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Bangladesh: Terrorism, insecurity impacts economy of CHT

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Dhaka Tribune reported that tourism in Bandarban, a popular tourist destination has been disrupted for the last few months due to the armed activities of the separatist group Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) and operations by different security agencies to arrest its members.

200 hotels and resorts in the district have laid off their employees as a result of the joint operation by the security forces that began on October 17 against the KNF as well as Jama'atul Ansar Fil HindalSharqiya, a newly-emerged militant organization affiliated with the KNF.

Financial crises have gripped the families linked to more than 200 boats and 300 tourist jeeps (Chander Gari), and around 300 tourist guides in Thanchi and Ruma upazilas. Due to obstruction to jhum cultivation (slash and burn), the hill people are not being able to grow and collect their own food Dhaka Tribune reported

A profile of active terrorist groups in this belt is as given below-

Profile of Terrorist Groups in Bangladesh

In the past year or so new terrorist groups have emerged in Bangladesh six years after the complex Holey Bakery terrorist attack in Dhaka on 01 July 2016 which saw over 29 - 20 hostages including foreigners killed. Rapid Action Battalion and counter terror forces in Bangladesh cracked down on terrorists mainly the Jamait Mujahideen Bangladesh and Neo JMB and Ansar ul Islam also known as Ansar Bangladesh Team (ABT).

The strains of radicalism however has led to emergence of new organisations committed to terror -Islamic as well as ethnic secessionists. Importantly linkages between the two have been identified spreading from Dhaka to the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). Here is a review of the two groups Jama'atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya and the Kuki Chin National Front and their activities-

Jama'atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya

The Jamatul Ansar Fil HindalSharqiya [JAFHS] is formed by former members of three banned militant organizations: Ansar Al Islam, Neo-JMB, and Harkat-ul-Jihad. The group adopted name Jamaatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya or JAFHS in 2019. The leader of the organization (amir) is Anisur Rahman, also known as Mahmud. Abdullah Maimun is the head of the organization’s dawat, or preaching and recruiting section.

Masukur Rahman, also known as Ranbir, is the head of the military wing and a member of the group’s Shura, or decision-making body. On January 23, 2023, Ranbir was arrested in a raid by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in the Kutupalong Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar’s Ukhia. His associate, bomb expert Abu Bashar, was also arrested in the same raid.

The Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime unit of police claimed to have arrested Mohibullah alias "Bhola'r Shaikh (Shaikh of Bhola)", 48, the spiritual leader of the new militant outfit JAFHS in February as per the Daily Star. Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) also arrested 17 members of JAFHS and three members of Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) on February 7. Bangladesh Counter Terrorism units are concerned that terrorist groups will increase the level of attacks in the run up to the elections in the country slated for December.

The JAFHS has been active since 2017 and secretly recruiting members the activities were exposed in August 2022.

The Rapid Action Battalion, which has already arrested dozens of members of the outfit, including some top leaders, said 55 members of the outfit have taken training in the camps of KNF the armed group in the CHT, in the remote hills of Bandarban as per the Daily Star. There is increasing attention on the linkages between the Jamatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya and the KNF which have established bases in the CHT hill tracts and beyond where training was imparted to the cadres.

Kuki Chin National Front

Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) is an armed group which operates in the CHT. KNF formed in 2017 is in the limelight due to links with the JAFHS. The KNF aims at to establish a separate State within Bangladesh -- with nine upazilas, namely Baghaichari, Barkal, Belaichari and Jurachariupazilas of Rangamati hill district and Ruma, Thanchi, Alikadam and Rowangchhariupazilas under Bandarban as per the Daily Star.

KNF president, Nathan Bom is a master's degree from the Fine Arts Faculty of Dhaka University is also the founding president of Kuki-Chin National Development Organization (KNDO).

In a letter to the prime minister on December 8 in 2022, KNF President Nathan Bom urged the government to create a conducive atmosphere for a ceasefire and on modalities of disarmament and grant its demand for a Kuki-Chin State within and under the ambit of the Constitution.

KNF also maintains close ties with like-minded groups operating in Mizoram, Manipur in India, Rakhine State in Myanmar and the CHT. In Bangladesh, the group blames Jana Samhati Samity (JSS) for alleged persecution and discrimination and the Arakan Army for coordinated attacks. Other communities of the same tribe are the Mro, Lusai, Khumi, Khyang and Pangkhua ethnic groups of the CHT.

The rise of the KNF and its armed wing has raised concerns among the hill people as well as the government, as the three hill districts have long been troubled by conflicts and violent activities by other organizations. These groups are JSS (main and reformists), the United People's Democratic Front (UPDF – main and democratic) and the Mog Party. A member of the KNF was shot to death in an encounter with the Army in Rumaupazila of Bandarban district recently. The possibility of the Army undertaking operations to neutralize the KNF cannot be ruled out.

Further Dhaka Tribune reported that the group aims at establishing a separate State within Bangladesh -- with nine upazilas, namely Baghaichari, Barkal, Belaichari and Jurachariupazilas of Rangamati hill district and Ruma, Thanchi, Alikadam and Rowangchhariupazilas under Bandarban.

Consisting of young male and female members of the Bom community, the KNF maintains close ties with like-minded groups operating in Mizoram, Manipur, Rakhine State and the CHT Dhaka Tribune reported.

Other Terrorist Elements

CTTC arrested six suspected militants who, the unit claims, were inspired by the international terrorist outfit Al Qaeda. The CTTC claimed to have arrested Fakhrul Islam 58 years old, who had met Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar and joined Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (Huji-B) and till his arrest with the aim of reviving the outfit.

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