August 17, 2005: 459 separate bombings in a half hour in Bangladesh

The Bangladeshi terrorist group JMB set off more than 450 bombs in 63 of the country’s 64 districts over a half hour period but only 2 people died.

Sometimes terrorists pull off an attack that really makes you marvel at their abilities.

BANGLADESH — As most of my readers know I spent more that thirty years as an analyst in the Canadian intelligence community. Over the course of those three decades I was exposed to some very interesting material. I was always grateful to be able to see another aspect of what was happening as major world events were unfolding. As a consequence I felt privileged to have the seat I occupied.

Not everything I worked on was terrorism-related: in fact, I did not begin to focus on terrorism until a few years after the mid-point of my career. In the early days I looked more at foreign intelligence, not security intelligence. This source of information was useful to my government’s (i.e. Canada’s) ability to conduct its series of relationships with other nations. I’d like to think what we provided to senior decision makers made a difference.

Once I began to zero in on security intelligence – i.e. terrorism – my world shrank significantly. I tried to understand who was who, what they were planning and how capable they were in actually doing what they said they would. After 9/11, this focus became all consuming, even for us in Canada.

We were not concerned only with what was about to take place in Canada though. The simple reason for this was that often events outside could have repercussions for us as well. In part, this was due to the large diasporas living in Canada, many of whom paid a lot of attention to what was happening ‘back home’ – and some of whom actually saw their new digs as a great place to plan terrorist acts themselves (hello Sikh extremists).

On this day in 2005

Hence it was with amazement that I reacted to a series of bombings on this day in 2005. They took place in Bangladesh and consisted of 459 blasts in 63 districts in 30 minutes. You read that right: 459 separate bombings in a half hour. Miraculously, only two people died and a hundreds were injured.

The terrorist group Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) claimed responsibility for the blasts through leaflets that left the countrymen in shock. The literature stated: “It is time to implement Islamic law in Bangladesh. There is no future with man-made law.”

It is not an isolated incident and done in an organised way with an objective. We had intelligence reports of some attacks between August 14 and 16, but we had no information of attacks on August 17.

Bangladeshi State Home Minister

Almost a month later Bangladeshi officials arrested some 200 people over the wave of bombings and tightened security amid concerns of more attacks. A decade later, a court in northern Bangladesh sentenced five JMB members to life in prison for their involvement in the bombings. A judge said the men, aged between 22 and 28, were part of a nationwide terror campaign.

Given the low death toll you may be tempted to conclude that the JMB was incompetent. Then again, they may merely have been passing the message “Hello! Here we are! See what we can do when we put our minds to it?”

I cannot remember ever seeing such a spate of attacks in such a short time period. And I hope to never see such a spate again.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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