidents:
From April to November, Bangladeshi militants detonated six IEDs. Five were directed against the Bangladesh police, while one detonated at an Awami League office in Khulna. ISIS claimed responsibility for these attacks, which caused several injuries but no deaths.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In 2019, Bangladesh’s criminal justice system was still in the process of fully implementing the Antiterrorism Act of 2009 as amended in 2012 and 2013. A CT Special Tribunal authorized under the Act sentenced seven men to death for their supporting roles in the 2016 Holey Artisan Bakery attack. Although Bangladesh’s Antiterrorism Act does not outlaw recruitment and travel in the furtherance of terrorism, the broad language of the Act provides several mechanisms by which Bangladesh can implement UNSCR 2396 on addressing FTFs. Despite lacking laws specific to FTFs, Bangladesh arrested suspected FTFs or facilitators of such fighters on other charges under existing law.
Bangladesh cooperated with the United States to strengthen control of its borders and ports of entry. The international community remains concerned about security procedures at Dhaka’s Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. In February, a man attempted to hijack a passenger aircraft in flight, having smuggled what authorities reported was a fake gun onto the aircraft. There were several subsequent incidents in which passengers defeated screening protocols. U.S.-trained explosive detection K9 teams are available to patrol Dhaka’s international airport but are not a permanent presence. Bangladesh shared law enforcement information with INTERPOL but does not have a dedicated terrorist watchlist, though the United States and Bangladesh are collaborating on the development of a national level Alert List of known or suspected terrorists. Bangladesh also does not systematically review or analyze API/PNR.
Elements of the Bangladesh Police continued a campaign of arrests and raids against suspected militants. Many suspects died in these operations, sometimes described as the result of “shootouts” or “crossfire” – often euphemisms for extrajudicial killings. Observers questioned the veracity and significance of some of the reported CT operations, describing them as either staged by law enforcement or inaccurately portrayed by the media.
In August, ISIS’s At-Tamkin media outlet released a Bangla-language video directed against the Bangladesh government, as well as foreign governments, religious minorities, and other alleged enemies of Islam. In September, Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s Counterterrorism and Transnational Crime Unit arrested several individuals who allegedly produced the video.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Bangladesh is a member and current co-chair of the APG. The Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit is a member of the Egmont Group. There were no significant updates in 2019.
Countering Violent Extremism: Bangladeshi organizations continued cooperative activities through the Country Support Mechanism under GCERF, a public-private global fund to support local, grassroots CVE efforts in at-risk communities. The Ministry of Religious Affairs and the National Committee on Militancy, Resistance, and Prevention work with imams and religious scholars to build public awareness against terrorism. The police engaged religious leaders to counter terrorist propaganda with scripture-based messages and engaged imams to speak to surrendered militants to explain that the Quran does not support terrorist violence. They also continued community policing efforts. Law enforcement authorities worked with local universities to identify missing students and curb terrorist radicalization among university students. Local research institutions, including private think tanks and both public and private universities, continued to engage in CVE-related research. In December, the Counterterrorism and Transnational Crime Unit partnered with the U.S. Embassy, the UN, and various CSOs to draft a national CVE strategy for submission to the Bangladesh government. The Bangladeshi cities of Dhaka North, Dhaka South, and Narayanganj are members of the SCN.
Reference : U.S. Department of State Report