DHAKA, Bangladesh — Prior to Akayed Ullah returned residence to New York from his native Bangladesh, and tried to blow himself up with a pipe bomb in a crowded Manhattan subway station, he had one last thing to do — an all-evening bus ride by himself to aid Rohingya refugees.
Soon after visiting relatives right here in the capital city, Dhaka, he traveled across the country, slept in a mosque and beneath a tree, and passed out a few hundred dollars of medicine in the crowded refugee camps.
“When he left, he seemed satisfied,” mentioned his mother-in-law, Mahfuza Akhter. “But when he returned, he was so upset. He stated these people have been living in hell, each and every and each minute.”
That lonely trip across Bangladesh in September remains a mystery. Was Mr. Ullah following Al Qaeda, who had just urged Muslims to provide medicine — and weapons — to the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group whose members have been raped, brutalized and massacred in neighboring Myanmar?
Or was he following his own heart, reflecting some sort of inner struggle as he headed toward his 1st recognized act of violence and self-destruction?
A few weeks soon after his trip, federal investigators stated, Mr. Ullah, 27, returned to Brooklyn and started developing a bomb out of matchheads and a piece of pipe he found at a construction site. He detonated it on a busy Monday morning, Dec. 11, in a Manhattan subway station, wounding himself and a couple of passers-by but carrying out far much less damage than he could have. He was apprehended on the spot.
From a bed in Bellevue Hospital Center on Manhattan’s East Side, he has been cooperating with investigators, saying he was inspired on the internet by the Islamic State to strike against the United States for its policies in the Muslim planet. Charged with a number of terrorism-related offenses, he might by no means get out of jail. In many techniques, his is an open-and-shut case.
But comprehensive interviews with a lot more than a dozen close friends, relatives and acquaintances, in Bangladesh and the United States, nevertheless leave a hole as to why Mr. Ullah did this. He comes across as impulsive, angry, riveted to militant social media and outraged by injustices inflicted on Muslims.
He was also described by a number of people who know him effectively as loving and giving. And he did not look hopeless, a classic characteristic of people about to take their personal lives, nor was he isolated. He was close to his childhood household — his mother and siblings — and he was creating a new one particular.
“This is a small various,” mentioned Mohammed Abdur Rashid, a retired army basic who now runs a research institute on conflict in Dhaka. “He had fewer causes to really feel desperate.”
Bangladeshi police officials have put 15 officers on this case. Mr. Ullah, specially his final actions in the Rohingya camp, represents the union of some of their greatest fears.
Both American and Bangladeshi investigators say Mr. Ullah was not a jihadist export from Bangladesh, but was radicalized right after he arrived in New York in 2011. Ahead of that, he did not look interested in militant groups.
Bangladeshis are deeply worried about this phenomenon — young members of the diaspora becoming radicalized overseas. Mr. Ullah is hardly the 1st. The mastermind of one particular of the worst terrorism attacks Bangladesh has ever suffered — the slaughter of far more than a dozen foreigners at a bakery last year — grew up and went to college in Canada. Analysts say it is a lot simpler for young Bangladeshis to be buffeted by jihadist propaganda when they are in the West.
“You guys in the West are naïve,” Mr. Abdur Rashid mentioned. “You give a lot more space for the preachers, the hate speech. We do not tolerate it.”
Bangladesh is much more on guard now than ever. It has grow to be property to the newest magnet for Muslim extremists: the sprawling Rohingya camps along the border with Myanmar.
Myanmar is a majority Buddhist country, and this year, Myanmar’s army wiped out thousands of Rohingya civilians right after Rohingya rebels attacked police posts. Practically one million Rohingya have run for their lives into Bangladesh, and the Rohingya’s plight has become a rallying cry across the Muslim planet.
Currently agents from half a dozen distinct Islamist militant groups are circulating in the camps, analysts said, attempting to stoke a hunger for revenge.
In September, about the time Mr. Ullah was passing out tablets of acetaminophen, stomach salts and other fundamental drugs in the camp, Al Qaeda issued a contact to arms, urging Muslims to bring the Rohingya “money, medicines, meals, clothes, weapons” and to use their “souls and wealth” to “rescue their brothers.”
It is not clear if Mr. Ullah was responding to that distinct contact investigators in Bangladesh mentioned he was closely following several jihadist websites.
Relatives said his a single-man aid mission to the Rohingyas was driven by his deepening religiosity and a need to connect with Muslims in peril. Maybe at that moment he could have gone either way.
“Oh, I want he would have kept undertaking that aid perform,” stated Ms. Akhter, his mother-in-law, who has emerged as the reluctant, teary spokeswoman for Mr. Ullah’s family members in Bangladesh.
For decades, Bangladesh, a poor, virtually purely Sunni Muslim country of 160 million people, has been fighting a shape-shifting terrorism dilemma that has taken the form of hugely coordinated bomb attacks — a lot more than 400 in one particular day, in one hour — to slicing up young bloggers with machetes.
