The heinous attack at the Holey Artisan restaurant on 1 July marked as a new dimension of terrorists’ inroad on unarmed civilians. The crisis started around 8:45pm that night at renowned restaurant on Road No-79 near Gulshan-2. Six attackers entered the restaurant armed with bombs and guns, and one attacker also had a sword. They opened fire indiscriminately and detonated several of the bombs. They raided the cafe that is popular with foreigners. With around 20-22 guests, including foreigners, trapped inside, police moved in soon. But they pulled back after two officers – DB’s Assistant Commissioner Rabiul Islam and Banani police OC Salahuddin – were killed in the first exchange of fire. Their assassinating twenty civilians killed, including nine Italians, Japanese, Indians and a U.S. citizen. Italians are related to metro rail service project in Bangladesh. Islamic State said it was responsible for the attack.
It has proved that terrorists have ability to carry deadly weapons in a vehicle driven through the main street in Gulshan Diplomatic Area passing through several police check posts and storming the restaurant. The perpetrators have proved that they are outsmart members than law enforcing agencies and they can strike a target at a time of their choice and police can do very little to thwart their attempt.
During the past two years extremists resorted to selective assassinations. More than 60 people including secular writers and bloggers, professors, members of religious minorities and two foreigners – have been killed in attacks blamed on Islamist militants since 2013. The bloggers who have had written prejudicial to the fundamentals of religion those who have published the writings of cherished beliefs for these initial attacks. They were killed in their offices or apartments located in crowded areas but the murderers escaped unchallenged. A professor at the Rajshahi University was gunned down – he was instrumental in setting up a music school at his home town. An elderly caretaker of an orphanage in Pabna was killed in broad daylight. A teacher in Madaripur College was attacked but the people in the neighborhood nabbed one of the attackers and handed him over to the police.
A gay rights activist and his friend were killed in their apartment in Dhaka. A female student in Comilla Victoria College was raped and her dead body was recovered from the area adjacent to the cantonment. Her post mortem was done twice but no arrest has been made as yet. In early June, the wife of a police officer was stabbed and then shot dead in front of her apartment when she came out to board her child to a school bus. Police arrested two suspects and another two were killed in cross-fire very recently. The list can be longer. In all these incidents the perpetrators either remained at large or died in police custody or in cross-fire. They did not undergo the trial process. Consequently people remained unaware of the motives of the murders and whether others were behind the assassinations.
This kind of chronology of killing is raised since 2013. The murders of two foreigners – an Italian and a Japanese man – last October, added a new dimension and more security questions. In many of the attacks, victims have been hacked to death with machetes, and in some cases beheaded. The assassination of bloggers, publishers, professors, monks, caretakers and priests found headlines in the international media. The European Union and the British government expressed concerns at the human rights situation in Bangladesh and asked the government to uphold the freedom of expression. The British parliament also condemned targeted killings and repeated its call for holding an inclusive and participatory election. Their advice came out of long-held predication that denial of democracy and absence of good governance give rise to extra legal forces including terrorism.
The government has disputed claims by so-called Islamic State (IS) or Ansar-Al Islam, the Bangladeshi branch of al-Qaida on the Indian subcontinent, or AQIS for the attacks, instead often blaming opposition parties or local Islamist groups it accuses of seeking to destabilize the country. The blame game played by government again is being easy be happened a fearsome attack by some youth.
Police have now confirmed that the perpetrators in Holey Artisan restaurant were Bangladeshi youths. They were “dropped out students” and had remained away from home for a long time. Parents of one of the assassins informed the police about disappearance of their son and sought the help of RAB for his rescue. Another left home a month ago telling his parents that he would attend the Tablique for several weeks. Others were missing for years. Police admitted that they were in search of these missing persons in their “recent weeklong hunt” during which over 13,000 suspected miscreants were rounded up but the “missing persons” were not found. It has also been reported that on the internet warning was issued a few months ago that there would be an attack in Dhaka and very recently this was repeated. Unfortunately these warnings were not taken seriously by the law enforcing agencies.
The Prime Minister in her speech, following the tragedy, vowed to hunt down the killers and those who masterminded the attacks. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said Gulshan terrorist attack has marred Bangladesh’s prestigious position in the global stage as a nation taking a strong position against militancy and terrorism and gearing up its development. “We have been marching towards development and have taken the country to an esteemed position despite many adversities. But the Gulshan incident has put a break to that,” Hasina told.
On 16 July 2016, Police arrested three people for renting out a flat to the attackers in Bashundhara Residential Area. One of the arrests, Gias Uddin Ahsan was the acting pro-Vice-chancellor of North South University. The other two were his nephew Alam Chowdhury and the manager of the building Mahbubur Rahman Tuhin. Now questio has risen that are North South University’s students related with IS activites?
This was reassuring – the entire nation is desperate to know who orchestrated the heinous crime and what their motives were. The leader of the main opposition party strongly denounced the senseless killings and called for national unity to meet the challenge. The Foreign Minister assured the diplomatic community that the government would leave no stone unturned to unearth the conspiracy, though the ISIS has claimed responsibility of the carnage which took the lives of 17 foreigners and 3 Bangladeshi nationals. Five terrorists were killed in the rescue operation and two police officers died at the beginning of the siege. Fourteen people were rescued alive by the commando forces.
