DHAKA, Aug 27, (Agencies): Bangladesh security forces killed three Islamist militants on Saturday, including a Bangladesh-born Canadian citizen accused of masterminding an attack on a cafe in Dhaka last month that killed 22 people, mostly foreigners, police said. The militants were cornered in a hideout on the outskirts of the capital and, having refused to surrender, were killed in the ensuing gunbattle, Monirul Islam, the head of the Dhaka police counterterrorism unit, told Reuters. He initially said four militants had been killed but later revised the number to three. US Secretary of State John Kerry is due to visit on Monday to discuss security after a series of killings targeting liberals and religious minorities in the mostly Muslim country. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the assault on the cafe in a posh neighbourhood where militants singled out non-Muslims and foreigners, killing Italians, Japanese, an American and an Indian.
The government has consistently denied the presence in the country of any transnational militant organisation such as al-Qaeda or Islamic State. But police believe that Jamaat-ul- Mujahideen Bangladesh, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, was involved in organising the cafe attack. The scale of that attack and the targeting of foreigners has cast a shadow over foreign investment in the poor South Asian economy, whose $28 billion garments export industry is the world’s second largest. “This operation definitely will uphold confidence and the image of Bangladesh,” said Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina. She told a news conference: “With this killing (Tamim) one curse has been removed from our shoulders.”
The suspected mastermind killed in Saturday’s raid was identified as Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, a 30-yearold Canadian citizen born in Bangladesh. Analysts say Islamic State in April identified Chowdhury as its national commander. “According to our evidence we are now sure that Tamim was among the three killed,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters. “So the chapter of Tamim has ended here.” Khan said Chowdhury was one of the main suppliers of funds and arms for several recent attacks. He had returned to Bangladesh in October 2013 via Abu Dhabi, A.K.M. Shahidul Hoque, the inspector general of police, said.
The raid followed a tip off from the landlord of the house where the militants were staying, Hoque told reporters. The landlord said the militants had described themselves as businessmen in the medical trade. Police spokesman Masudur Rahman said the fingerprints of two associates of Tamim who were also killed on Saturday have been sent to the election commission to confirm their identity. “Police collected evidence from the house though they (the associates) destroyed a laptop and some other documents,” he told Reuters.
They rented the house earlier this month and police recovered several grenades, arms and bullets. Last month police offered a 2 million taka ($26,000) reward for information enabling them to detain Tamim. Police have also detained two men who had been among the survivors of the restaurant attack. Hasnat Karim, who holds dual British and Bangladeshi citizenship, and Tahmid Hasib Khan, a student of Toronto University, had been dining separately in the restaurant. A lawyer for Karim, a 47-year-old engineer, has said his client is innocent. Relatives of Khan, 22, say he is innocent too.
Earlier this month, security forces arrested four women suspected of being members of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh. Officials said security issues, including Dhaka-Washington DC anti-terror cooperation, will feature during Kerry’s talks with his Bangladeshi counterpart on Monday. “The operation went on for an hour. We can see three dead bodies. They did not surrender. They threw four to five grenades at police and fired from AK 22 rifles,” Bangladesh national police chief A.K.M Shahidul Hoque told reporters Saturday.
“Three extremists were killed. Among them, one of the dead persons looked exactly like the photo of Tamim Chowdhury that we have,” he said. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the July 1 attack, releasing photos from inside the cafe during the siege and of the five men who carried out the deadly assault and were shot dead at its finale. But police and the Bangladesh government rejected the IS claim, saying a new faction of JMB led by Chowdhury was behind the attack in which 20 hostages, including 18 foreigners, were killed along with two policemen.
Police blame the JMB, a homegrown militant group, for the deaths of more than 80 foreigners and members of religious minorities over the last three years. “Tamim Chowdhury’s chapter is closed here,” Bangladesh home minister Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters after visiting the site of the raid Saturday. He said other extremists were “very few” in number and face imminent arrest.
A series of raids on suspected militant hideouts carried out with the Rapid Action Battalion elite security force have killed at least 24 extremists since the cafe attack. Police on Aug 2 announced a two million taka ($25,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of Chowdhury, who disappeared after the attack. Police say Chowdhury has led and financed efforts to radicalise young Muslims since returning from Canada three years ago.
His role in fostering extremism was revealed during the interrogation of Rakibul Hasan, 25, who was arrested in a raid on a militant hideout in July in which nine extremists were killed in Dhaka. A police report into that raid said Chowdhury and others gave Hasan and other militants “money, explosives and weapons” and “trained and advised” them. Bangladesh has been reeling from a deadly wave of attacks in the last three years, including on foreigners, rights activists and members of the country’s religious minorities.