Wednesday, 4 May 2016

ISA detentions: 8 Bangladeshis plotting terror attacks held under Singapore's Internal Security Act

Members had target list, manuals for bombs, and had raised funds for attacks back home
By Zakir Hussain, Deputy News Editor (Politics), The Straits Times, 4 May 2016

Eight Bangladeshi workers who were planning to stage terror attacks back home have been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

The men, aged between 26 and 34, called their group the Islamic State in Bangladesh (ISB) and intended to join terror group ISIS as foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, the Ministry of Home Affairs said.

But as it was difficult to travel there, they focused on returning home to topple their government through violence, set up an Islamic State there, and bring it under the self-declared caliphate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

They were detained last month, in the first ISA detentions involving a terror cell of foreign workers.



Late last year, a closed religious study group of 27 radicalised Bangladeshi workers who held extremist material were arrested under the ISA and deported. Their deportations were announced in January.

As for the eight, the ministry said yesterday its investigations found that the men had specifically identified possible targets for attack back home at the time of their arrest.

They also had material on weapons and bomb-making, and raised funds to buy firearms for attacks in Bangladesh. A modest amount of money, which the authorities did not disclose, has also been seized.

The group's leader, Rahman Mizanur, 31, was an S-Pass holder in construction who set up ISB as a clandestine group in March this year.

He recruited the other seven, all work permit holders employed in the local construction and marine industries. They are: Mamun Leakot Ali, 29; Sohag Ibrahim, 27; Miah Rubel, 26; Zzaman Daulat, 34; Islam Shariful, 27; Md Jabath Kysar Haje Norul Islam Sowdagar, 30; and Sohel Hawlader Ismail Hawlader, 29.

According to ISB members, there are at least two more members in the group who are in Bangladesh.

"ISB poses a security concern to Singapore because of its support for ISIS and its readiness to resort to the use of violence overseas," the ministry said in a statement. "The detained ISB members are still under investigation for their activities in Singapore. Rahman Mizanur has said he would carry out an attack anywhere if he was instructed by ISIS to do so, though there are no specific indications that Singapore had as yet been selected as a target."

ISIS had, in social media posts and its magazine Dabiq last year, cited Singapore as a possible target.

Several of those detained may be liable for prosecution for terrorism financing, the ministry added.

The detentions come at a time of mounting concern that ISIS is gaining support in Bangladesh, which has recently seen radicals carrying out deadly attacks on minorities.

A document titled "We need for jihad fight" was recovered from Rahman Mizanur; it had a list of Bangladeshi government and military targets. Also on it were "media peoples" and "disbelievers".

He also possessed documents on weapons and bomb-making, as well as a significant amount of ISIS and Al-Qaeda radical material that he used to recruit ISB members in Singapore from January.

"The ISB members planned to recruit other Bangladeshi nationals working in Singapore to grow the group," the ministry said.



As part of this case, another five Bangladeshi workers were investigated under the ISA. Investigations showed they were not involved in ISB. But they "possessed and/or proliferated jihadi-related materials, or supported the use of armed violence in pursuit of a religious cause". All five were deported.

Bangladesh High Commissioner to Singapore Mahbub Uz Zaman yesterday urged his countrymen here to report their peers who may be radicalised.

He told The Straits Times that his government has a "zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism" and is "fully committed to cooperate" with the local authorities.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Maruf Hossain Sorder said the five Bangladeshis deported by Singapore several days ago were formally arrested in Dhaka yesterday.

"We are investigating any links (to terror groups). Investigations are going on," he said.

Additional reporting by Aw Cheng Wei and Nirmala Ganapathy










Terror cell 'unfazed' by earlier arrests
Bangladeshi began recruiting countrymen even as other radicals were held and deported
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 4 May 2016

Around the time that Singapore announced in January the arrest and deportation of 27 radicalised Bangladeshis under the Internal Security Act (ISA), S-Pass holder Rahman Mizanur, 31, came up with plans for an extremist group and began recruiting his countrymen.

By the time he was arrested some three months later, Rahman, who worked in construction, had reached out to at least 14 others.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced that eight Bangladeshis, including Rahman, had been detained under the ISA, while at least two more members of the group are in Bangladesh.

Another five have been deported.

That Rahman started the Islamic State in Bangladesh at a time when he would have been aware of strong security action shows how deeply radicalised and hardened he and those he roped in are, said senior analyst Jasminder Singh of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research.

"You would think that they would not undertake such an initiative after the earlier arrests, but it goes to show how driven and determined they are," said Mr Singh.

"The security of Singapore comes into question: What if they receive instructions to launch an attack on the Bangladeshi High Commission here?" he said.

The MHA said that while there were no specific indications that Singapore was a target of the group, Rahman had said he would carry out an attack "anywhere" if so instructed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Mr Singh added that, unlike the previous 27 men held and deported, this newer group appears to have been more organised and active.


The ministry said materials found in Rahman's possession included a document titled "We Need for Jihad Fight" that listed MPs, ministers, and media and military workers in Bangladesh as enemy targets.

That this "kill list" includes "disbelievers" and cites Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and atheists points to the influence of ISIS ideology, said S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies associate research fellow Iftekharul Bashar.

Mr Bashar, who is Bangladeshi, said local extremist and terror groups in Bangladesh have been "reinvigorated" by the rise of ISIS, and a growing number have bought into its idea of a global Islamic caliphate in recent years.

