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Bangladesh 2018 Crime & Safety Report

South Central Asia > Bangladesh; South Central Asia > Bangladesh > Dhaka

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Bangladesh has been assessed as Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy 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.

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Dhaka as being a HIGH-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Please review OSAC’s Bangladesh-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

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 foreigners have been or are being targeted 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 (versus random violent criminal acts).

Vehicle theft and break-ins occur.

Cargo theft can be mitigated by utilizing closed, locked containers to transport goods.

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

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybersecurity intrusions and credit/debit card fraud is not unusually high. Online shopping, banking, proprietary business work or other sensitive activities should not be done on unsecured or public wireless networks (found at airports, restaurants, and cafes). Publicly accessible computers (in hotel business centers, libraries, and cyber cafes) should also be avoided.

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

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions and quality varies from good to poor throughout Bangladesh. Most roads are generally passable; however, drivers should exercise extra caution regarding speed. Roads tend to have many users: pedestrians, farm animals, rickshaws, bicyclists, motorcycles, scooters, and delivery carts.

Traffic regulations are rarely enforced nor 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 common to share the road with vehicles/rickshaws/bicycles/motorcycles traveling against the flow of traffic and to experience vehicles without functioning brake lights, turn signals or headlights, distracted driving, pedestrians walking in the street, and commuters exiting or boarding moving buses.   

Night-time driving outside of urban areas is characterized by low visibility due to the lack of roadside lighting. Fog can be a barrier to visibility, and pedestrians and animals may be difficult to detect 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, which often result in gridlock. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

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

Public Transportation Conditions

Use of public transportation (buses, taxis, rickshaws, motorized rickshaws known as "CNGs") is not recommended and can be hazardous. Safety standards are not well enforced, and 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 with Bangladeshis frequently overcrowding the cars and/or riding on top of the train. The railway lines are occasionally targeted for sabotage and derailment during political unrest as a means of enforcing “hartals” (general nationwide strikes). 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 the International Airport in Dhaka can be chaotic and intimidating for the less-seasoned traveler. Long lines at immigration and delays in getting luggage are common. The RSO recommends that travelers decline help from anyone offering assistance unless that assistance has been pre-arranged and coordinated (by the traveler’s company or a travel expeditor). The RSO also recommends that travelers pre-arrange transportation from the airport from their hotel or company.

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

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Dhaka as being a HIGH-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is a real and credible threat from terrorism in Bangladesh, as multiple transnational terrorist groups (al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and ISIS) have claimed credit for a series of assaults against various targets. Some elements within Bangladeshi groups have also associated themselves with transnational terrorist groups.

Throughout 2017, local media and law enforcement agencies have reported on counter-terrorism raids conducted by the government. 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.

In 2016, Bangladesh has 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 on July 1, 2016, was the most sophisticated attack to date, where 20 foreigners were murdered, including three students from U.S. universities. ISIS claimed credit for many of these attacks, including July 1. 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, and 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, pistols and a suicide vest have also been used.

Even before al-Qa’ida officially announced the formation of its new Indian Subcontinent branch in September 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 mid-2015. According to an April 2016 Bangladeshi media report, individuals who had belonged to another domestic militant group, Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), served as the connection between AI and AQIS. In December 2015, al-Qa’ida-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 January 2013 to October 2015 in a “Timeline of the Assassinations of the Blasphemers in Bangladesh.”

ISIS formally announced its foothold in Bangladesh in a November 2015 issue of Dabiq. Bangladesh features prominently in subsequent features of the magazine, as Bangladesh is seen as a strategic operations base for establishing a caliphate and to facilitate attacks inside India, a symbolic and important target for ISIS. Subsequent issues of Dabiq and social-media sources praise attacks in Bangladesh, boasting about the reaction from foreign governments and the private sector, while promising further attacks. And, as ISIS started to lose its foothold in Iraq, its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi included Bangladesh in his communications, telling ISIS members to “champion your brothers in…Bangladesh, and everywhere.” AQ has also called on Bangladesh to commit jihad in Burma in support of the Rohingya population.

The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to concerns about the ongoing potential for extremist violence in Bangladesh. The U.S. government assesses that the terrorist threat remains real and credible, and further attacks are possible.

Anti-American/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, Ansar al-Islam, and ABT. Americans have not been specifically targeted for terrorist activity because they are Americans, but there is a current terrorist threat of attack against Westerners in Bangladesh. On September 28, 2015, and in subsequent messages, the U.S. Embassy warned that a terrorist attack could occur against Westerners in Bangladesh, including attacks against large gatherings of foreigners at international hotels.

  • On April 25, 2016, an employee at the U.S. Embassy and LGBT activist was killed at his home along with a friend by AQIS/ABT.

