By Stewart Bell
After the near-decapitated body of a 68-year-old Hindu priest was found in western Bangladesh on Tuesday, the local ISIL affiliate claimed responsibility in a communiqué that vowed to “cleanse” the country of “filth.”
It was the latest in a wave of sectarian killings in Bangladesh — many of them attributed to a regional franchise of ISIL that is reportedly led by a Canadian and former southwestern Ontario resident named Tamim Chowdhury.
“He is from Windsor,” said Prof. Amarnath Amarasingam, a post-doctoral fellow at Dalhousie University’s Resilience Research Centre. “People who knew him say he was a quiet guy. Not much else is known about him at the moment.”
According to a report in the Bangladesh newspaper The Daily Star, Chowdhury now uses the alias Shaykh Abu Ibrahim Al-Hanif, who was identified in the latest edition of the ISIL propaganda magazine Dabiq as the “emir” of its branch in Bangladesh.
In the magazine, distributed in April, Al-Hanif comes across as a violent hatemonger, referring to Hinduism as a “filthy, cow-worshipping religion” and threatening to “slaughter” those who did not subscribe to his militant version of Islam.
“We let our actions do the talking,” the lengthy interview quoted him saying. “And our soldiers are presently sharpening their knives to slaughter the atheists, the mockers of the prophet and every other apostate in the region.”
Although not large, the Bangladeshi ISIL branch is believed to have committed more than two dozen murders over the past 18 months, Zayadul Ahsan wrote in the Daily Star, which said some members were veterans of the Syrian conflict.
“Targets of the so-called IS include a wide spectrum of people — Hindu, Christian, Buddhist or Bahai leaders,” as well as Shias, spiritual leaders, university teachers, religious converts and foreigners, among others, Ahsan wrote.
The latest victim was reportedly Ananda Gopal Ganguly, who was riding his bicycle to his temple to conduct a prayer service on Tuesday when three men approached him from behind on a motorcycle and hacked him to death.
“He left home this morning saying that he was going to a Hindu house to offer prayers,” the AFP news agency quoted the local deputy police chief, Gopinath Kanjilal, saying. “Later, farmers found his near-decapitated body in a rice field.”
The assassination followed the murders this week of a Christian grocer and the wife of a police officer in the anti-terrorism unit. The regional al-Qaida affiliate, AQIS, is also believed to be behind some of the roughly 40 killings by extremists since last January.
“Soldiers of the Caliphate were able to carry out a security operation in the killing of a polytheist Hindu priest by slaughter,” ISIL said in a statement posted on social media, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. “The knives of the mujahedin will continue to cleanse Bangladesh from the filth of the polytheists and apostates.”
Prof. Amarasingam, who has been researching foreign fighters, said he had heard that Chowdhury had returned home to Bangladesh after complaining about being “harassed” by Canadian police and had subsequently emerged as a leader of the regional ISIL affiliate.
“Bengal is an important region for the Khalifah and the global jihad due to its strategic geographic position,” Al-Hanif said in his Dabiq interview, adding that “having a strong jihadi base in Bengal will facilitate performing guerrilla attacks inside India.”
The terrorist group aspired to “liberate the region,” starting with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Myanmar, he said, claiming the killings in Bangladesh had “brought hope to the Muslims in Bengal after a lengthy pause in jihad in the region.”
About 180 extremists have left Canada to take part in terrorism abroad, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said in March. Another 60 have returned to Canada and police have prevented dozens more from leaving.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale outlined his national security agenda in a blog post this week in which he said the government will soon be collecting basic passport information from those exiting Canada. “This fills a significant security loophole,” he said.
The Liberals had also made arrangements for “stronger co-operation on no-fly lists to deny air travel to those who pose serious risks to aviation security or are likely to travel abroad for the purpose of engaging in terrorism,” he wrote.
A national community outreach and engagement office was to be launched in the summer, he said. “Its purpose will be to develop and coordinate expertise in identifying those who could be vulnerable to the pressures and appeals of radicalization to violence, and to connect with them constructively in advance to head-off tragedies before they happen.”