The country has also become more polarised and anti-secular in recent years. And while the Bangladeshi government denies that ISIS has a presence in the country, the latest issue of ISIS magazine Dabiq has a profile of a Bangladeshi fighter who died in Syria, and an interview with Abu Ibrahim al-Hanif, the "amir" or leader of ISIS in Bangladesh.

"That there is an amir means there is a leader and organisational structure," said Mr Singh. "They are in contact with ISIS central command, which importantly means funding, but also that cells have to follow their orders."

Observers note that affordable smartphones and Internet access have helped Bangladeshis abroad keep up with goings-on at home, but technology has also exposed a segment of the diaspora to extremist teachings and terror manuals.

"Online extremist material in Bengali has created an open and conducive space for the rapid indoctrination of the diaspora and formation of overseas cells," said Mr Bashar.

The Singapore authorities should consider blocking access to radical Bengali websites, he added.





ISIS TERRORIST IDEOLOGY STILL A SERIOUS THREAT

The recent arrests of another group of Bangladeshi workers show that ISIS and its terrorist ideology continue to pose a serious threat.

Our experience with Bangladeshi workers has been positive. Many volunteer their time and effort at our mosques together with other local volunteers. Mosques will continue to welcome Muslims of all backgrounds and nationalities to programmes and classes conducted by recognised religious teachers. Official Eid sermons prepared by Muis are translated into languages such as English, Tamil and Bengali, to help congregants appreciate a progressive and contextual understanding of Islam in Singapore.

Muis is partnering with the Singapore Bangladesh Society to explore further initiatives to support Bangladeshi workers in their socio-religious life and to integrate them into our local community.

Finally, Muis reiterates its call for the Singapore Muslim community to remain vigilant and not let any teachings that promote violence and extremism take root in our society.

- THE ISLAMIC RELIGIOUS COUNCIL OF SINGAPORE (MUIS), in a statement issued yesterday.






Employment agents required to give more info
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 4 May 2016

Employers hoping to hire workers from Bangladesh have had to wait a bit longer for their work permits to be approved.

Several employment agents told The Straits Times some additional particulars, such as names of parents and hometown details, have also been required in applications since late last year.

"We've been asked for more information about family background," said KF Employment Consultants owner Kent Ng.

In November and December last year, the Internal Security Department arrested 27 radicalised Bangladeshi workers.

After the detention of eight other Bangladeshis was announced yesterday, a Manpower Ministry spokesman said Bangladesh remains an approved source country, and it "assesses and approves work pass applications in consultation with relevant agencies".



Bangladesh is one of two main sources for workers in the construction, marine and process industries, and most agents doubt there will be a big drop in demand for its nationals as they sometimes command slightly lower salaries than workers from India.

Mr Ng said most Bangladeshi workers are seen as "very hard-working and good people".

But Mr David Leong of People Worldwide Consulting has seen a large drop in the number of applications for Bangladeshi workers in the past 12 months.

Some agentssaid they would be open to additional screening measures to detect potentially radicalised workers, but are unsure what form these could take.

Mr John Leow, an agent for 23 years, said educational messages could be shown at training centres in the source countries.

Some, like Mr G.H. Fong, are stepping up education, saying: "We do our best, but we can't do much to control the people they mix around with."

KSP Employment Agency founder Jacky Lee tells workers about dos and don'ts over Skype before they come here. He has also implemented a "psychological test" after doing online research.

He asks questions about pictures to flag those who might be easily influenced by others, and is still trying to refine the test.

"If a radicalised worker comes here, it's bad for everyone... It may make people look at Bangladeshis in a negative way, which is unfair to the other workers," he said.






ISA detentions: Bangladeshis must have zero tolerance for terror, says envoy in Singapore
By Aw Cheng Wei and Seah Kwang Peng, The Straits Times, 4 May 2016

The High Commissioner of Bangladesh to Singapore has urged his compatriots here to report their peers if they suspect them to be extremists.

"Bangladeshis have a responsibility and obligation to report radical behaviour. It is our duty to keep to the laws of the country that we are working and living in," said High Commissioner Mahbub Uz Zaman yesterday. Noting that "Dhaka has a zero tolerance policy towards terrorism", he said Bangladeshis here should not be afraid to speak up or approach the High Commission for help.

Mr Zaman gave the advice in an interview with The Straits Times, after news broke yesterday that eight radicalised men, who called their group the "Islamic State in Bangladesh", were detained under the Internal Security Act last month.

Five other Bangladeshis were repatriated after investigations found that they "possessed and/or proliferated jihadi-related materials, or supported the use of armed violence in pursuit of a religious cause", said the Ministry of Home Affairs yesterday.

One of the deported men, Rana Miah, had shown signs of radical religious behaviour a few years ago, said a Bengali newspaper that caters to the 160,000-strong Bangladeshi community here.

Rana had fought with other Bangladeshis as he tried to convince them to change their way of praying, the Banglar Kantha newspaper reported last Friday. He also believed it was permissible for them to eat turtles, a practice most Muslims frown upon.

Banglar Kantha editor AKM Mohsin said workers at Penjuru dormitory, where Rana was believed to be staying, had told him of the arrest made early last month.

Mr Mohsin said he often urged workers who show up at his community events, such as poetry weekends, to use music and art to express themselves. "They can also talk to each other about their problems in a safe space," he said.

