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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Bangladesh 2019 Crime & Safety Report

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Bangladesh at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Dhaka does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Please review OSAC’s Bangladesh-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is considerable risk from crime in Dhaka. Financial scams, vehicle thefts, and petty drug crimes comprise the majority of criminal activity in Dhaka and other major cities in Bangladesh. There is no indication that criminals target foreigners because of their nationality.

Homicides, sexual assaults, robberies, and residential break-ins occur with regular frequency, but do not exceed average levels of major cities in the U.S. Violent crime tends to be situational, with the perpetrators having some level of familiarity with the victims (as opposed to random violent criminal acts).

Many news stories reporting violent crimes indicate circumstances under which victims may have had an opportunity to alter patterns of behavior and respond to environmental factors that placed them at risk. Exercise caution in all areas of Dhaka. Most crime tends to be easily avoidable by exercising caution and common sense. Increase vigilance in hours of darkness and avoid moving around alone.

Vehicle theft and break-ins occur.

Cargo is at risk if left unattended and unsecured.

Business travelers should exercise caution with investment schemes or property transactions.

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybersecurity intrusions and credit/debit card fraud is not unusually high.

Other Areas of Concern

The government continues to be sensitive to travel to the Khagrachari, Rangamati, and Bandarban Hill Tracts districts, collectively known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in the east. Travel to the CHT is dangerous due to kidnappings and other security incidents. Political demonstrations, blockades, and violent clashes have occurred and are likely to continue. Official and unofficial U.S. government (USG) travel to the CHT requires prior approvals from the Chief of Mission (COM) and the Government of Bangladesh, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), and registration with the respective District (Administrative) Commissioner’s Office (DACO). Non-USG employee “civilian” travelers must first register and obtain DACO approval prior to visiting CHT. All travelers should exercise extreme caution when traveling to CHT. 

MOFA requires notification of official/non-official travel to Rohingya refugee camps located in the area of Cox’s Bazar.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions and quality varies throughout Bangladesh. Most roads are generally passable; however, drivers should exercise extra caution regarding speed. Roads tend to have many non-vehicular users, including pedestrians, farm animals, rickshaws, bicyclists, motorcycles, scooters, and delivery carts. Motorists must navigate roads safely with these users while paying attention to road quality, which can range from good to poor.

Traffic regulations are rarely enforced or adhered to, which contributes to daily traffic jams and overall gridlock in urban areas. Drivers should constantly exercise extreme caution while operating a motor vehicle, as it is commonplace to share the road with vehicles, rickshaws, bicycles, and motorcycles traveling against the flow of traffic, and to drive alongside vehicles without functioning brake lights, turn signals or headlights, distracted drivers, pedestrians walking in the street, and commuters exiting or boarding moving buses.    

Nighttime driving outside of urban areas involves low visibility due to the lack of roadside lighting. Fog can be a barrier to visibility; drivers are at risk of not being able to detect pedestrians and animals at night. The lack of reflective clothing and signage can leave a driver little/no time to react. Motor vehicle density and road construction in Dhaka presents traffic conditions with almost no maneuvering space between vehicles, often resulting in gridlock.    

Vehicular collisions that result in fatalities are common. Many occupants of vehicles do not wear seat belts, and drivers tend to travel at excessive speeds. Vehicle accident scenes can become confrontational and violent, as bystanders or related parties take sides with regard to fault. 

Public Transportation Conditions

Use of public transportation (e.g. buses, taxis, rickshaws, and motorized rickshaws, known as "CNGs") can be hazardous and is not recommended. Safety standards are not well enforced; passengers alone in taxis and rickshaws are often targets of crime.

