Authorities are confident they can dismantle an apparent al-Qaeda affiliate before it can spread its influence far and wide.
Only months after law enforcement agencies said they had made considerable inroads in subduing radical Islamist groups Jamatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the recent discovery of another extremist group concerns authorities.
The existence of Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) came to light in early March during the interrogations of five students enrolled at a prestigious university in Dhaka – all arrested in the brutal murder of prominent blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider. Rajib played a key role organising the Shahbagh movement demanding execution of Islamists on trial for alleged atrocities committed during the liberation war in 1971.
"We came to know about the group during interrogation. They appear to be more radical than the JMB and Hizb," Monirul Islam, deputy commissioner Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told Khabar South Asia.
"It has posed a new challenge for us but we are determined to get to the bottom of it and we will succeed in crushing them the way we were able to crush the JMB and Hizb," Islam said.
According to the preliminary investigation, police got the first clue of ABT's existence from the Ansar al Mujahideen English Forum (AAMEF), an al Qaeda-affiliated website which posted news of the arrested students with the headline: "Five lions of Ummah".
A deeper probe into the website offered some tantalizing clues about another extremist website, bab-ul-islam.net, launched last year and hosted in Pakistan. It targeted young people largely from English-medium colleges and universities for recruitment.
According to the website, ABT was founded at North-South University (NSU) in Dhaka and modeled on the Iraqi al-Qaeda group Ansar-Ul-Islam.
Its followers, mostly from NSU, apparently became active in Bangladesh through AAMEF in mid-2012, advocating jihad in Bengali, Arabic and Urdu.
"We had no idea about this group until five of our students were arrested in early March," NSU spokesman Belal Ahmed told Khabar. "We are simply dumbfounded by this discovery."
Two brutal acts
Law enforcement officials have so far been able to establish ABT's direct links to two violent acts. Besides the murder of Rajib, police allege its members also participated in the brutal January 14th stabbing of blogger Asif Mohiuddin, who miraculously survived.
During interrogation, the arrested students: Faisal Bin Nayeem, 22, Maksudul Hasan, 23, Ehsan Reza, 23, Nayeem Sikder, 19 and Nafis Imtiaz, 22, reportedly told police about their "big brothers" at the helm of ABT.
"But we cannot divulge their identities at this moment for the sake of [the] investigation," police official Islam said.
Religious scholars say some young people, like the arrested students, are victims of brainwashing by extremist elements who lack even a basic understanding of Islam.
"They have very limited knowledge about Islam, religion, faith and jihad. They are being misled by vested interest groups," Kazi Nurul Islam, professor emeritus of Religious Studies at Dhaka University, told Khabar.
The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina appears determined to hunt down the extremists and bring them to justice.
"We have a zero-tolerance policy regarding religious extremism. Unfortunately, a section of the younger generation is being derailed with false promises," Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid told Khabar.
The minister urged parents and guardians to keep a constant vigil. "Where are my kids going, what are they doing and with whom they are mingling, the parents must know," he said.
To counter bigotry, religious leaders, politicians, teachers and all conscious citizens should come together in order to rid the society of extremism, the minister added.