Why is self-radicalization a major threat?

by Nuruzzaman Labu

Akayed Ullah, a Bangladeshi emigrant to the United States who was arrested over a bombing attempt at Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York in early December, is said to have been a self-radicalized lone wolf and inspired by Islamic State ideology, according to experts. They said the pipe bomb used in the blast was made by him.

Monirul Islam, chief of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crimes (CTTC) unit, said: “Akayed carried out the blast after being self-radicalized. He used to follow extremist literature of Bangladeshi militant leader Jasimuddin Rahmani online.” Following the Manhattan blast, questions were raised in Bangladesh and beyond as to how supporters of extremism and militancy are increasingly becoming self-radicalized, why the tendency to become self-radicalized is more threatening, and why it is not being possible to prevent the militancy campaign by Jasimuddin.

The CTTC chief said the tendency to become self-radicalized is described as “lone wolf or lone actor terrorism.” “This tendency is much more threatening than other forms of terrorist acts. As information about self-radicalized individuals is not easily and plentifully available, it is sort of difficult to ward off their attempts.” According to security analysts, the nature of individuals’ involvement in militancy is constantly changing in parallel with the changing patterns of terrorist attacks all over the world.

In the past, people were seen being drawn into militancy with the support of their peers or others. Now, youths are becoming radicalized on their own. They stressed taking effective measures to prevent the youth from becoming self-radicalized. Experts say the internet overhauled the process of self-radicalization. Militants are active in the virtual world campaigning for their so-called jihads (armed struggles) with patchy, curtailed arguments from the Holy Quran and the Hadith. And youths who are supportive of extremism and follow these arguments online are at risk of being drawn into militancy.

Bangladeshi Jihadi Group
At least 24 Islamic books in pdf format are available on the Bangladeshi Jihadi Group website, which contain literature about what to do for a successful jihad and also arguments from the Quran and the Hadith in support of jihads. Several books written by Jasimuddin, too, contain provocative propaganda and instructions on militant activities and jihads. During an interrogation, Akayed’s wife Jannatul Ferdaous Jui said her husband used to listen to Jasimuddin’s speeches online and send their links to her, CTTC officials said.

Who is Jasimuddin Rahmani?
Jasimuddin, widely known as a spiritual leader of banned militant outfit Ansar al-Islam, is now behind bars after being sentenced to five years in prison in a case filed over the murder of secular blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider in 2013. Before his arrest in the case, he had served as an imam of Markaj Jame Mosque at Mohammadpur in Dhaka for quite a long time. Ansar al-Islam men apart, members of a new faction of Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (known as New JMB) and other militant groups used to listen to his sermons at the mosque that inspired them to execute militancy plans, CTTC officials said.

Counter-narrative strategy
A CTTC official said: “Many of those involved in spreading propaganda materials online were arrested. Also, we shut down many of their websites. But once a website is closed down, they open a new website outright to disseminate their message.” “In fact, it’s not possible to prevent anything from being spread on the internet. Militancy is an ideology to certain quarters, to fight which we need a counter-narrative strategy so youths do not go derailed and are not drawn into militancy.” Experts said the authorities will have to stop the spread of easily accessible radical content, or they need to launch a broad counter-narrative campaign. Failure to do this may contribute to increasing the risk of more people being self-radicalized, which in turn may result in more attacks by lone wolves or lone actors. When a youth reads a propaganda material online, he easily becomes interested to know more about jihads. Thus, they subsequently plot to sabotage on their own if they fail to reach out to militant groups. Also, they attempt to make bombs and explosive devises based on information available on radicals’ websites. A security analyst, preferring to be anonymous, said propaganda literature of international militant outfits is widely being translated into Bangla, and domestic outfits are purposefully translating the content. One may easily be drawn into militancy after reading them. It was found on different jihadi sites that top leaders of Islamic State and Al-Qaeda are delivering provocative lectures on acts of aggression by the United States and Israel towards the Muslims and calling on Muslim youths to get prepared for jihads. On the sites, one may easily access manuals on martial arts and on how to make bombs at home and dodge law enforcers.

Socio-political unrests to blame
Nur Khan Liton, a terrorism researcher and human rights campaigner based in Bangladesh, said: “Socio-political unrests are among the big challenges in developing countries like ours. As fears and a culture of impunity are prevailing in the society, young people may be drawn into militancy online. “They want idealistic politics, in absence of which they may easily be susceptible to religious extremism. And the crisis is looming large thanks to the prevalent socio-political instability in Bangladesh. “Self-radicalized people make their decisions individually, meaning he becomes radicalized by himself and then plot to commit sabotage. This is unpreventable. “Preventing the spread of extremist literature online is next to impossible. On the other hand, indiscriminate measures to contain them may violate our freedom of expression. Therefore, we need to focus on counter-narrative measures and continue ideological debates in social and political domains.”

This article was first published on Bangla Tribune

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