The police's counterterrorism unit arrested two people May 24 for planning and instigating a May 5 sword attack on the country's Parliament building.
One of the two arrestees, Abu Sakib, 22, is a member of banned militant outfit Ansar al-Islam, while the other, Ali Hasan Osama, is a radical Islamic preacher.
Abu Sakib admitted he was inspired to be a jihadist by a sermon of Mufti Amir Hamza that he watched on YouTube. The police arrested Hamza based on his statement.
A leader at the Dhaka Metropolitan Police's counterterrorism unit said several of Hamza's statements on YouTube and other social media platforms were instigating teenagers for militancy.
Hamza, who holds a master's degree in the Quran, is a popular Islamist preacher whose firebrand speeches draw huge crowds in the country of 160 million. His speeches on YouTube get millions of views.
Last year Hamza said in his waz mahfils (religious programs) that COVID-19 was discovered on the earth to punish non-Muslims. He claimed, "Those who say namaz (daily prayer) will be [protected] from COVID. If Muslims [are] infected by COVID, [the] Quran will be false."
Many people denounced his statement at that time. But many people also believe his message.
However, police detained him in connection with misinterpreting the religion and encouraging extremism.
Social media is a headache for police fighting extremism in this South Asian, Muslim-majority nation, where Christians represent merely 0.4% of the population.
In 2017, Police surveyed 250 Islamist extremists. The survey found the vast majority of extremists are incited by various social media such as Facebook and YouTube.
"A total of 82% of the people arrested for being involved in extremist activities were radicalized through various forms of social media, while the rest were radicalized through other methods," police office Moniruzzaman shared at a program in the capital city of Dhaka last February titled, "Preventing Violent Extremism Through Community Engagement."
To communicate, he said, 80% of extremists use WeChat, Messenger, Threema and other apps.
Asking for anonymity, a former Islamist radical told Church Militant, "Through Facebook, I got the invitation to get involved in Islamist extremist activity. I participated by hiring new members in our team. But later I realized it is not real life. I was headed the wrong way. I left their company and now I am living a normal life."
"Once upon a time it was possible to conquer a state with a sword. Now everything has changed. It is the era of science and education. It is time to build a new world with love, not with hatred and violence," said Shaon Muntaha Ibn Shawkat, a former Islamist militant now urging fellow extremists to follow his example and return to normal life.
He is one of nine people who on Jan. 14 gave up armed struggle and reunited with their families after completing a deradicalization program run by Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a law enforcement agency.
This year, 17 Islamists were killed in a clash with police during Indian prime minister Narendra Modi's Bangladesh visit. The protests were led by Islamists, students of madrassas (religious schools), and left-wing groups opposed to Modi's visit to the country. They accused him of pursuing anti-Muslim policies.
Among the deceased are members of Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh, a radical Islamist group vying for political power. Shahriar Kabir, a Bangladeshi journalist, denounced Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh for its terrorist activity in the name of Islam.
"We observed how badly Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh reacted while Narendra Modi visited Bangladesh. They (Hefazat) are not only a threat to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, but also to the entire country. Political Islam is big threat for Bangladesh," he emphasized.
On July 1, 2016, five Islamist extremists took hostages and opened fire on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan, an affluent neighborhood in Dhaka. The assailants entered the bakery with crude bombs, machetes, pistols and took several dozen hostages. During their attack, they loudly proclaimed "Allahu Akbar" ("Allah is greater").
In the incident, 29 people were killed, including 20 hostages (17 foreigners and three locals), two police officers, five gunmen and two bakery staff. Hostages that could recite from the Koran escaped from the attack.
Extremists used the Threema app to plan and execute the massacre.