Expats Worry About Safety in Tragic Bangladesh

In September 2015 an Italian aid worked was murdered in Bangladesh. Cesare Tavella was jogging in the capital’s diplomatic quarter when two attackers shot him from behind. Many assumed it was a random attack of violence but the Islamic State group proudly claimed they were responsible for the death.

Fast forward to the 1st July 2016. A group of five Islamic State militants killed 17 foreigners and five Bangladeshis after an 11-hour hostage situation at the Holey Artisan Bakery.  Attackers were armed with swords, guns, and crude homemade bombs. 100 Bangladeshi commandos stormed the popular eatery and managed to rescue 13 people.

Bangladesh has seen a dramatic surge in vehement Islamist attacks, in part due to political infighting between Hasina and the opposition leader Khaleda Zia, who boycotted the last election in 2014 and faces charges for corruption and inciting violence. Zia’s husband, the country’s first military ruler, started the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, or BNP, which has called itself the ‘Islamic consciousness’ of the Muslim majority.

For some who had happily emigrated to Bangladesh, this second terrorist attack was too much to bear. Many foreigners have moved home, or relocated to other countries. Samantha Morshed heard the gunfire of both tragedies and, after living in Bangladesh for over a decade, fled to Bangkok. She is returning back to Bangladesh, where she runs a successful business, but is filled with trepidation.

“I know a number of people who left this time,” comments Morshed from Bangkok. “Many of them are not coming back.”

Morshed is just one of a growing number of expats leaving Bangladesh. Those travelling to the country are cancelling travel plans, and events are being postponed out of fear that they may be targeted by Islamic terrorists.

The fear of more attacks on foreigners could potentially cause long-term economic damage to Bangladesh, particularly to the $28 billion garment industry that accounts for 80% of exports. The attacks are making Bangladesh a scary place to do business.

Since the genocide in July, Dhaka’s upscale Gulshan area looks like a neighbourhood at war. Plain clothed police officers roam the streets and many checkpoints have been setup. Restaurants and hotels in the area are practically empty, despite heightened security. Unimart, the largest supermarket in Gulsham with a popular coffee shop, is devoid of expats.

Concerns are warranted. Just one week after the café massacre, five Islamists killed three and injured 14 people at an Eid celebration in central Bangladesh. Just two weeks after that, a police raid stopped and killed nine militants in their tracks; authorities commented that they were preparing for an attack.

“Further high-profile attacks on foreigners throughout the country are likely, whether direct attacks or mass-casualty attacks on ‘soft’ targets, especially given difficulties in preventing such attacks,” said Romita Das, a South Asia analyst at Control Risks.

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