Bangladeshis living abroad are proving fertile ground for the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant in Syria’s recruiting efforts. In the latest case, the disappearance of a Bangladeshi expatriate family in Britain has drawn increasing attention over the last two months.

Sources said in early July that the British-based family of septuagenarian Abdul Mannan has joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant in Syria, confirming the worst fears of an overseas Bangladeshi community that’s seen a growing number of its UK residents join Islamic State (IS) in the last few years. The Bangladeshis are just a fraction of the thousands of European youth, mostly hailing from Muslim migrant families, who have joined IS.

Terror experts say IS is finding it easier to manipulate and recruit youths from Muslim families in the face of growing alienation and Islamophobia in Europe. Bangladeshi families in nations like Britain also dread becoming the focus of stepped up surveillance as European officials grapple with the terror threat.

ISIS Facebook image
ISIS Facebook image

Observers are alarmed by the fact that an entire Bangladeshi family, in the case of the Mannans, pulled up stakes, left the country and joined IS.

On April 10, 75-year-old Mannan, the family’s patriarch traveled to Bangladesh with 11 other members of his family, including three children, from Luton in the UK. The group then flew to Istanbul on May 11. They were due back in the UK by May 14. But they went missing amid strong suspicions in the British and the international media. This, after it was reported that Mannan’s daughter, Rajia Khanom, 21, had links to the banned Islamist group al-Muhajiroun in Luton.

Since no contact could be made with the family, Abdul Mannan’s two sons reported them missing to British authorities.

Family of Abdul Mannan
Family of Abdul Mannan

During the first week of July, the IS sent a statement that the missing family “is safer than ever with the Islamic State.” In April, two British-Bangladeshi sisters from another family from Luton were also prevented from flying to Bangladesh by the authorities on suspicions that they were preparing to join ISIS.

Officers of the counter terror police seized passports of one of the sisters, who also reportedly has links with Al-

Muhajiroun. The other sister was allowed to fly out to Bangladesh to her family on a short trip.

Other IS recruits include British-Bangladeshi youths Iftekhar Jaman, Mosudur Chowdhury and Abdul Rakib Amin who joined IS last year. The three later urged British Muslim youths to join ISIS in a video clip.

There has been a number of other incidents as well where British-Bangladeshis and British-Pakistanis have left their families behind to join the IS.

These recruits are among 15,000 foreign fighters who have joined IS in 2014, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. Of these, some 5,000 are believed to be young people of immigrant descent from European Union countries.

International relations and conflict studies experts in Bangladesh felt that the issue most likely stems in the countries where the migrants have moved to rather than their countries of origin.

Professor Dalem Chandra Barman, founder chairman of the Peace and Conflict Studies department at the University of Dhaka, opined that the inclination to join IS comes from the frustration these migrant families feel while surviving the foreign environment.

“These families are living as ‘individuals’, with little or no control on social policies there,” he said to Asia Times.

Barman’s opinions coincide with the findings of a 2014 study on the employment prospects of half a million people in the UK. The study found that Muslims are facing the worst job discrimination of any minority group in Britain.

The study found that Muslim men were 76% less likely to have a job of any kind compared to white, male British Christians of the same age and with the same qualifications. Muslim women had a slightly better chance in the UK as they were up to 65% less likely to be employed than white Christian counterparts.

Dr. Delwar Hossain, Associate Professor in the Department of International Relations at the University of Dhaka, explained to Asia Times, “Home-grown terrorism in UK is growing as muslims are feeling more culturally alienated after the London bombings.”

He added, “The flaws in global foreign policy regarding Middle East and other regions of the world are more exposed to these migrant families.” “The disappointment usually drives them to the wrong side in a bid to bring about changes,” he pointed out while adding that IS recruiters are taking advantage of these factors.

Hossain also noted, “There has not been as many reports of IS being able to recruit from Bangladesh itself.” He explained that this is because militants and fundamentalists in Bangladesh are not as indoctrinated to join IS. “Even the potential fundamentalist forces in Bangladesh are horrified by the atrocities wrought by the IS.”

The chain of events is likely to intensify surveillance and monitoring of South Asian Muslim communities in the United Kingdom, according to some Bangladeshi expatriates in UK.

A Bangladeshi expatriate in the UK who asked not to be identified, told Asia Times that the stories of people going to Syria are usually heard from areas with large Muslim communities. “Most recruits to the IS were actually born here and held UK passports, as their ancestors had migrated to the UK decades back,” he said.

The source pointed out that while expatriates working in the UK are less likely to be recruited by the IS as they are more careful, the radicalization of the former groups of people is allowed to “happen through a lack of awareness, dominant ignorance and a cohesive sub-community with extreme views.”

The source dreaded that the British authorities are likely to increase surveillance of particular areas like the Boroughs, Luton and Birmingham among others “where they need to, have legitimate doubts or evidence from the past” about suspicious activities.

He pointed out that IS recruitment is more rampant among other Muslim South Asian-origin British nationals, especially from Pakistan.

Saeeda Ahmed, a British national told Asia Times, “The expat Bangladeshi community (in the UK) must be feeling a combination of upset, grief and embarrassment (after the Muslim family going to Syria).” She added, “The community is now going to be under pressure to demonstrate that their values do not match with the alleged runaway family’s.”

Similar trends are also found in other European nations from where young, second-generation Muslims are being recruited by the IS.

According to a 2014 report by Le Monde, at least 1,000 French citizens were fighting for IS in Iraq and Syria.  Similarly, Germany had around 500 citizens join IS last year.

Highlighting on the issue, Joshua Landis, Director at the Centre for Middle East Studies and Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma, explained on his site, “ISIS has been able to capitalize on the lack of social integration of young people of Muslim immigrant descent in Europe, who are often victims of discrimination and stymied from full participation in European labor markets and societies.”

He went on, “The irony is that many recruits are westernized second-generation immigrants, who grow up having a non-western, “immigrant other” status thrust upon them. This may arise by virtue of physical characteristics such as skin color or ethnic background, or by having a name such as Mohammed or Abdoulaye, or because they practice Islam in public.”

Landis continued, “The failure to integrate immigrants creates a translocal phenomenon by which individuals raised in a local context (say, a working class neighborhood in the suburbs of Paris or London) are pushed into adopting a transnational identity and association not truly their own. This explains why ISIS recruits are so varied in terms of background, culture, education, and even class.”

Landis cited the dangers of such IS fighters returning to their countries in Europe as he mentioned the case of Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old French citizen and second-generation immigrant, who was arrested for killing three people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May of 2014. It was reported by the global media that Nemmouche had fought for IS in Syria in 2013.

Syed Tashfin Chowdhury is a Dhaka, Bangladesh-based freelance journalist and the editor of  Xtra, the weekend magazine of New Age, a leading English daily in Bangladesh.

(Copyright 2015 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Leave a comment