  • There have been public claims of responsibility by ISIS for the September 28, 2015, killing of an Italian national, the October 3, 2015, killing of a Japanese national, and the October 24, 2015, bombing of a Shia Muslim religious procession, in addition to other terrorist incidents mentioned previously.

ISIS threatened to continue “discovering security gaps and holes” to target “expats, tourists, diplomats, garment buyers, missionaries, [and] sports teams” in Bangladesh.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Dhaka as being a HIGH-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest

Political parties and other organizations frequently organize general strikes (called 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, including firearms with rubber bullets, against demonstrators. Avoid all demonstrations or political gatherings.

In times of demonstrations, national strikes, or elections, avoid Road 86 in the Gulshan-2 area of Dhaka, as one of the major national political party’s headquarters is located there. Take particular precaution against exposed movement during hours of darkness in the vicinity of Gulshan-2 Circle (DIT-2). 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 because political rallies can occur at these locations.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

In 2017, an estimated 655,000 Rohingya fled neighboring Rakhine state in Burma 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, located in 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 negotiating with the government of Burma on a process to return the Rohingya to Burma. As a result of the latest influx of Rohingya, public infrastructure and resources in and around Cox’s Bazar has been severely impacted, contributing to increased tensions between the Rohingya and the host community.

Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority country, which 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 has been directed toward minority groups, including Hindus and Buddhists. Violent attacks against religious minority communities continued, apparently motivated by transnational violent extremism as well as economic/political reasons - such as property disputes. These include:

  • On October 30, 2016, attacks against Hindu’s left more than 100 injured and several homeless after 15 temples and 200 homes belonging to Hindus were destroyed as a result of a Facebook rumor.

  • From Jan-Sept 2016, there were 20 fatal attacks on religious minorities including Buddhist, Christians, Shia, and Hindus by ISIS, according to The Daily Star.

  • The stabbing of three Christians in their home on December 10, 2015; a Christian priest killed by JMB in Pabna in October 2015; and, a suicide bombing of an Ahmadi congregation on December 25, 2015 in Bagmara, which left three injured.

  • In 2015, extremist groups attacked secular bloggers, murdering four, including a U.S. citizen, in separate incidents.

2017 saw a reduction in the total number of reported violent incidents against religious minorities (165 vs. 252), religious structures (166 vs. 197) when compared to 2016. Finally, in 2016, there were 11 reports of violent extremists (namely, AQIS and ISIS) conducting religiously motivated attacks in Bangladesh; in 2017, there were no reports. 

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Bangladesh, particularly Dhaka, with a population of 19 million, is one of the fastest growing urban areas and is the most seismically vulnerable regions in the world. Dhaka has been identified by Stanford University, the leading school on seismic risk management, 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 and 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.

According to Air Quality Index, Bangladesh ranks 169 (out of 178 countries) at the Environmental Performance Index for Air Quality (2014 score). Furthermore, according to the most recent World Health Organization data, Dhaka’s average annual air quality score corresponds to a 168 – “Unhealthy” rating in the Air Quality Index.

Critical Infrastructure

Industrial accidents are an issue, with the most prominent incident occurring in April 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 complaint is filed by a third party. Open displays of homosexual relationships will be met with public disapproval.

Drug-related Crimes

Those involved in drug-related crimes, the use, possession, or illegal distribution of illegal narcotics can face severe punishment if convicted. “Yaba” is an illegal methamphetamine, and visitors should avoid purchase of any illegal drugs.

Kidnapping Threat

U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to the Chittagong Hill Tracts due to kidnappings and other security incidents. Vetting of personnel and proper personal security procedures remain keys to avoiding kidnapping. 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, Dhaka (Tel: +88 02 5566-2000) and ask the operator to connect you to American Citizen Services.

Local police telephone numbers:

Gulshan: +88 02 989-5826

Banani: +88 02 55042243

Vatara: +88 02 989-7438

Badda: +88 02 988-2652

Police and Fire Service:999

Crime Victim Assistance

Victims of crime can 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 number: 10921. Call center staff are trained to provide information on local victim’s assistance resources, including hospitals, shelters, and police contacts, in both Bangla and English. Information provided is confidential. The website for the National Helpline is: www.mspvaw.org.bd. Their email address is: nhcvawc@yahoo.com.

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

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 is charged with enforcement of national and local legal codes.

Medical Emergencies

Local medical services may not meet Western standards.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy/Consulate’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

International SOS based in Singapore: +65 6338 7800

Insurance Guidance

It is recommended that travelers have some form of medical/evacuation insurance in place prior to arrival or have a plan in case there is a medical emergency.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

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

Cases involving dengue fever, chikungunya, and rabies have been reported in Bangladesh. Travelers are advised to 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: Sun-Thurs, 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) at step.state.gov. 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