Bangladesh’s Islamist landscape unexpectedly expanded with a reported resurgence of al-Qaeda-linked Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami-Bangladesh (HUJI-B—Movement of Islamic Holy War-Bangladesh) terrorist group, which has been lying dormant for over a decade. On October 2, Dhaka police arrested three senior HuJI-B operatives from the Khilgaon area of the capital city who were reportedly engaged in reviving HuJI-B’s operations in Bangladesh. The arrested were identified as Mohammad Atikullah, who is in charge of HuJI-B’s international relations, Nazim Uddin, secretary of HuJI-B’s Dhaka operation and Mohammad Borhanuddin, who is in charge of the HuJI-B’s Feni unit in Chittagong. The investigating agencies have initiated a countrywide search and sweep operation for an additional 30 or more HuJI-B members and sympathizers that came in contact with Mohammed Atikullah, who seems to be the leading financier. According to police, at least five of them are presently hiding in the capital Dhaka and the rest are in the Chittagong area.
Initial interrogation reports revealed that all three arrested operatives have combat experience from the Afghan-Soviet war, fighting alongside Taliban and al-Qaeda jihadist elements. Among these three arrestees, Mohammad Atikullah had multiple meetings with jihadist leaders in Afghanistan during the late 1990s. Atikullah, who is originally from Feni, Chittagong, reportedly returned to Bangladesh in 1998 after meeting Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar and al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden and began working in different Quami madrasas to spread HuJI-B’s grassroot network in Bangladesh. He was involved in establishing an Islamist charity named al-Ansar-Welfare Foundation before he fled to Dubai in 2006. He remained in Dubai for several years and returned to Bangladesh in March 2019. Upon his return Atikullah and two of his associates started meeting former HuJI-B’s underground cadres and the family members of imprisoned HuJI-B operatives, attempting to reorganize and revive HuJI-B’s operations in Bangladesh (Daily Star, October 3; Daily Star, October 5).
In early March, Dhaka metropolitan police stumbled upon criminal cases, like robbery, that exposed HuJI’s fundraising and gun running activities in the country. Despite the decade-long dormancy of HuJI-B, there have been signs of its covert existence in the country. The arrests of two HuJI leaders identified as Hafiz Ibrahim Ghazi and Mamunur Rashid, along with 12 members of a robbery gang in the capital’s Jatrabari and Rampura areas, exposed this resurgence to the public (BDNews24, March 5; BSS News, March 5).
HuJI-B’s Violent Past
Bangladesh’s history is replete with HuJI-B’s violent campaigns against the pro-democratic and secular Awami League (AL) political party and other civil society members. The leaders who have spearheaded the Sunni (Hanafi-Deobandi) militant movement in Bangladesh, such as Mufti Hannan, Sheikh Farid, and Maulana Abdus Salam guided both covert and overt actions of the group in Bangladesh and beyond, especially in neighboring Myanmar, where the HuJI-Arakan (named after present day Rakhine state, Myanmar) chapter was active for several years.
HuJI-B was blamed for a number of violent attacks primarily targeting AL political rallies and conspiracies to assassinate its leader Sheikh Hasina between 1999 and 2004. Under the leadership of Mufti Abdul Hannan, the HUJI-B on August 21, 2004 launched a grenade attack on Sheikh Hasina’s rally in Dhaka that claimed the lives of 24 AL party workers, including a senior women affairs secretary Ivy Rahman (Daily Star, August 22, 2004). Exactly three months before, on May 21, 2004, HuJI-B attempted to assassinate British High Commissioner to Bangladesh Anwar Choudhury at Hazrat Shahjalal Shrine in Sylhet. Though Choudhury escaped with minor injuries, at least three people were killed in the grenade blast at the historic shrine (Daily Star, May 22, 2004).
HuJI-B conducted two other major attacks, including a bombing in Ramna Batamul, Dhaka, in mid-April 2001 that targeted a Bengali New Year celebration, and an attack in March 1999 on a cultural function of Udichi in Jessore. The masterminds of these violent attacks were Mufti Abdul Hannan—then chief of HuJI-B—and his accomplices Sharif Alam Bipul and Delwar Hossain. They were executed in April 2017 (Dhaka Tribune, April 13, 2017).
HuJI-B was banned by the Bangladesh government in October 2005 and remains one of the most violent jihadist groups in Bangladesh’s history. HuJI-B is an independent affiliate of Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI), an early jihadist group with roots in Pakistan and Afghanistan. HUJI-B came into existence in April 1992 by war returnees of the Bangladeshi ‘Volunteer Mujahedeen Corps’ which took part in the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Infamously known as “Bengali Taliban”, HuJI-B is largely inspired by and follows the hardline Islamist ideology of al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. Its original objective was to establish Islamic rule in Bangladesh by waging jihad and killing pro-democratic forces and secular intellectuals. In fact, one of the widely known HuJI-B slogans explains its precise aim: “Amra Sobai Hobo Taliban, Bangla Hobe Afghanistan (We will all become Taliban and we will turn Bangladesh into Afghanistan). Much before HuJI-B was banned in Bangladesh, it morphed into Islami Dawat-e-Kafela in March 1999 to evade scrutiny. Again in 2004, HuJI-B changed its name to Islami Gan Andolon Bangladesh (IGA-B). HuJI-B, in all its formations, was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in February 2008 by the U.S. State Department. 
The recent arrests also signaled HuJI-B’s outreach towards Rohingya refugees. Without divulging details, the investigators revealed that the three arrested HuJI-B leaders have been trying to establish a network in the Rohingya camps using two charities as a front. The funding for these charities were allegedly coming from networks in the Middle East, including Dubai and Saudi Arabia (The Independent, October 4).
Evidently, the arrested HuJI-B leader Atikullah has been an ardent Rohingya sympathizer who reportedly went to Myanmar for training and participation in subversive activities. According to available media reports, he joined Rohingya groups in the early 1990s and is well-versed with the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh. With strongholds and training centers in and around Cox’s Bazar—now the location of the largest Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh—and Chittagong, HuJI-B worked closely with Rohingya solidarity groups such as Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO) in the past. The organization also shared operational space with other like-minded homegrown terror groups, such as Jamm’atul Mujahedeen Bangladesh (JMB), which is sympathetic toward Rohingyas as well. Evidently, HuJI-B worked in tandem with the HuJI’s-Arakan chapter and the now-defunct Rohingya Solidarity Organization, a Rohingya Muslim group based in Bangladesh.
HuJI-B’s expatriate leaders have tried several times in the past to revive the first jihadist group of Bangladesh with transnational linkages. In 2007 and 2010, Bangladesh-born UK citizen Golam Mostafa, also HuJI-B’s UK unit chief, unsuccessfully tried to reorganize the fledgling group in Bangladesh.
The latest attempt by Mohammed Atikullah and his cohorts can be seen as a fresh revival attempt by the existing jihadist network of the HuJI-B. This attempt to reorganize one of the first Islamist groups in Bangladesh surfaced at a time when the country is struggling to cope with a fresh wave of Islamic State (IS)-inspired threats and violence in the country that started again in late April 2019. Any resurgence of old and dormant militant groups such as HuJI-B in Bangladesh is likely to overburden the already hard-pressed security apparatus and change the jihadist progression in Bangladesh.