The Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crimes (CTTC) unit of police believe that there is no connection between Bangladesh-born Japanese jihadist Muhammad Saifullah Ozaki and New JMB, the infamous faction of banned militant outfit Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) that is responsible for the recent terrorist activities in the country, according to the law enforcement agencies.
“We do not have any evidence that proves Ozaki is involved with New JMB,” CTTC chief Monirul Islam said at a press briefing on Saturday when journalists referred to a report by the Dhaka Tribune on Ozaki.
He further said Ozaki was accused in a case filed under the Anti-Terrorism Act with Uttara (West) police station in Dhaka on May 24, 2015, based on information given by two captured militants. He was listed as missing after the terror attacks in Dhaka and Sholakia in July last year.
“Ozaki has been missing for a long time. His last trace was found in Bulgaria, then he went off the radar. We do not know where he went from Bulgaria. We are not sure if he is even alive. No one has any information on his status or whereabouts,” the CTTC chief added.
There are speculations that Ozaki left Bulgaria and entered Syria through Turkey with his family in 2015. “But there is no proof that he is involved with New JMB,” Monirul reiterated.
An exclusive report by the Dhaka Tribune, based on information collected from global terrorist organisation Islamic State’s communiques and open source intelligence, has revealed that Ozaki is most likely the elusive IS ameer in Bangladesh and responsible for a series of jihadi attacks in the country.
Information gathered during months of investigation suggests that Ozaki is the individual whose interview was featured in the 14th issue of IS’ flagship Dabiq magazine in April 2016.
In that interview, Shaykh Abu Ibrahim al-Hanif (Ozaki’s “kunya” or Islamic nom de guerre) was identified as the “ameer of the Khilafah’s soldiers in Bengal.”
Two independent Islamic theologians in Bangladesh and Sweden agree that the second part of the kunya – al-Hanif – is especially significant. As a Hindu convert to Islam, by alluding to the concept of “hanifiyyah” in his kunya, Ozaki may have intended to signal that he “turned away from” or “rejected” idolatry and polytheism.
The CTTC chief said Ozaki, born as Sajit Debnath, is originally from Koraibari village in Nabinagar upazila, Brahmanbaria.
He went to Japan on a scholarship for a PhD degree and later became an associate professor at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. He married a Japanese citizen and has four children – three sons and a daughter.
He was first flagged by the Japanese law enforcement authorities, then the Bangladeshi authorities also started investigating him, Monirul said.
“He visited Bangladesh twice after converting to Islam, but he never visited his village home. We think he did not visit his family, who are conservative Hindus, because it might have put them in danger,” the CTTC chief told the press conference.
Detectives believe that Ozaki maintained a forum where he tracked jihadists and established one-on-on communication with them to persuade them to go to Syria or other IS strongholds.
However, he has not had much success in recruiting Bangladeshis and has been able to send only two or three people to IS bases, the detectives claim.
According to the local law enforcement agencies, Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi-origin Canadian citizen, arrived in Bangladesh on October 5, 2013 and started recruiting fighters for IS. He went on to form his Bangladesh-based organisation Junood al-Tawhid al-Khalifa, which led to the foundation of another organisation that the law enforcement agencies refer to as New JMB.
They say besides Tamim, four other people played significant roles in establishing the organisation, the operations of which started sometime in 2015.
They are: Sarwar Jahan alias Manik, Abdus Samad alias Arif alias Mamu, Shaykh Abul Kashem and Mamunur Rashid Ripon.
Among the five, Tamim and Manik were killed in anti-militant raids, Abul Kashem has been arrested and Samad and Ripon remain fugitive.