For the last few years, Mr Zaman and other leaders of the Bangladeshi community here have been visiting dormitories twice a month. During the visits, they encourage workers to focus on their jobs and remind them that "they are not allowed to create unrest", said Mr Zaman.

Yesterday, others in the community condemned the radicalised men, and urged Singaporeans not to generalise about Bangladeshis here based on "the small group's behaviour".

Mr Mohd Shahiduzzaman, vice-president of the Bangladesh Business Chamber of Singapore, said: "Most workers here just want to earn more money so their families can have a better life back home."

This is true for construction worker Anisur Rahman, 28, who said: "I don't have time to think about getting involved with terrorists. I am too tired from working."

Another construction worker, Mr Hossain Akther, 32, said: "We come to Singapore to work and earn money, not make trouble."

Mr Zillur Rahman Siddiqui, chairman of the Singapore Bangladesh Society, said: "The radicalised men are not representative of our peace-loving, hard-working community. We hope that Singaporeans will not discriminate against us."

Agreeing, Geylang Serai Citizens Consultative Committee chairman Eric Wong encouraged Singaporeans "to keep an open mind" as radicals cut across religion, age, gender and race. Foreigners and locals "have to work together as a team to look out for irregularities (in our society)", he said.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh will beef up its screening process to make sure that incoming workers "are good people", said Mr Zaman, who added that the Bangladeshi police have also been informed to conduct checks on suspected extremists.

"We are fully cooperating with the security agencies here and have been providing information to the authorities," he said.





ISA detentions: Rising concern in Bangladesh over spread of radical ideology
Analysts see new trend in targets of recent killings; govt denies presence of ISIS or Al-Qaeda in the country
By Nirmala Ganapathy, India Bureau Chief In New Delhi, The Straits Times, 4 May 2016

Concerns are growing about the spread of radical ideology and fundamentalism in mainly Muslim Bangladesh following a spate of recent killings by extremist groups, some of which have claimed links to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda.

In the past three weeks alone, Hindu tailor Nikhil Joarder and Mr Xulhaz Mannan, the editor of a magazine for the transgender community, were hacked to death by machete-wielding assailants in separate incidents.

Their deaths came just days after 58-year-old English professor Rezaul Karim Siddique was similarly hacked to death while walking to a bus station near his house.



A Muslim-majority country of 160 million people, Bangladesh has witnessed secular writers, bloggers, publishers, religious minorities and foreign nationals being increasingly targeted by radical elements over the past three years.

Police were yesterday reported to be investigating a new hit list that included the head of a university, journalists and ruling party officials.

Separately, reports emerged that police were investigating a bomb attack on the home of a Christian family that left two people injured.

There is a new trend in attacks related to the targets, according to security analysts.

"A mixture of intelligentsia, activists and priests are being targeted. We have seen that the selection of targets has expanded. The common thread of all these attacks, it seems, is to create conditions for regime change," security analyst Md Abdur Rashid, executive director of the Institute of Conflict, Law and Development Studies in Dhaka, told The Straits Times.

The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has thus far denied the presence of ISIS or Al-Qaeda in the country, and instead blamed local terrorists and politicians for supporting far-right groups fingered for the killings.

Ms Hasina, in the wake of the death of the gay rights activist, blamed the murders on the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, or BNP, and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami, saying they have "been engaged in such secret and heinous murders to destabilise the country".

"Everybody knows who were behind such killings," she said in televised remarks last week.

But Reuters news agency, citing international human rights groups, has said the climate of intolerance in Bangladeshi politics has both motivated and provided cover for perpetrators of the attacks.

The opposition boycotted the last election in 2014 and two opposition leaders were hanged last November for war crimes committed during the fight for independence in 1971. The hangings provoked widespread anger among far-right and radical elements, who accused the government of a politically motivated campaign.

Experts say it is difficult to judge the influence of ISIS in Bangladesh.

"It is hard to say for certain if ISIS is truly operating in Bangladesh," said Mr Faiz Sobhan, a research director at the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute.

He said there was the likelihood of ISIS sympathisers but, thus far, no evidence has been uncovered of ISIS leaders in Iraq or Syria calling the shots in Bangladesh.

"Evidently, local extremist groups, reportedly belonging to JMB (Jama'at ul Mujahideen Bangladesh), are undertaking the string of violent attacks against various minority groups and some foreigners using the ISIS name," he added.

Many observers believe the aim of the militants is to sow panic in the country, and say the government should do more to deal with the problem.

"The government seems much more obsessed with cracking down on political opposition than on ensuring that criminals with machetes stop axing down those (who) don't agree with an extremist view of Islam," Ms Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying.









Shanmugam: Terror threat real, Singapore must stay alert
Terror cell here, recent attacks in Jakarta and Paris show threat is serious and here to stay
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 5 May 2016

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday that the discovery of a terror cell here is a strong signal that Singapore cannot let its guard down.

Singapore could well have been one of the group's targets, he noted.

"They were prepared to attack anywhere," he said. "If they had been directed to attack in Singapore, they would have attacked in Singapore."

His comments come a day after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced that eight Bangladeshi workers were detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) late last month for plotting terror attacks back in their country.

