Recently, a young doctor in the city was arrested for having connections to the militant outfit Ansar Al Islam, also known as the Bangladesh chapter of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).
The Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) Unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police said he was involved in the recent disappearance of seven boys from Cumilla.
The missing youths, aged between 18 and 25, left home without their phones or clothes and have not been found since they disappeared in August to embark on 'hijrat' (pilgrimage).
This is, perhaps, a cause for concern. There may be a number of reasons behind a recent possible uptick in militancy, including a global shift in extremism following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and law enforcement shifting their priorities elsewhere.
CTTC mentioned in their case report that the arrested doctor was involved in recruiting and training members of Ansar Al Islam from different parts of the country.
In December 2019, just before the Covid-19 lockdown began in 2020, CTTC said the threat of radicalisation was on the rise although terrorist incidents decreased significantly in the last three years.
Now, with the pandemic under control and the world moving through a new political crisis, attention should be focused again on our approaches to countering terrorism in the country.
The 21 August grenade attacks in 2004 and the serial bomb blasts in 2005 when 500 bombs exploded in 63 districts of the country, have taught us the importance of law enforcement agencies remaining constantly vigilant so that history does not repeat itself.
Shafqat Munir, head of Bangladesh Centre for Terrorism Research and senior research fellow at Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, said the terrorist threats had diminished because of significant steps taken by the law enforcement and security agencies to degrade the capability of the terror groups.
He said, "We saw a lull during the Covid-19 pandemic but it is evident now that the terrorist groups are renewing their recruitment efforts. However, we noticed a lot of activity online, in the cyber domain, but now it is clear that there is a fresh recruitment and reconsolidation drive by these groups."
He believes these are not happening because law enforcement has shifted their priorities as there are several specialised units working on counter-terrorism and they are constantly monitoring and countering the threats.
For example, the Anti Terrorism Unit (ATU) of Bangladesh Police was formed in September 2017 following the Holey Artisan attack on 1 July 2016 when five armed militants killed 22 people, including 17 foreigners and two police officers.
Shafqat Munir also opined that developments within the region, especially the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan will have an impact.
As a result of which "the groups may feel emboldened and will try to reconsolidate, regroup and renew their activities and this is why we are seeing such incidents [pointing to the case of seven boys missing from Cumilla] taking place."
However, he is also of the opinion that while the situation is certainly worrying, it is still within our control. "If we take measures now, we will be able to counter the threat. We have to increase our vigilance and we also have to put some new strategic counter-terrorism measures in place," he said.
The expert added, "It is very important for us to remember that the absence of a successful terror attack does not mean the absence of terrorism, there is no substitute for vigilance and preparedness. We must be prepared at all times to counter the threat of terrorism and violent extremism. Society has a big role to play in this."
On 19 September, Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Shafiqul Islam said militancy in the country has not increased due to internal reasons, rather, international incidents such as the Afghan war, the Iraq war, and the formation of the Islamic State (IS) play a role in it.
The DMP Chief went on to add that political violence may increase ahead of national elections and asked the police force to remain alert about the surge in militancy.
Shahab Enam Khan, professor of International Relations at Jahangirnagar University said extremism is a continuous process and it cannot be eliminated fully. Extremism evolves from one shape to another, be it political or religious.
"It is quite difficult to eradicate extremism as a whole, for a number of reasons, extremism will always gain ground. It is very difficult to find the difference between political extremism and religious extremism," he said.
"There is no reason for the law enforcement to be complacent, the problems still remain largely in three areas: public psychology [an extremely grey area], effective and equitable law enforcement and the right narratives endorsed by the society."
Moreover, online still remains a weak point for law enforcement.
From 2013 to 2016, there were a number of blogger killings in the country by extremist groups, who claimed the bloggers were murdered for having different views about religion. These incidents revealed how certain militant groups were extremely driven by religious intolerance.
Shahab Enam said in the context of our country, extremism can also arise from communal disharmony and political as well as social intolerance.
He said, "Political intolerance is foremost. Be it a banned group or a non-banned one, it is essentially intolerance. So, political intolerance is not limited to elections only."
He further added that transnational linkages can always instigate militancy and this cannot be ruled out, it can come from anywhere.