The Bangladeshi-born Canadian leader of a militant faction who was the “main mastermind” of last month’s deadly siege at a Dhaka café was killed with two other suspects in a shootout with police near the capital on Saturday, officials said.
Tamim Chowdhury, 30, and two unidentified suspects were shot dead while resisting arrest during a mid-morning raid by police and security forces on a house in Naryanganj, a district on the outskirts of Dhaka, according to authorities.
“This is a matter of shame for us that a notorious terrorist like Tamim Chowdhury resided near us,” Azizur Rahman, a resident of Paikpara, a section of Narayanganj where the gunfight took place, told a BenarNews correspondent at the scene.
Chowdhury’s name figured prominently among at least 10 people identified by police as alleged “masterminds” of the July 1 terrorist attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery restaurant. Twenty hostages – mostly foreigners – were reportedly killed with machetes during the overnight siege in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter. The five alleged attackers were all killed when security forces stormed the restaurant and broke the siege on the morning of July 2.
The so-called extremist group Islamic State claimed that its fighters carried out the attack, but the government has since denied that a link exists between the siege and any transnational terror group. A recent edition of Dabiq, IS’s propaganda magazine, claimed that Tamim Chowdhury headed the group’s network in Bangladesh. After Saturday’s shootout, Bangladesh’s home minister and national police chief repeated earlier official denials about IS having any presence in the country.
“Tamim Chowdhury is among the three militants killed today. We have yet to identify the two others, but we think [they were] his close aides,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told reporters while visiting the scene.
Chowdhury headed a faction of the home-grown militant group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB), known as Neo-JMB, police counter-terror chief Monirul Islam told BenarNews. Authorities had put a bounty of 2 million taka (U.S. $25,565) on Chowdhury’s head.
Apart from identifying him by name, police named one “Marjan” as among the other masterminds behind the plot, but they declined to disclose the names of the others.
The investigation into the café attack so far has yielded two suspects in custody. A British citizen and a Canadian resident, both of Bangladeshi origin and who were inside the café as the attack unfolded, are being held over allegations that they behaved suspiciously and may have abetted the hostage-takers – a charge that their families and lawyers have denied.
‘Free of another curse’: PM
Bangladeshi officials have said that JMB-linked militants were behind the attack at the café, an attack on the country’s largest annual Eid prayer gathering on July 6, as well as killings of religious minorities and other violent extremist acts.
Later Saturday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina praised the police and intelligence services for the operation that took out Chowdhury.
“The main mastermind of the Holey Artisan [attack] has been eliminated," Hasina told reporters at her office, according to Agence France-Presse.
"The nation has become free of another curse," she said, adding that the "elimination of the extremists" would bolster "people's confidence.”
The shootout came ahead of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s scheduled arrival in Dhaka on Monday, where he is to hold talks with Bangladeshi officials about cooperation on security matters and other bilateral concerns, the State Department announced last week.
A dual U.S.-Bangladeshi citizen was among at least 17 foreigners killed in the café attack, and another national of both countries was among nine suspected militants killed in a police raid on a JMB hideout in Dhaka on July 26, Bangladeshi authorities said. Citing privacy laws, the U.S. embassy in Dhaka declined to confirm whether the slain suspect, Shehzad Rouf Arka, was an American citizen.
Tamim Chowdhury [Courtesy of Dhaka Metropolitan Police]
Acting on a tip, the police and members of the Rapid Action Battalion on Saturday morning encircled a three-story house in Paikpara, where the suspects were believed to be hiding in a second-floor apartment, officials said.
“They were asked to surrender, but they refused. Finally, the police carried out the operation and they died in the gunfight,” Inspector-General of Police A.K.M. Shahidul Hoque told reporters at the scene.
In rebuffing the call to surrender, the suspects opened fire and threw hand grenades at security personnel, said Sanowar Hossain, an additional deputy commissioner of the national police’s counter-terrorist branch.
Authorities said they recovered an AK-22 rifle and two live grenades from the second-floor apartment.
An area resident and construction worker, Ruhul Amin, said the suspects lived in an apartment next-door to his.
He had left his apartment early in the morning for prayers at the local mosque, and was returning home when relatives telephoned him to alert him to stay away from the building, where the standoff with police was unfolding.
He said he rarely saw his neighbors next-door.
“I saw two of them once on a Friday as they were taking in some goods, such as a gas stove. Today, we came to know that they are militants,” Amin told BenarNews.
Police said Tamim Chowdhury and two other suspects were hiding out in this three-story house in Paikpara, Aug. 27, 2016. [Newsroom Photo]