Impact on Economy
Terrorist attacks may erode investor confidence that could cast an adverse impact on Bangladesh’s ability to attract Direct Foreign Investment (FDI). It was the most damaging of a series of attacks targeting foreigners and minorities over the past year, and highlighted political risks that are factored into our government bond rating, through our assessment that Bangladesh’s vulnerability to political event risks is moderate. Exports comprise 16.3% of Bangladesh’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product), and sustaining foreign investment in the textile sector, which accounts for 80% of the total export basket, is crucial for growth.
Bangladesh’s economic expansion has been exceptionally stable, averaging 6.2% year-on-year over the last decade, amid political transitions, natural disasters, and temporary factory shutdowns related to labor conditions. Between July 2015 and April 2016, Bangladesh’s total exports increased by 9.2% year-on-year. Pharmaceuticals, raw jute, knitwear and woven garments, and engineering goods exports powered the increase.
“Bangladesh’s domestic politics have long been tumultuous. Relations between the two main parties are highly polarized, culminating in frequent and disruptive strikes and protests. Nonetheless, it said historical trends suggest that neither FDI nor export growth has been particularly sensitive to such tensions, which have tended to escalate in the run-up to elections.
However, last week’s terrorist incident came in the wake of a rising number of attacks targeted at foreigners and minorities, suggesting that the risks of political disruption have risen substantially over the past year, it added. The number of terrorist events in the country climbed to 465 in 2015, from 18 in 2012, according to the Global Terrorism Database. Terrorist attacks can have long-lasting effects on a country’s economy, ranging from growth to investment and borrowing costs.
Impact on Tourism Sector
After the killings of Italian and Japanese citizens, bloggers and publishers have cast a grim shadow on the tourism industry of Bangladesh. Despite political stability, sound law and order situation and steady economic growth, earnings from the tourism sector dropped nearly 8.00 per cent in the just concluded year 2015, according to statistics of Bangladesh Bank and the Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation (BPC). The spending capacity of a western tourist is at least ten times higher than that of South Asian tourist, said a higher official of the Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation.
The earnings from this sector recorded at 145.74 million US dollars in 2015 compared to 158.09 million US dollars in 2014. Earnings from the sector stood at 121.45 million US dollars in 2013, 100.75 million US dollars in 2012, 83.73 million US dollars in 2011, 79.83 million US dollars in 2010 and 83.9 million US dollars in 2009. However, the earnings from the tourism sector during the January-March period of the current calendar 2016 stood at 41.44 million US dollars. Several foreign tourists have cancelled their scheduled visit to Bangladesh last year against backdrop of killing of foreigners and warnings by western governments.
Behind such kind of success Bangladesh may fall through tourism sector after the Gulshan tragedy. A negative impact can also be seen in the restaurant business in Gulshan and Banani, as the number of guests, mostly foreigners, has dropped significantly. Nearly a hundred restaurants and cafes opened in and around Gulshan and Banani in the last couple of years as the inflow of foreigners has been increasing due to higher international trade and diplomatic engagements. This attack is important for the location of foreign restaurant place. The number of guests at posh hotels like Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel, Westin Hotel, Radisson Water Garden Hotel, Hotel Amari Hotel, Holel Lake Shore Hotel, Hotel Sarina and La Meridian Hotel may drop in business.
On the other hand, Bangladesh faces trouble for killing of 9 of our long-time Italian friends does not send a good message for our exports to Italy or their investment in Bangladesh. The immediate impact is that many Italian retailers have cancelled their trips to Bangladesh, while the main export item from Bangladesh to Italy is garment.
Bangladesh exported goods worth $1.39 billion to Italy in fiscal 2015-16, with 0.24 per cent growth year-on-year. Bangladesh mainly exports apparel items, home textiles, agro-processed food items, frozen foods, leather and leather goods, footwear, raw jute and jute goods and bicycles to Italy. Bangladesh mainly exports apparel items, home textiles, agro-processed food items, frozen foods, leather and leather goods, footwear, raw jute and jute goods and bicycles to Italy. Bangladesh exported goods worth $1.39 billion to Italy in fiscal 2015-16, with 0.24 per cent growth year-on-year.
In that context, Bangladesh should take major steps to fight against terrorism. Friendly countries including India have offered assistance to combat terrorism also. The government should seriously examine the pros and cons before accepting assistance from foreign governments. Gulshan tragedy has posed a formidable but not insurmountable challenge to Bangladesh. The government will need to alter its political trajectory – it will have to get people into confidence. Terrorism can be effectively contained only with the cooperation of the people. The Prime Minister will have to rise above party’s interest and take meaningful steps to forge national unity. The government should without delay initiate a dialogue with major political parties and provide space for the opposition parties to function. The government should also engage with the civil society, religious leaders, bar associations, teachers’ associations, trade unions and media representatives to formulate a future course of actions.
Salman Riaz is journalist and geopolitical analyst.