The men had called their group Islamic State in Bangladesh (ISB), and had a list of targets and bomb-making manuals, and raised funds to buy firearms. Mr Shanmugam said: "You and I don't go in search of these things and collect money, identify people you are going to target, so there is concern."

Speaking to reporters yesterday before a closed-door forum on religious extremism at Temasek Polytechnic, he noted that the latest arrests, along with recent attacks in Paris and Jakarta, showed the terror threat is serious and that it is here to stay.

There are at least two more ISB members in Bangladesh. Mr Shanmugam said the fate of those men depended on the Bangladeshi authorities, adding that the Government was cooperating with them.


All had worked here for between three and 10 years, and when they first came to work, were not known to be radicalised or involved in terrorism-related activities.

The group's leader, Rahman Mizanur, 31, worked as a draftsman in a local construction firm, and had worked on and off in Singapore since 2007. He returned here last December, and there was no information to suggest that he had radicalised views.

MHA also named the five other Bangladeshi nationals picked up in the case. They were not involved in ISB, but owned or spread jihadi-related materials, or promoted armed violence. All five have been deported, and arrested in Dhaka. They are: Evan Galib Hassan Chowdhury, Rana Masud, Pailot Md Rana Miea, Islam Tanjemul and Alomgir Md.

MHA said the ISB members had met largely in open parks or fields.

They are still under investigation, and are not known to have acted on plans to buy firearms yet, it added.

"Several of them are liable to be prosecuted for terrorism financing. Investigations are still ongoing and we are not able to comment further on this matter," the ministry said.

The ISB is the first group comprising all foreigners to be detained under the ISA for terrorism-related activities in Singapore.

There are 23 people currently detained under the ISA for terror activities. The other 15 are Singaporeans.

MHA stressed that there was "no indication" that these ISB members were also part of the group of 27 Bangladeshi men arrested last year, all of whom have been deported.

Efforts to reach out to foreign workers have also been stepped up.

Yesterday, Mr Shanmugam rebutted comments from Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan, who told reporters in the morning that the arrests showed a need to tighten immigration policy.

Asking Dr Chee to clarify his position, Mr Shanmugam said Singaporeans would be affected if foreign workers were barred.

"These are serious matters, security issues. They require careful consideration, proper thought and I think, really, we should all just avoid taking cheap shots and political opportunism," he said.












Chee Soon Juan told to clarify his position on immigration
By Lim Yan Liang and Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 5 May 2016

Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan yesterday said Singapore's immigration policy has to be tightened in the light of the discovery of a cell of radical Bangladeshi workers, and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam has asked him to clarify his position.

Dr Chee's comments to reporters came a day after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced that eight Bangladeshi workers had been detained for plotting violent attacks back in their country.

"We need to pay a lot more attention on people who come to our shores," he said in response to questions from reporters in Bukit Batok, where he is up against People's Action Party (PAP) candidate Murali Pillai in a by-election this Saturday.

"You let in hundreds of thousands, millions, you've got to be asking yourself, there must be people there who are not properly vetted," he added.

The men have been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for detention without trial for two years in the first instance, and is a law Dr Chee and the SDP have spoken against.

Dr Chee did not respond directly to questions on whether the ISA was needed and whether he felt it should be abolished, a position SDP holds, saying the case had "nothing to do" with it and "everything to do with immigration policy".

"Let's get at the root cause of the problem, that is where we need to stop this problem, before something really untoward happens here in Singapore," he said.

"The only way you can do this is when I get into Parliament. We will make sure that we raise this with the Home Affairs Minister, and ask him, give us the lowdown on who's coming into Singapore," he added.



Asked by reporters for his reply, Mr Shanmugam said Dr Chee's comments suggest a lack of understanding of the nature of the problem.

The minister pointed out that some 1,000 people from Indonesia and Malaysia have gone to fight in the Middle East, and hundreds of radicalised individuals have been arrested globally and in this region, including Singaporeans in Singapore.

"So what does Dr Chee suggest? That we say no to all foreign workers? Or we say no to all foreign workers who are Muslim? I think he should clarify," he said.

He pointed out that there were "tens of thousands of Bangladeshi workers" here who work in construction and as cleaners in the town councils.

"So what do we do? Send them all back? Who is going to do their jobs? And also in the construction sector, (if) you send them back, who suffers? Singaporeans will lose their jobs too," said Mr Shanmugam.

He also said that after the terror attacks in Paris and Jakarta and the latest arrests, it was odd to still want to abolish the ISA, which allows for detention without trial for a period of up to two years at a time.

Security matters, he added, "require careful consideration, proper thought and we should all just avoid taking cheap shots at political opportunism".





Workers not sure how to spot radicals; community leaders to raise awareness
By Aw Cheng Wei and Ng Keng Gene, The Straits Times, 5 May 2016

Their High Commissioner has asked them to sound the alert if they suspect extremists are in their midst. But do not expect many Bangladeshi workers to do that just yet.

Some claimed they would not know how to spot a radical. Others candidly admitted they would be uncomfortable getting their compatriots into trouble, and feared they would be implicated themselves.

But community leaders said they will try to raise awareness of the importance of vigilance, as the discovery of a second group of radicalised Bangladeshis in the space of six months threatens to tarnish the image of their countrymen.

"We will work harder to talk to them. It is important we fight this as a community," said Mr Mohd Shahiduzzaman, president of the Singapore Bangladesh Society.