The railway and river ferry are two other forms of public transportation commonly used by Bangladeshis. The railway system is often overcrowded. The railway lines are occasionally targets for sabotage and derailment during political unrest as a means of enforcing general nationwide strikes (hartals). Water ferries and boats are also often overcrowded and do not necessarily have sufficient/any safety standards. There have been several reports of ferries sinking due to weather, overcrowding, and/or unsafe conditions.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Arriving and departing Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (DAC) in Dhaka can be chaotic and intimidating for the less-seasoned traveler. Long lines at immigration and delays in getting luggage are common. Decline help from anyone offering assistance that is not pre-arranged and coordinated (by the traveler’s company or a travel expeditor). Travelers should pre-arrange transportation from the airport through their hotel or company.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government’s Civil Aviation Authority as not in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Bangladesh’s air carrier operations. Further information is on the FAA’s safety assessment page.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is considerable risk from terrorism in Dhaka. Multiple transnational terrorist groups (al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)) have claimed credit for a series of assaults against various targets throughout the country. Some elements within Bangladeshi groups have also associated themselves with such transnational terrorist groups.

In 2018, the local media and law enforcement agencies reported on government counterterrorism raids. Several of these raids have resulted in explosions, gunfire, injury, apprehension and/or death of the suspected militant(s) or occupants located within the targeted dwellings.

  • October 16 and 17: Counterterrorism and Transnational Crime Unit (CTTCU) officers encountered four suspects in Narsingdi district. Police killed two suspects in the encounter; the CTTCU officers negotiated with the two other, affiliated, suspects at a nearby location for over six hours until they surrendered to CTTCU officers.
  • June 11: Suspected terrorists murdered Shajahan Bachchu, a secular writer and political activist in Munshigan. The investigation remains ongoing, though Bangladesh security forces have attributed the killing to AQIS-affiliates.
  • March 3: A man self-identifying as a member of an AQIS-affiliate attacked Zafar Iqbal, a professor at a university in Sylhet. An investigation found that the attacker did not have ties to either the AQIS-affiliate or other terrorist organizations. However, the attacker said he targeted Iqbal as an “enemy of Islam.”

 

In 2016, Bangladesh experienced a series of violent attacks, including the high-profile murders of two foreign nationals, as well as bombings and other attacks against security forces and religious minorities, including Shias, Ahmadis, Hindus, and Christians. The Holey Artisan Bakery restaurant attack in July 2016 was the most sophisticated attack to-date, where militants murdered 20 foreigners, including three students from U.S. universities. ISIS claimed credit for many of these attacks, including Holey Artisan. However, AQIS and its domestic affiliate Ansar al Islam (AI) have claimed responsibility for seven terrorist attacks in Bangladesh – most of them in Dhaka, including the murder of a U.S. citizen blogger. ISIS- and/or AQIS-claimed terrorist incidents have taken place nationwide; most of the country’s administrative divisions have played host to at least one attack. Extremists have mostly used crude tactics, generally involving knives and machetes; however, attackers have also used pistols and a suicide vest.

Even before al-Qa’ida (AQ) officially announced the formation of its new AQIS branch in 2014, Bangladeshi groups like AI—formerly known as Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT)—had been killing secular writers and those critical of religion on behalf of al-Qa’ida. However, AQIS’s championing of the killing of secular bloggers likely reinvigorated AI, which started to refer to itself as the Bangladeshi wing of AQIS starting in 2015. According to a 2016 Bangladeshi media report, individuals who previously belonged to another domestic militant group, Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), served as the connection between AI and AQIS.  In 2015, AQ-linked media wing “Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF)” announced a merger with the ABT to produce and translate “visual releases, audio statements, and messages into Bengali.” More significantly, in January 2016, GIMF Bangla Team published tallies of the attacks claimed by AQIS from 2013 to 2015 in a “Timeline of the Assassinations of the Blasphemers in Bangladesh.” In April 2016, AQIS/ABT militants killed an employee of the U.S. Embassy and LGBT activist at his home, along with a friend.

ISIS formally announced its foothold in Bangladesh in a November 2015 issue of Dabiq. Bangladesh features prominently in subsequent features of the magazine, with Bangladesh a strategic operations base for establishing a caliphate and facilitating attacks inside India, itself a symbolic and important target for ISIS. Subsequent issues of Dabiq and social-media sources praise recent attacks in Bangladesh, boasting about the reaction from foreign governments and the private sector, while promising further attacks. And as ISIS loses its foothold in Iraq, its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi has specifically included Bangladesh in his communications, telling ISIS members to “champion your brothers in…Bangladesh, and everywhere.”

