Bangladesh would welcome American assistance in determining whether the Islamic State has a foothold there, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews on Wednesday.
“Yes, we are ready to accept it if the U.S. offers us any assistance to find out whether they exist here ...,” said Khan, who repeatedly has rejected reports that IS carried out three deadly attacks on Bangladeshi soil within the past month.
On Monday, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the United States was taking “seriously” reported claims of IS responsibility for the recent attacks in Bangladesh.
“We’re working closely with the government of Bangladesh and key partners to assess who is responsible for these attacks and bring them to justice,” Kirby said during a press briefing in Washington D.C.
“It’s difficult to say the degree to which ISIL is or is not operating in Bangladesh …,” Kirby added, using another acronym for IS, which is also known as ISIS.
“But there’s an investigation going on right now that we want to – if there’s a need to be helpful, we want to be helpful. It’s by law enforcement authorities there in Bangladesh to confirm responsibility. It’s up to them to do this.”
According to State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Shahriar Alam, the government has been communicating with the Americans on this matter.
“We have yet to get an offer [of assistance] from them, though we have had talks on security issues,” Alam told BenarNews.
Maj. Gen. Mahbubur Rahman, a former army chief and security expert, said the government should take advantage of the American offer.
“The murder of the bloggers and the two foreigners, the bombing on the Shiites and the dispute over IS’s presence are ominous signs for the country. Our past experience about militancy is very bitter,” Rahman told BenarNews.
“Our intelligence agencies lack [resources] in tracking militants, though they are trying to the best of their capacity. The government should seek U.S. assistance to verify whether the IS has been operating in Bangladesh or not,” he added.
Minister takes aim at SITE
In the wake of the murder of two foreigners in shootings on Sept. 28 and Oct. 3, and Saturday’s bombing targeting Bangladesh’s Shiite minority that left scores injured and a teenager dead, the home minister has strongly denied an IS presence in Bangladesh.
According to the SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S.-based firm that monitors jihadist social media traffic, IS posted messages online claiming responsibility for the Oct. 24 bombing and the murders of Italian aid worker Cesare Tavella and Japanese farmer Kunio Hoshi.
Kamal has publicly lashed out at SITE for these reports and, in Wednesday’s interview, he accused the firm of smearing Bangladesh’s name.
"SITE is spreading this to defame the country. This is propaganda," the minister told BenarNews.
On Tuesday, SITE issued a statement defending its reporting on the three attacks in Bangladesh as well as its reputation for reliability as a source of news on the worldwide jihadist threat.
“SITE stands by its reports on ISIS’ claims of the three attacks in Bangladesh. The claims have been authenticated and found credible by SITE's rigorous verification process,” the statement said.
“The Bangladesh government's denial of ISIS’ attack claims and its continuous attempts to defame SITE's impeccable record do not change the fact that ISIS did claim responsibility for the aforementioned attacks,” SITE went on to say.
SITE Director Rita Katz could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
BNP connection in Tavella murder?
Bangladeshi officials have repeatedly stated that the perpetrators of the attacks were homegrown extremists trying to destabilize the country.
Kamal on Wednesday accused an official with the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), M.A. Quayum, of coordinating Tavella’s Sept. 28 murder in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter.
On Oct. 26, four suspects were arrested in connection with the murder, but authorities are now hunting for Quayum.
Three of them admitted carrying out the killing on the orders of a so-called "big brother," Agence France-Presse reported. “Quayum is the big brother,” AFP quoted Kamal as saying.
Kamal’s accusation was part of “blame game politics” practiced by the ruling Awami League, BNP spokesman Asaduzzaman Ripon said.
"Commissioner Quayum's involvement claim by the home minister is unacceptable and absurd," Ripon told a press conference Wednesday.
Arrest in attack on Christian
In other news Wednesday, police announced what they said was a major break in a knife attack on a Christian pastor in Pabna district on Oct. 5.
Police said they arrested a northern regional commander of the banned Islamist group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB), 25-year-old Raqibul Islam (also known as Tauhid and Rafiq), in Pabna town, in connection with the attack on Luke Sarker.
Sarker, the pastor of Faith Bible Church, survived the attack by three men at his home.
“After the attack on Luke Sarker, we met the home minister and the top police officers for our security. They all assured us of arresting the attackers. The arrest of the mastermind has really made us relieved,” Nirmal Rozario, general secretary of the Bangladesh Christian Association, told BenarNews.
Shahriar Sharif contributed to this report.