After news broke on Tuesday that eight members of the group Islamic State in Bangladesh had been detained under the Internal Security Act, Bangladesh High Commissioner to Singapore Mahbub Uz Zaman said his countrymen have a duty to report radical behaviour.

Five other Bangladeshis were deported, and possessed or had spread radical material.

Sentiments like that of construction worker Shahidul Islam, 30, were common. "I don't want my friends to get into trouble," he said.

Said his colleague Sabir Ahmed, 30: "I am not sure if they are extremists or just very religious. If I do not feel comfortable, I will move away."

Like most of the 30 workers The Straits Times spoke to yesterday, Mr Sabir said his boss had already warned them not to get tangled up with radicalism after it was reported in January that 27 Bangladeshi workers were deported for radical activity. Many feel their companies and dormitories are already keeping a lookout for radical behaviour.

The Ministry of Home Affairs said yesterday that dormitory operators had been advised to engage foreign workers living in their quarters after last year's arrests of the 27 men.

"Efforts to reach out to and engage the foreign worker population in Singapore are ongoing," it said.

That message appears to have sunk in. Said shipyard worker Tepu Sultan, 23: "My manager said that we come here to work and earn money, so why would we want to join terrorists? Better to just work."

Added construction worker Yousuf, 30: "Sometimes, I work night shifts and my friends work in the day. It is hard for me to tell if they pray differently from me."

But an approachable boss helps. Said shipyard worker Alauddin, 33: "My boss is good, he warns us often about causing trouble. Of course, I will tell boss if something is fishy."

Migrant Workers' Centre chairman Yeo Guat Kwang said the centre will engage and advise workers "to be vigilant against threats to our peace and security".

"(Bosses should also) orientate all new workers on the value we place on our peace and security, and the importance of social cohesion," he added.





Plotters' naive fantasies will end up punishing honest migrant labour
By Zia Hassan, Published The Straits Times, 7 May 2016

Bangladesh's readers woke up to a story of a few of its migrant labourers arrested over an alleged terror plot. The news came from Singapore, a country known in Bangladesh as a role model of prosperity and for its peace-loving people.

The news reported that the group was found with a document titled Target Of Enimies Forces Need To Kill. The spelling mistake was in the original. This so-called "hit list" contained every Bangladeshi agency, excluding the army. The list surprisingly started with Border Guard Bangladesh and then Rapid Action Battalion, the Bangladesh navy, and air force.

Number four on the list reads CID, which the plotters de-abbreviated as "Civil Information Defence". This misnomer is an ignorance of the highest order because all Bangladeshis know that CID stands for Criminal Investigation Department, one of the oldest units of the Bangladesh police. The very strange combination of unlikely targets and data errors on this list is leading to some in Bangladesh to consider a conspiracy theory - that these men were set up by a foreign intelligence agency.

Singapore is a global trading hub that is run by a professional, incorruptible and meritocratic government. The administration is pro-business and is free of ideological bias.

Therefore, the news of Bangladeshi labourers being arrested there will have an extremely adverse effect on the recruitment of Bangladeshi labour around the globe. Countries will now be wary of inviting Bangladeshi labourers for the fear of terror.

But a country of 160 million people needs migrant labour income for the strength and stability of its economy. Last year, the World Bank recategorised Bangladesh from "lower income" to "lower-middle income country", based on per capita income of US$1,314 (S$1,785). Money earned abroad and sent back to Bangladesh by migrant labour was the second-largest pillar of this success story.

Each year, 400,000 Bangladeshis migrate for temporary work overseas, and usually return home within five to 10 years. During their time abroad, they live in minimal conditions and send all earnings home. Last year, garment exports earned US$26 billion for Bangladesh, while remittance sent home by migrant labour was US$15 billion.

Singapore will feel concerned about the "radicalisation" of migrant labourers, but as an observer of Bangladeshi politics, this group appears to me as nothing more than a bunch of fantasy seekers. After reading the news, I could not figure out which stereotype I should use to categorise a group that "plots" to target the air force and navy of the nation.

Bangladeshi politics is currently contentious mainly due to the current Awami League government holding on to power through a controversial 2014 election that was boycotted by the main opposition political parties. Given where the current political fractures are, any group targeting the Bangladeshi navy or air force, of all organisations, has some basic flaws in understanding who controls Bangladeshi politics.

No serious terror organisation would make the CID a target - that is too unimportant an organisation within our power structure.

These so-called plotters, who appear rather naive, would not meet the standards to be Al-Qaeda or Islamic State in Iraq and Syria operatives. The leading newspaper Prothom Alo reported that the police were unsure if the 27 Bangladeshis Singapore deported in January were engaged in terror-related activity.

But whatever it may be, the irresponsibility of these labourers is reprehensible. Their fantasies, and resultant arrests, may lead to a dramatic scaling back of Bangladeshi migrant workers' access to overseas labour markets. These migrant labourers not only build the economy of Bangladesh but also the world's. Singapore could not be the success it is today without the contribution of thousands of Bangladeshi migrant labourers over the decades.

As a result of the arrest of these fantasy-soaked "plotters", millions of poor, honest, hard-working and low-wage workers would lose the opportunity to work in foreign countries. That is the real price Bangladesh will pay in future for the folly of a few individuals.

Zia Hassan is a Bangladeshi blogger, whose essays have been published in Al Jazeera and The Hindu.






