Members of Jamatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya, a recently discovered Islamist outfit, were sent to hill areas for advanced training after they learnt the basics in different islands in Patuakhali and Bhola, according to the Rapid Action Battalion.
The RAB arrested four more members of the outfit in Cumilla's Laksam on Thursday, Commander Khandaker Al Moin, director of RAB's media wing, said on Friday.
The militants were trained as technicians, masons or electricians to help them blend in and continue their activity in secret.
The new arrestees are Abdul Kader aka Foyez aka Sohel, 24, Md Ismail Hossain aka Hanzal aka Mansur, 22, Muntasir Ahmed aka Bacchu, 23, and Helal Ahmed Zakaria, 33.
RAB seized two booklets of militant propaganda, a training manual, nine leaflets, a diary and four bags from them.
The militants arrested at different times provided information about the newly formed Islamist group, he said.
Some members of Harkatul Jihad, JMB and Ansar Al Islam formed a new militancy group in 2017. Later they named it Jamatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya in 2019.
As older militant outfits like the JMB and Ansar Al Islam were banned and could not continue their activities, the militants formed a new group.
Initially, the group members targeted young people in parts of the country. They tried to radicalise young people through different videos and distorted religious information.
Then they would motivate the targets to leave their families and prepare to take part in armed attacks.
More than 55 young men left their homes across the country to join militant efforts, according to the information provided by the arrestees. RAB had previously shared the information about 55 missing people with the media, the director said.
Those young men were detached from their families and kept in safe houses in Bhola, Patuakhali and other areas under the supervision of senior members of the group and trained for armed attacks.
They were also taught the trades of construction workers, masons or electricians and other professionals for cover.
After field training, these young men were sent to the remote hilly areas of Bandarban and Rangamati for the next level of training, RAB found. Other separatist and militant outfits trained them further in the remote hilly areas.
They received theoretical and practical training to use firearms, make bombs, conduct guerrilla attacks and develop survival skills for use in adverse situations.
Moin said the number of trainees in the hill tracts training centres was more than 50.
Jamatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya led by Md Anisur Rahman aka Mahmud has six administrative members called shura members who take charge of the finances, its military operations, and the media and also work as advisors. They chose Bandarban and Rangamati for providing training to new recruits.
The group used to buy food and other essentials from a separatist group in the hill tracts.
The arrestees said they were engaged in inviting new members to Jamatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya, providing arms training, looking after the members who do Hijrat or travel to different places in the country (or abroad) for fulfilling the organisation’s goals and other administrative works, the RAB director said.
Around two to four years ago, the arrestees were radicalised through their friends or acquaintances and joined the outfit.
Bacchu was the finance coordinator, while Sohel and Hanzala used to coordinate members travelling at home or abroad. He also held the third-highest post in the military section in Gajakaria.
Moin said they divulged important information about the team leader and other shura members’ locations.
Mahmud, the amir of Jamatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya, worked as a manager at a CNG filling station in Cumilla.
He left the job two years ago and went missing. Later, he sold off his house and land for Tk 1.7 million and bought land at Bandarban’s Naikhongchhari, where he relocated his family.
Mahmud farmed the land, operating a poultry and livestock farm.
The arrestees also said the women’s chapter of the militant outfit was involved in recruiting new members.
Moin said Bacchu was studying banking at a private university in Chattogram. He was the finance coordinator and chief aide to Mosharraf Hossain Rakib, the finance and media head of the group.
Influenced by Rakib and another militant named Shishir, he joined the group two years ago. He started a street food business in Cumilla in 2022 using funds from the organisation.
Following Rakib’s order, Bacchu used to collect money from different parts of Bangladesh and then disburse it to run the organisation, RAB said in the media briefing.
To run the training, Bacchu used to transfer money to the separatist group in the hill tracts through mobile banking. He transferred around Tk 5 million to the separatist group and for their militant activity through these channels.
Influenced by Mahmud’s ideology, Sujon joined the group about four years ago. After graduating from a madrasa, Sujon, already radicalised by Mahmud, left home.
Hanzala, a madrasa teacher in Cumilla, was an aide to Mamud and coordinator for members travelling for training.
They brainwashed members by telling them how Muslims are 'tortured' in 'sinful states' and prepared them to leave their families and take part in attacks.
Several young men missing from Cumilla left home after being brainwashed by Mahmud and Hanzala, according to Moin.
After initial training in parts of Bhola or Patuakhali, the new members would stay in a safe house in Cumilla under their supervision. Later they sent the new recruits to the hill districts disguised as tourists. They sent 17 men to Bandarban from March to April and 12 more in mid-September, the RAB director said.
Zakaria, another arrestee and a graduate from a madrasa in Sylhet, joined the organisation three or four years ago through Manik. He held the second-highest post in the military division and worked as a private assistant to Manik.
Zakaria took training in the field and in the hilly areas. He used to coordinate different programmes of the militant group, select members for military action and transport militants from one place to the other.
Manik and Ranbir used Zakaria’s motorbike to invite new members to the military chapter and their general membership.
Moin said RAB arrested 22 people, including three hill people. They have yet to arrest any of the 55 “missing” people listed by the RAB.