The potential for extremist violence in Bangladesh is ongoing. Travelers should exercise appropriate caution and maintain a high level of vigilance in light of violent attacks. The U.S. government assesses that the terrorist threat remains real and credible, and further attacks are possible.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

Anti-Western terrorist groups, some on the U.S. Government’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, are active in Bangladesh, including Harakat ul-Jihad-i-Islami/Bangladesh (HUJI-B), Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, AI, and ABT. Terrorist groups continue to communicate their desire to target Westerners in Bangladesh. ISIS threatened to continue “discovering security gaps and holes” to target “expats, tourists, diplomats, garment buyers, missionaries, [and] sports teams” in Bangladesh. While terrorists have not specifically targeted U.S. citizens for their nationality, there is a current terrorist threat of attack against Westerners, in general, in Bangladesh.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is considerable risk from civil unrest in Dhaka. Political parties and other organizations frequently organize general strikes (hartals) to disrupt or shut down services. Demonstrations sometimes lead to violent clashes, resulting in injuries, deaths, property damage, blocked highways, and sabotaged trains/railways. Participants throw rocks, debris, and small homemade explosive devices. Security forces use tear gas and other crowd control measures against demonstrators, including firearms with rubber bullets.

In times of demonstrations, national strikes, or elections, avoid Road 86 in the Gulshan-2 area of Dhaka, the location of one of the major national political party’s headquarters. Take particular precaution against exposed movement during hours of darkness in the vicinity of Gulshan-2 Circle (DIT-2). Due to the potential for violent political rallies, avoid Naya Paltan area in Dhaka, Baitul Mukarram Mosque (National Mosque), Muktangan (bordered by Baitul Mukarram Mosque to the east, the General Post Office (GPO) to the south, the Secretariat to the West, and Topkhana Road to the North), and Topkhana-Motijheel Road bec. Avoid all demonstrations or political gatherings.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

In 2017 an estimated 655,000 ethnic-Rohingya fled neighboring Burma’s Rakhine State to escape ethnic cleansing by the Burmese military. They joined an estimated 400,000 Rohingya from previous waves of migration in Cox’s Bazar District, southeastern Bangladesh. Many representatives of the international community, including numerous humanitarian aid organizations, are in Cox’s Bazar to provide humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya. With the latest wave of Rohingya into Bangladesh, Cox’s Bazar has reportedly become the country’s third-most densely populated area. The Government of Bangladesh is currently negotiating with the Government of Burma on a process to return the Rohingya to Burma. Because of the latest influx of Rohingya, public infrastructure and resources in and around Cox’s Bazar is severely strained, contributing to increased tensions between the Rohingya and the Cox’s Bazar host community.

Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority country that constitutionally guarantees religious freedom to its citizens. However, some discrimination has occurred, most notably against non-Muslims and minority groups, as referenced in the most recent International Religious Freedom Report. Recent extremist attacks on secular writers, religious minorities, and foreigners are a worrying development at odds with the country’s history of moderation, secularism, and tolerance. Religious or ethnic violence targets minority groups, including Hindus and Buddhists. Violent attacks against religious minority communities continue, apparently motivated by transnational violent extremism as well as economic/political reasons, such as property disputes.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Bangladesh – particularly Dhaka, with a population of 19 million – is one of the fastest growing and seismically vulnerable regions in the world.

Stanford University, the leading school on seismic risk management, has identified Dhaka as one of the 20 most vulnerable cities in the world. The concentration of seismic risk in urban centers of Bangladesh is a major source of concern; continued unplanned urbanization is adding to the threat. With the current regulatory and enforcement structure for urban development, authority and accountability is not clearly defined, making effective resilient development planning difficult.

Widespread flooding is also a constant threat, with substantial flood events and damage occurring in previous years. The government is proactive in addressing these issues, but has work to do in terms of creating the proper infrastructure and material resources to deal with large-scale catastrophes.