How Islamic State in Bangladesh began
Radicalised worker recruited countrymen here with help of material linked to terror groups
By Zakir Hussain, Deputy News Editor (Politics), The Straits Times, 5 May 2016

Nine years ago, Rahman Mizanur arrived in Singapore to work.

The Bangladesh national worked here on and off, and last returned here in December last year.

He was a draftsman in a local construction company, on an S Pass.

Significantly, the 31-year-old had also become deeply radicalised.

A month after he arrived, he began recruiting followers among his countrymen working here, with the help of material linked to terror groups Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda.

By March, he had set up a clandestine group called Islamic State in Bangladesh (ISB). The group had an organisation structure with specific roles for its members: leader, deputy leader, and persons in charge of duties like finance, the Home Affairs Ministry said yesterday.

They had a target list that included Bangladeshi government and military officials.

Later that month and in early April, Rahman and seven of his cell members were arrested under Singapore's Internal Security Act.

The ministry said each of the men had worked in Singapore for cumulative periods of between three and 10 years. They were employed in the construction and marine sectors, and were not known to be radicalised when they first arrived here.

Investigations by the Internal Security Department found that Rahman's radicalisation began around 2013, when he read radical material online. ISIS had yet to be declared, but a wave of radicalisation was sweeping through societies like Bangladesh, influencing a minority of individuals like himself.

It likely made him more susceptible to becoming radicalised when a fellow Bangladeshi shared ISIS propaganda material with him on his return home last year.

By then, ISIS had attracted some 30,000 foreign fighters to its ranks and inspired brutal terror attacks in France, Turkey, Belgium and elsewhere. ISIS had also produced propaganda material in various languages to convince Muslims that it is their duty to take up arms and fight for its self-declared caliphate.

The ISB members bought the idea and had intended to join ISIS as foreign fighters. But they turned their sights on Bangladesh as they felt it would be difficult to travel to Syria.

Taking issue with the fact that their country's government was democratically elected, they wanted to overthrow it with force and set up an Islamic state under ISIS' yoke.

The ISB members contributed money for buying firearms. But they had yet to act on their plans to procure them, the ministry said.

They were probably mindful that the authorities and wider community would be more watchful after the arrest and deportation of 27 radicalised Bangladeshi workers were announced in January this year.

Hence, they met largely in open parks or fields to share radical propaganda and videos, which deepened the radicalism of members.

At least two more ISB members are in Bangladesh, and Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters yesterday that Singapore is in close contact with the authorities in Dhaka.

While the ISB's meetings have been disrupted, concerns remain whether there are more radicalised individuals yet to be found out.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said: "This is not an issue about foreign workers, or about Islam. It is about a minority of people who have chosen to distort religion, spread their own extremist ideology, and use terror and violence to achieve their goals."

Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam added that while people should be vigilant, "we should not paint all the Bangladeshis with the same brush".

"Some may be disgruntled with issues back home but the majority here are law-abiding and want to earn an honest living. They contribute to the development of our infrastructure and economy," she said.

Ms Rahayu suggested working more closely with such communities to get them to "also be our eyes and ears on the ground, to look out for potential threats".





* Six Bangladeshis charged with financing terrorism
They are among eight men detained under ISA for planning attacks in their home country
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 28 May 2016

Six Bangladeshi workers detained last month under the Internal Security Act (ISA) were charged yesterday with financing terrorism.

The six, aged 26 to 34, were among eight men arrested between late March and early last month. Calling themselves the Islamic State in Bangladesh (ISB), they were planning attacks back home in hopes of toppling their government.

Their goal was to set up an Islamic state back home and bring it under the self-declared caliphate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Yesterday, the six men were charged with providing or collecting money for terrorism under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act (TSOFA) - this is the first time the Act has been used for prosecution.

The six, who worked in the construction or marine industries, are Rahman Mizanur, 31; Mamun Leakot Ali, 29; Miah Rubel, 26; Zzaman Daulat, 34; Md Jabath Kysar Haje Norul Islam Sowdagar, 31; and Sohel Hawlader Ismail Hawlader, 29.

They were taken to court just before 2pm yesterday, in three armoured trucks, under heavy armed escort. The remaining two men are still serving their two-year detention orders under the ISA.

Rahman - who was identified by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) as the group's ringleader - had allegedly invited others to contribute to the cause. Court documents show that he had collected $1,000, at locations such as Boon Lay Park and Woodlands Waterfront Park. ISB had intended to use the money to buy firearms for attacks back home.

MHA said ISB had identified possible attack targets in Bangladesh, and possessed documents on weapons and bomb-making.

Two of the six - Miah and Jabath - were also charged with possession of money for terrorist purposes under the same Act.

Court documents show that Jabath was in possession of $1,360 - the highest amount among the group. Miah was charged with possessing $1,000. The six had contributed sums of $60 to $500.

Except for Mamun, all the accused told the court that they intend to plead guilty. They are expected to do so at a court hearing on Tuesday.

A pre-trial conference for Mamun, who denies giving money to ISB, has been set for June 9.

If found guilty, the men can be fined up to $500,000, or jailed for up to 10 years, or both.

The TSOFA is one of several pieces of legislation passed in 2002, in the wake of the Sept 11 attacks in the United States and the foiled Jemaah Islamiah plot in Singapore, both in 2001.