Because it divorced itself from Pakistan in 1971 and became its personal country, Bangladesh has veered among secularism and Islamism. Pakistan defined itself as an Islamic country (its official name is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan) and the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (its official name) tried to define itself in opposition to that, generating secularism and tolerance its foundation.
But a sizable proportion of the Bangladeshi public in no way wanted to break off from Pakistan. And over the years, the Islamist hold here has tightened.
In Hazaribagh, the packed Dhaka neighborhood where Mr. Ullah grew up, many women wear complete veils, just a narrow rectangle of exposed skin around their eyes, and numerous guys keep their beards bushy, their mustaches trimmed and their pants very carefully hemmed above the ankle, potential indicators of a stricter kind of Islam.
As a boy, Mr. Ullah and his mother produced the rounds in Hazaribagh, knocking on doors and asking neighbors to go with them to the mosque to pray. They were members of Tabligh Jamaat, a peaceful Muslim outreach group.
That was about as religious as Mr. Ullah got, his buddies said. The son of a grocer, he attended some of Dhaka’s much better private schools, like Kakoli High College and Dhaka City College.
“He didn’t smoke, he didn’t misbehave, he was constantly cordial, he was the variety of guy who couldn’t commit any crime,” said a single of his high school pals, Wazidur Rahman, who employed to play cricket with him.
“My phone kept ringing that entire first night,” recalled Mr. Rahman of the day when Mr. Ullah tried to set off the bomb. “Everyone was asking the identical question: ‘Wait, that is our Akayed Ullah?’”
Mr. Ullah left Dhaka seven years ago with his parents, heading to New York on an immigrant visa to keep with other relatives who had currently been living in the United States. He worked as a driver and portion-time electrician.
Bangladesh is a poor, crowded country, a labor factory to the globe. Bangladeshis serve as badly paid crews on oceangoing cargo ships, clean up oil wells in Kuwait and drive taxis in New York. It appears each Bangladeshi has a buddy or relative working in America or knows an individual desperate to get there.
Mr. Rahman said he had lately heard about a squad of 15 Bangladeshis who went to America “the unofficial way” from Brazil to Colombia up to Mexico and across to Texas two had drowned in a river.
“Akayed was so fortunate,” Mr. Rahman mentioned.
When Mr. Rahman saw Mr. Ullah once again at Mr. Ullah’s wedding in Dhaka in January 2016, it was as if he was meeting a distinct individual. Mr. Ullah had grown a huge beard, he was austere and he broke off from the festivities and from catching up with old buddies to pray by himself.
The Bangladeshi government has been increasingly aggressive toward militant groups, arresting thousands of suspected sympathizers and monitoring mosques, but it has to play a cautious game. It is attempting to counter the militants but not come across as also anti-Islamist.
For instance, Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister, expressed outrage at the 1st blogger killing in 2013. But after it happened once again and then once more, part of a wave of assassinations against writers, publishers, gay activists and Hindus that showed the Islamists’ insidious power was only developing, she began to modify her message and stated folks need to be cautious what they write about Islam.
Bangladesh’s Islamist political parties, even if not in energy at the moment, seem to be shaping the debate. A number of intellectuals said they have been scared to speak out about friends who had been killed. Islamists have succeeded in branding secularists as atheists a single of the most harmful items to be named correct now in Bangladesh is an atheist.
Muhammad Jasimuddin Rahmani, a jailed mullah, has urged Bangladeshis to kill these who insult Islam.
It was a single of his books that Mr. Ullah tried to push on his wife when he returned to Dhaka in early September. The objective of the check out was to get all the paperwork in order for his wife and six-month-old son to immigrate to New York. The three had been close despite the distance his family members mentioned he would get in touch with his wife 5 to ten instances a day. But throughout his final check out, he told his wife that Mr. Rahmani’s harsh interpretation of Islam was the 1 and only Islam.
“He seemed to have this hatred for America,” mentioned Monirul Islam, the chief of Bangladesh’s counterterrorism police operations. “We’re not specifically confident where it came from. Possibly he hadn’t assimilated so nicely.”
Hasan Rafique, a former member of an Islamist group now trying to work against militancy, stated the Rohingya camps that Mr. Ullah visited were now prime recruiting territory for a number of Bangladeshi and Pakistani militant groups.
“Definitely somebody helped him around these camps,” Mr. Rafique said. “You require to discover out who.”
Mr. Ullah’s family members said they did not know aid agencies stated a lot of men and women had showed up in the Rohingya camps on their personal to pass out meals, income or medicine for a handful of days ahead of melting away.
Mr. Ullah discovered massive satisfaction in performing the charity work, his household mentioned. That raises the query of how deeply radicalized he was at that point and how many other young guys in equivalent situations may possibly be passing across that identical membrane.
“It shows you how potent that propaganda should be,” mentioned Mr. Rahman, his old higher college friend. “How could he overlook his close friends, his household, his baby’s face?”
Published at Tue, 19 Dec 2017 03:51:43 +0000