Bangladeshi authorities said Sunday they had arrested a fugitive suspected of overseeing efforts to supply cash and weapons that militants used in perpetrating a massacre at a Dhaka café in July 2016 – the deadliest terror attack in the nation’s history.
Ripon confessed under interrogation to those alleged activities as well as taking part in meetings in early 2016 at which the Neo-JMB militant group plotted its siege of the Holey Artisan Bakery, RAB officials said. Ripon was one of two suspected Neo JMB members who were on the run but had been formally charged with six suspects in custody, when they went on trial in late November in connection with the café attack.
The elite counter-terrorist Rapid Action Battalion caught the suspect, identified as 30-year-old Mohammad Mamunur Rashid Ripon, while he was travelling north of Dhaka the day before, authorities said.
“He was arrested Saturday from a bus near the Board Bazar area in Gazipur,” RAB spokesman Mufti Mahmud Khan told a press conference in Dhaka on Sunday.
“During interrogation he confessed to playing a role in the Holey Artisan attack. He provided arms, ammunition and money for the attack,” he said, specifying that Ripon had raised 3.9 million taka (U.S. $46,830) for the plot and collected cash, weaponry and ammunition from inside neighboring India.
“[A] number of militant attacks took place under his supervision,” the spokesman added, without elaborating.
Ripon was carrying a diary, four drafts of maps, and 150,000 taka (U.S. $1,801) in cash at the time of his arrest, RAB said.
“He was trying to reorganize the Neo JMB ... During the primary interrogation, he informed us that they were planning to snatch the accused persons in the style some accused militants were snatched in 2014,” Khan said.
He was referring to an alleged plot to help militants break out of jail or police custody that emulated a daring jail break carried out five years ago, when militants ambushed a prison van and freed its inmate-occupants.
On Sunday, Ripon was produced before the Dhaka Metropolitan Court, which granted RAB a remand to hold him for five days of questioning, Anisur Rahman, a deputy commissioner in charge of prosecution at the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s court, told BenarNews.
In a written statement based on the suspect’s alleged confession, RAB said Ripon had attended a secret meeting in mid-2015 between two frontline Neo JMB leaders, Tamim Chowdhury and Sarwar Jahan. Both men were killed in a brutal anti-terror crackdown by Bangladeshi authorities that followed the overnight siege at the café, during which 20 hostages were slaughtered.
In April 2016, Ripon led a Neo-JMB team that went to India to collect money, arms and ammunition for the Holey Artisan plot, RAB said.
“Ripon supplied three AK-22 rifles, pistols and grenades used in the attack,” the RAB spokesman said, adding that the suspect also attended a meeting in February 2016, when the decision to carry out the plot was finalized.
Eight suspects left
On Nov. 26, 2018, Ripon and seven other suspected Neo-JMB militants were indicted on charges of conspiring and aiding in a deadly terrorist act in connection with the overnight attack at the bakery that led to the killings of 29 people. Six of the defendants already in custody all pleaded not guilty to the charges when they went on trial that day.
An eighth defendant, Shariful Islam (alias Khalid), remains at-large, authorities said.
The Islamic State (IS) extremist group claimed that five of its Bengali members carried out the attack, in which they used machetes to hack hostages to death.
Bangladeshi authorities, however, have since denied that IS or any other foreign terrorist network was behind the attack. They have blamed it on Neo JMB, a faction of a home-grown militant group, Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh.
The 20 hostages who died in the massacre included nine Italians, seven Japanese, one Indian and three Bangladeshis. Two policemen and two café workers were killed in the attack along with the five militants, who died when security forces raided the café in breaking the siege.
Altogether 21 suspects were named in a charge-sheet that police submitted earlier in 2018 before the trial began in November, but only eight of the suspects remained alive.
Apart from those eight, the charge-sheet listed the five dead gunmen who carried out the attack. Another eight suspected Neo JMB members were killed during the crackdown launched by Bangladesh in the months that followed the café siege. These included Tamim Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi-born Canadian national who allegedly masterminded the terror plot.
Last February, the U.S. State Department declared Neo-JMB a Specially Designated Global Terrorist organization. The designation allows Washington to block assets that members of the group affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) may have in U.S. jurisdictions, and bars American citizens from undertaking financial transactions with the Bangladeshi militant group.