A police spokesman said Singapore takes a "serious view of any support for terrorism-related activities, including terrorism financing".

"The authorities will take firm and decisive action against any person who provides, collects and/or possesses property, for terrorist purposes."








6 Bangladeshis charged with financing terrorism taken to court amid tight security
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 28 May 2016

Just before 2pm yesterday, a convoy of three armoured trucks turned off Havelock Road and rumbled into the State Courts building.

With motorcycle outriders, police cars and armed Gurkha guards in tow, the six Bangladeshi men charged with financing terrorism arrived at the courthouse.

The suspects are the first to be charged under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act since it was passed in 2002.

They were among eight Bangladeshi men, who called themselves the "Islamic State in Bangladesh", arrested between late March and early last month.

In Court 26 yesterday, each man emerged in public for the first time since being detained.

In that time, they have been investigated by the Commercial Affairs Department. Now they are clean-shaven, without the beards that they had in the pictures previously released to the media.

Dressed in purple garb, with the word "Detainee" emblazoned across their chests, each man was cuffed and shackled, and accompanied by at least a pair of Gurkha officers in the dock. They were taken out in pairs, and the charges were read to them in Bengali.

One by one, the men - who showed no discernible emotion - told the court that they intend to plead guilty. The only exception was Mamun Leakot Ali, 29, the last to be charged. He cocked his head to the side as the charges were read to him. He stood accused of contributing $500 and collecting funds of $300 for terrorist acts. He denied contributing money to the Islamic State in Bangladesh.

Court documents show the money handled by the six men changed hands in places such as Jurong Shipyard, Woodlands Waterfront Park and Boon Lay Park.

Mamun will appear in court on June 9 for a pre-trial conference. The other five are expected to plead guilty at a court hearing on Tuesday.





4 Bangladeshis admit to financing terrorism
The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2016

Four Bangladeshi workers detained in April under the Internal Security Act were yesterday convicted of financing terrorism.

Rahman Mizanur, 31, Miah Rubel, 26, Md Jabath Kysar Haje Norul Islam Sowdagar, 31, and Sohel Hawlader Ismail Hawlader, 29, pleaded guilty yesterday. They were charged last Friday with providing or collecting money to fund terrorist acts in Bangladesh.

Miah and Jabath were also accused of possessing money for these terrorist purposes.

The four were part of a group of six charged under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act, the first time the Act has been used for prosecution.

The remaining two men from the group - Zzaman Daulat, 34, and Mamun Leakot Ali, 29 - have denied the financing terrorism charges. A pre-trial conference for them has been set for June 9.

The six were among eight men arrested between late March and early April. Working in the marine and construction industries, they called themselves the Islamic State in Bangladesh. They were planning attacks back home in hopes of toppling their government and bringing Bangladesh under the self-declared caliphate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The prosecution sought a three-week adjournment to prepare submissions for sentencing. The four men are expected to be sentenced on June 21.

Terror group formed during void deck meeting






Four Bangladeshis convicted of financing terrorism; court hears how group took shape over several meetings
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2016

It was at a void deck in Sembawang that the group which came to be known as the Islamic State in Bangladesh (ISB) began in January.

Its leader, Bangladeshi draftsman Rahman Mizanur, 31, met three of his countrymen - Miah Rubel, 26; Zzaman Daulat, 34; and Sohag Ibrahim, 27 - and discussed the arrests late last year of 27 of their compatriots who were found to be radicalised. Were there any other militant groups here, Rahman asked. It was not known what the replies were.

The four then swore an oath to follow Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi until their deaths.

This account was read to the court yesterday shortly before Rahman, who stood cuffed and shackled in the dock, was convicted of financing terrorism.

He was among four Bangladeshi workers convicted yesterday - the others are Miah; Md Jabath Kysar Haje Norul Islam Sowdagar, 31; and Sohel Hawlader Ismail Hawlader, 29. They had earlier pleaded guilty.

They were part of a group of six Bangladeshis charged last Friday under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act, for providing or collecting money to fund terrorist acts in their home country.

Miah and Jabath were also accused of possessing money for these terrorist purposes.

The remaining two men - Zzaman Daulat, 34, and Mamun Leakot Ali, 29 - have denied the charges. A pre-trial conference for them has been set for June 9.


The six men are part of a group of eight workers in the construction and marine industries detained under the Internal Security Act in April. The other detainees are Sohag and Islam Shariful, 27.

The court heard yesterday that Rahman was radicalised in Bangladesh last April, after meeting a man there - identified as Jahangir Alam - who gave him ISIS-related documents. Rahman's dream was to be an ISIS fighter, but he failed thrice to get a visa to travel to Turkey and Algeria. He then came to Singapore to work last December.

After the January meeting in Sembawang, there were six more meetings before Rahman was arrested on March 29, the court heard.

During these meetings, the ISB took shape and other members were recruited - including Hossain Shamim, who has since left Singapore and not been arrested.

The court heard that the men wanted to wage "an armed jihad", and to find and kill non-believers when they returned to Bangladesh.

They drew up a list of targets - including the police, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists - and agreed to begin in Bangladesh's northern Panchagarh district.

Money was needed to buy food, firearms and knives for the campaign, so the members agreed they would give part of their salary to the cause, said the prosecution.

To avoid detection, Rahman discussed using fake names at a March meeting, and shared a five-page document on counter-surveillance methods, court documents showed.

