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Situation Update - Bangladesh

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Assassinations of Italian and Japanese nationals elevates security concerns. However, terrorism threat against foreigners remains unchanged.

 

Overview

Against the backdrop of continual political turbulence in Bangladesh, the state has witnessed and experienced a surge in Islamist violence this year, mainly targeting secular Bangladeshi activist bloggers in high-profile attacks. Over the past fortnight, however, the country's terrorism threat trained its sights on foreigners in two rare attacks that both ended fatally. The incidents have garnered greater international scrutiny on the threat as well as the state's ability to rein it in. Foreign governments have issued revised advisories and warnings to its respective citizens, while the international business community watches with more astute vigilance out of concerns over personnel safety, asset security, reputation and business continuity.

Several variables are known and presented below:

  • Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the killings of Italian Cesare Tavella in Dhaka (28 September) and Japanese national Kunio Hoshi (3 October).
  • Tavella was killed in a drive-by shooting involving three masked individuals in Gulshan, an area with a high concentration of foreigners and diplomatic missions making it a target-rich environment.
  • Hoshi was killed in a separate drive-by shooting involving three masked assailants in Rangpur district, approximately 335km north of Dhaka.
  • The British and Australian governments issued warnings regarding a heightened terrorism threat against foreigners prior to the Tavella assassination.
  • Foreign diplomatic missions have advised to exercise heightened vigilance and caution, as well as ask Dhaka to tighten security across the state, including expatriate enclaves.
  • The Bangladeshi government and Indian intelligence both refute IS claims of responsibility.
  • Local administrations throughout the country have been put on high alert and are canvassing the country in search of approximately 224,000 foreign residents.
  • Security forces and police have intensified search and arrest operations of suspected militants and known agitators.
  • The Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) force issued a red alert on the Benapole border for an indefinite period aimed at halting any terrorist infiltration and egress attempts.
  • At present, there are no reports of foreign governments and businesses withdrawing staff in response to these latest attacks.

Background

The assassinations of Tavella and Hoshi has dominated security reporting over the past fortnight, and there is very limited evidence upholding or refuting IS claims of responsibility. Dhaka and Delhi claim that the assassinations are linked to Jamaat-e-Islami (Jel) hardliners, who are trying to undermine the Awami League led government and derail war crimes trials of top-tier Jel members. There is merit to their arguments when examining the modus operandi. Both were killed in drive-by shootings, which deviates from previous IS executions of foreign captives. IS is widely known to execute by beheading and then the act is broadcast via social media to the public at large. Drive-by shootings of targets are common with smaller regional terrorist groups, as they are relatively easy to plan and present low risk to the attackers.

Nevertheless, both incidents are attracting a great deal of attention, but they have yet to significantly impact day-to-day operations and business continuity for foreign companies. Firms and organisations are likely to have elevated their respective security postures, enforcing tighter controls on movement and communications, as well as enhancing site security. Foreign governments have expressed cautious optimism or guarded confidence that Dhaka will be able to improve the situation, and the international business community likely have parallel sentiments.

Advice

Overall, this threat has yet to fully mature as there is still limited evidence definitively pointing to a known terrorist entity or collective and concerted activity against foreigners.

We would like to reiterate that given the available information and analysis, there is, at present, no significant changes to the terrorism threat against foreigners.

These two incidents, however, underscore the notion and practice of implementing commensurate risk treatment measures to ensure personnel safety, asset security and business continuity.