Bangladesh police arrested one of the suspected planners of the July 2016 Holey Artisan Bakery massacre during a counter-terrorist raid early Friday northwest of Dhaka, officials said.
Aslam Hossain Rashed (alias Rashedul Islam and alias Rash) was captured in Singra, Natore district, about 220 km (135 miles) from the Bangladeshi capital, counter-terrorism police unit Chief Monirul Islam told BenarNews.
“Rashed is being escorted to Dhaka,” Islam said, explaining that the suspect would be charged as a suspect in the café attack. “Rashed was one of the planners of the attack.”
Investigators had linked the suspect to slain Canadian national Tamim Chowdhury, who police believe was the mastermind of the attack, Sonaton Chakravarti, an additional superintendent of police in Bogra, told reporters Friday.
The July 1, 2016, attack left 29 people dead, including 20 hostages, two police office officers and the five militants who had stormed the café in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter, police said.
Investigators said they had identified 21 suspects, including 15 men who were killed in police raids or committed suicide to avoid arrest. Police believe the slain men were members of the Neo-JMB, an offshoot of outlawed Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh.
Officials said Rashed’s arrest brought the number of suspects in custody to five in connection with the attack while police are still searching for another suspect identified as Hadisur Rahman Sagor.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack and posted photos of the militants on one of its websites. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal and other government officials rejected that claim, blaming the attack on the domestic militant group Neo-JMB.
Suspects in custody
Hasnat Karim, a Bangladesh-born British citizen working as a businessman in Dhaka, was identified as a suspect and was the first one taken into custody in connection with the café attack. He has been in official police custody for nearly a year but has proclaimed his innocence, stating he was at the bakery with his wife and two daughters to celebrate a birthday.
Karim said he was a victim of circumstance, while police alleged he was linked to the attackers because he was able to leave unharmed.
Since then, Neo-JMB members Mizanur Rahman (alias Boro “Big” Mizan), Raqibul Hasan Regan and Jahangir Alam (alias Rajib Gandhi) have been jailed for their alleged roles in the attack.
The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina faced tough questions about its efforts to tackle terrorism following a string of bloody attacks against writers, activists, bloggers and religious minorities dating to 2013.
Bangladesh police also grappled with criticism for failing to submit its report on the Holey Artisan attack after almost 13 months.
“The law-enforcement agencies are very much interested in carrying out (pre-emptive) operations or arresting the suspects. But they are not so interested in bringing the militants to justice,” Syed Mahfujul Haque Marjan, a professor of criminology at Dhaka University, told BenarNews.
“The charge sheet has yet to be submitted. When will the case trial start? Japan, Italy and other countries have been affected by the attack. So speedy disposal of the case is a big challenge for Bangladesh,” he said.
On Thursday, Home Minister Khan told reporters that police were preparing to submit a report, adding that the investigation was at its final stage.
Previously, police attributed the report’s delay to their inability to arrest the five fugitive Neo-JMB militants, including Rashed and Sagor.
Aslam Hossain Rashed (alias Rashedul Islam and alias Rash). (Courtesy Bangladesh Police)