Each man had a clear role. They were led by Rahman, with Mamun as the group's deputy leader. Miah was in the financial council, while Sohag handled its legal matters.

Jabath and Islam were both in the media council, while Zzaman and Sohel were in the group's security and fighter councils respectively.

Court documents also showed that ISB had raised $1,360.

Yesterday, the prosecution sought a three-week adjournment to prepare submissions for sentencing, adding that it would be pressing for a deterrent sentence.

The four convicted men will next appear in court on June 21.

The prosecution said the six accused, who are unrepresented, did not say if they wanted legal counsel.





* Four Bangladeshi workers jailed for financing terror
Among eight held under ISA, they had raised money here to fund terror acts in Bangladesh
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 13 Jul 2016

Four Bangladeshi workers who raised money here to fund acts of terror in their homeland were yesterday jailed for two to five years.

The first to be convicted under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act, they arrived at the State Courts in armoured trucks. Bound and shackled in court, they were flanked by 11 Gurkha officers.

District Judge Kessler Soh said any act of terrorism had to be condemned, to deter those "embarking on such nefarious acts".

Ringleader Rahman Mizanur, 31, got the heaviest sentence of five years' jail. Prosecutors pointed out that it was he who recruited the others and started the Islamic State in Bangladesh (ISB), a pro-Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

Miah Rubel, 26, and Md Jabath Kysar Haje Norul Islam Sowdagar, 31, who acted as the group's treasurers, received 21/2 years' jail.

Sohel Hawlader Ismail Hawlader, 29, who donated $300 to the cause, was given two years' jail.

All four are among eight Bangladeshis who were given two-year detention orders under the Internal Security Act in April for allegedly forming and financing the ISB.



Of the other four, Sohag Ibrahim and Islam Shariful, both 27, remain in detention, while Zzaman Daulat, 34, and Mamun Leakot Ali, 29, have claimed trial.

The four jailed yesterday had raised a total of $1,360 to finance the ISB.

While the sum is not large, it is significant relative to the salaries of the men, who earned between $900 and $1,800 each month, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Nicholas Khoo.

The prosecution pointed to recent terrorist attacks in Bangladesh to highlight how inexpensive weapons such as machetes and fertiliser fuel bombs can cause much havoc.

By plotting to commit terror acts such as the killing of Hindus, Christians and Buddhists back home, the four jailed yesterday had struck at the "very heart of Singapore's religious harmony", said DPP Khoo, who called for severe deterrence.

He argued that those who try to fund terrorism should never think that the worst they will face is repatriation to their country. Last year, Singapore deported 27 Bangladeshis for terror activities.

All four men asked for leniency, saying they were very sorry and would not commit the crimes again.

Rahman addressed the court directly, while the others spoke through an interpreter.

Explaining in halting English how he got radicalised, Rahman said: "I wanted to learn more about my religion... My friends and the media, they show me the wrong way. This is my very big mistake."

Apologising for his crimes, he asked for a second chance so he could go home to his wife and two children.

The ISB had been planning attacks back home in the hope of toppling the government and bringing Bangladesh under the self-declared caliphate of ISIS.

The group had a list of targets and bomb-making manuals, and was raising funds to buy firearms.

The sentences of the four men will be backdated to May 27, when they were charged.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, in response to queries from The Straits Times, said it will assess whether the detention orders for these men will still be necessary.

"We will not comment on where they will be serving their sentences," it said.





** Two foreign workers get jail for terror funding

They were part of a group called the Islamic State in Bangladesh; 4 others jailed last month
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 31 Aug 2016

Two Bangladeshi workers detained in April under the Internal Security Act were yesterday jailed for financing terrorism.

Mamun Leakot Ali, 30, was given 21/2 years, while Zzaman Daulat, 34, will face two years behind bars.

Both were part of a group of six workers charged under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act in May.


Calling for deterrent sentences, DPP Nicholas Khoo said the two men could have thought the worst punishment they would face for their actions would be repatriation, but the courts needed to send a message that such crimes would be "roundly condemned".

He added that "great violence can be perpetrated with relatively small amounts of money".



The men were part of a group called the Islamic State in Bangladesh (ISB). The duo had provided between $200 and $500 to fund terrorist attacks in their home country.

Both men had initially claimed trial, but yesterday, they pleaded guilty and asked the court for leniency.

Lawyers Noor Marican and Ramesh Tiwary represented both men for free. Their other four compatriots had pleaded guilty earlier and were jailed between two and five years last month.

The court heard that Mamun was the ISB's deputy leader while Zzaman was in the group's security council.

The ISB's goal was to topple the Bangladesh government, set up an Islamic state and bring it under the self-declared caliphate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The authorities had found in their possession a list of targets in Bangladesh and bomb-making manuals.

Mr Marican told the court both his clients were deeply apologetic to the people of Singapore for causing fear and harm. He added that they were now "deeply ashamed" for bringing disrepute to Islam.

Speaking for both men, Mr Marican said: "He is a Muslim, he believes in Islam and he realises that these are not teachings of his religion... It is not the way of Islam."

In passing sentence, District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt said any act in support of terrorism must be "sufficiently deterred".


"For the safety and security of their home country and that of the wider international community, I hope that they truly realise that they have been misguided and will shed their extreme ideology."

Their sentences will be backdated to May 27, when they were first charged in court.




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