By Vidhi Doshi
Bangladesh counterterrorism chief Monirul Islam says that the attempted attack was inspired by the writings and online sermons of a Bangladeshi cleric named Jasimuddin Rahmani, the spiritual leader of Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), a banned Bangladeshi terrorist organization. Rahmani is serving a five-year prison term after his conviction on charges of inciting the murder of a Bangladeshi blogger.
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Hours before Akayed Ullah is alleged to have stepped into a busy Manhattan subway passage, a homemade pipe bomb strapped to his body with Velcro, his wife called him from here to wake him up. The telephone conversation Monday was brief and ordinary — Jannatul Ferdous did not detect any signs that her husband was upset or angry, nor did he say anything memorable. She told him to go to work and hung up.
Soon, his image would be shown on television screens around the world. His bomb had detonated, and he was severely injured. American authorities accused him of plotting a terrorist attack. On Wednesday, he had his first brief court appearance, by way of a video link between a federal courthouse and the hospital where he is recovering.
“I always thought he was a good man,” Ferdous said Wednesday, speaking through the crack of the front door of her home in Dhaka, “and I still consider him a good man. I never thought he could be involved in an incident like this.”
Ullah’s wife and mother-in-law, who spoke to The Washington Post from behind a door with their faces covered, said the incident in New York blindsided them. They said Ullah had shown no signs of being radicalized in phone conversations or on his recent visits to Dhaka.
“If I knew this was going to happen, we’d never have let him leave,” said Mahfuza Akter, Ullah’s mother-in-law.
In a news conference here Wednesday, counterterrorism chief Monirul Islam said that Ullah’s attempted attack was inspired by the writings and online sermons of a Bangladeshi cleric named Jasimuddin Rahmani, the spiritual leader of Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), a banned Bangladeshi terrorist organization. Rahmani is serving a five-year prison term after his conviction on charges of inciting the murder of a Bangladeshi blogger.
Islam said that Ferdous and her family had, under questioning, suggested that link — implying that they did have some inkling of his radicalization.
Violent rhetoric from ABT has been blamed for a series of murders of atheist and secular bloggers and activists. In 2015, the group published a hit list of writers and activists from around the world.
Law enforcement officials in the United States said that Ullah told them he was inspired by propaganda from the Islamic State terrorist group.
In recent years, Bangladesh has been shaken by a string of terrorist attacks. In July 2016, more than 20 people were killed at the upmarket Holey Artisan Bakery during a 12-hour siege by militants. A week later, in eastern Bangladesh, four people were killed at a prayer gathering to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that ends the holy month of Ramadan. Islamist movements have been active since the country’s independence but recently have been resurgent, with militants targeting secular aspects of Bangladeshi society.
Authorities said Ullah, who has lived in the United States since 2011, was not directly linked with militant groups in Bangladesh. Islam said that his investigation so far suggested that Ullah most likely acted alone and was radicalized in the United States. He said Ullah’s name had never appeared on anti-terrorism intelligence lists and that he was most probably “self-radicalized” on the Internet.
“When he came [back] here to get married, he was bearded and used to be a pious man,” Islam said. “But normally, being pious does not create any suspicion.”
Ullah visited Bangladesh at least twice in recent years, once to marry and again in September when he came to visit his wife and infant child.
When in Dhaka, Ullah lived with Ferdous and his in-laws in a dimly lit ground-floor apartment in a colorful building in the Hazaribagh area of the city. A leader at a nearby mosque said he vaguely recalled Ullah coming to pray but said he never had any lengthy discussions with him. Neighbors and the building’s caretakers said they exchanged pleasantries but that Ullah was quiet and kept to himself.
Rahmani, of the ABT, is especially influential among Bangladeshi émigrés, according to Abdur Rob Khan, a professor of political science at North South University in Dhaka.
Ullah will be tried in the United States. The family said they have had no contact with him since the incident. Akter, Ullah’s mother-in-law, said the family will await a verdict.
“We will accept it if he is guilty, but we will welcome him back if he is proven innocent,” she said.