Evidence to link ISIS and B’desh attacks, claims Kerry
There is "evidence" to link the ISIS with militants in Bangladesh, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on his first visit to the Muslim-majority country, reeling under a wave of brutal attacks on minorities and secular activists, on Monday. Kerry’s remark comes as a major blow to the government's stance.
Kerry, after holding talks with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and his Bangladeshi counterpart AH Mahmood Ali, said there was "no argument about it (the links)". "...there is evidence that ISIL in Iraq and Syria has contacts with about eight different entities around the world and one of them is in South Asia," Kerry said. "They are connected to some degree with some of the operatives here and we made that very clear in our conversation. There was no argument about it," he said.
Hasina's administration has blamed homegrown militancy for a spate of attacks on secular, liberal activists and religious minorities and denied that ISIS has gained a foothold in the country.
Kerry, however, rejected accusations that the government was in denial about the nature of the extremist threat it faced and said the US stood firmly with Bangladesh in its fight against militants as the two countries agreed to boost cooperation in intelligence exchange. "I don't believe that the government of Bangladesh has its head in the sand. I do not believe that," he said.
Kerry conveyed the US' interest to work closely with intelligence agencies in Bangladesh to fight against terrorism and said that "we need to exchange information to combat terrorism", Hasina's press secretary Ihsanul Karim said.
"We would fight with Bangladesh to combat terrorism... we have enough experts in this regard and we could help Bangladesh by giving these experts," Karim quoted Kerry as telling the Bangladeshi premier at her office.
However, Kerry also highlighted that democracy provides "the most resilient and reliable platform we have for preventing and responding to violent extremism", remarks that gain significance in the wake of a crackdown on opponents that has seen thousands of activists behind bars.
The jailed activists are mostly from the party of Hasina's arch rival Khaleda Zia, two-time premier.