Bangladesh's capital Dhaka ranked third in the AirVisual Index of the world's cities with the worst air quality. Dhaka’s scores regularly score in the “unhealthy” range, according to AirVisual.

Critical Infrastructure

Industrial accidents are an issue. The most prominent incident occurred in 2013, when a building housing commercial and manufacturing
operation collapsed, killing over 1,400 people. International buyers of ready-made garments have been collaborating with the government to address worker safety issues and to certify manufacturers for compliance with building and fire safety standards.

Personal Identity Concerns

Although homosexuality is illegal, arrests for these offenses are rare and usually only made after a third party files a complaint. Open displays of homosexual relationships will be met with public disapproval. One of the individuals murdered in an AQIS/ABT attack in 2016 was a prominent LGBT activist and the senior editor of Bangladesh's first LGBT magazine.

Drug-related Crimes

Those involved in drug-related crimes, including the use, possession, or illegal distribution of illegal narcotics can face severe punishment if convicted. Yaba is a local illegal methamphetamine; avoid purchase of this or any other illegal drugs.

Kidnapping Threat

Do not travel to the Khagrachari, Rangamati, and Bandarban Hill Tracts districts (collectively known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts) due to kidnappings and other security incidents. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If harassed or detained by the local police authorities, contact the U.S. Embassy (Tel: +88 02 5566-2000) and ask the operator to connect you to American Citizen Services.

Police and Fire Service: 999

Local police telephone numbers:

Gulshan: +88 02 989-5826

Banani: +88 02 55042243

Vatara: +88 02 989-7438

Badda: +88 02 988-2652

Crime Victim Assistance

Victims of crime can also seek information and assistance from the National Helpline Centre for Violence against Women and Children, which offers a toll-free, 24-hour/day, 7-day/week hotline at 10921; you can also email them at nhcvawc@yahoo.com. Trained call center staff provide confidential information on local victim’s assistance resources, including hospitals, shelters, and police contacts, in both Bangla and English.

The Bangladesh Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs also supports One-stop Crisis Centers (OCCs) located at eight division and large city hospitals, and 60 crisis cells located at smaller clinics. Services provided free of charge at OCC facilities include medical treatment, counseling, and legal advice.

Police/Security Agencies

The Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) is the capital city’s primary law enforcement entity, consisting of several branches: Special Branch, Detective Branch, Criminal Investigation Division, SWAT, and Forensics. The DMP enforces national and local legal codes.

Medical Emergencies

Local medical services may not meet Western standards.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

Apollo Hospital: Plot: 81, Block: E, Bashundhara R/A, Dhaka 1229, Bangladesh; Central

PABX: +88 02 841661-5; Ambulance: +88 01714 090000; Emergency Hotline: 10678;

Appointment Center: +88 02 884-5242, +88 01729-276556, +88 01195-276556

United Hospital: Plot 15 Road No 71, Dhaka 1212, Bangladesh; Hotline: 10666; Ambulance:

+88 02 883-6000 Ext. 8066; Emergency: +88 01914-001234, +88 02 883-6000 Ext. 8066;

Appointment Center: +88 02 883-6000

Available Air Ambulance Services

International SOS based in Singapore: +65 6338 7800

Insurance Guidance

Have some form of medical/evacuation insurance in place prior to arrival, or have a plan in case of medical emergency.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Bangladesh.

Dengue fever, chikungunya, and rabies are endemic in Bangladesh. Travelers should use mosquito repellant and avoid contact with unvaccinated dogs.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Dhaka is active, meeting quarterly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s South and Central Asia team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

The U.S. Embassy Dhaka is located at Madani Avenue, Baridhara, Dhaka, Bangladesh 1212

Open: Sunday-Thursday, 0800-1630

Embassy Contact Numbers

Embassy: +88 02 5566-2000

In an emergency, press “0” and ask for the duty officer

Website: http://dhaka.usembassy.gov/  

Embassy Guidance

We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Bangladesh enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. Embassy or Consulate to contact you in an emergency. If you do not have Internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Additional Resources

Bangladesh Country Information Sheet

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