Seven weeks have passed since terrorists killed 20 hostages in cold blood at a Dhaka café, but an ongoing police investigation has netted only two minor suspects, while the alleged masterminds remain at-large, authorities acknowledge.
Seventeen foreigners were among the slain hostages, and five men suspected of carrying out the attack were killed as security forces moved in to break the overnight siege at the Holey Artisan Bakery, which lasted into the morning of July 2 in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter.
Although the Islamic State (IS) claimed its supporters in Bangladesh attacked the café, Bangladeshi officials have maintained that the Mideast extremist group was in no way linked to it, and they have repeated earlier denials that IS has no presence in the country. They insist that home-grown militants were behind the slaughter.
Apart from two accused lesser suspects in custody, police have identified two men as among 10 people who allegedly masterminded the café attack.
“We have identified Canadian national Tamim Chowdhury, Marjan and eight others as the masterminds of the Gulshan attack,” Masudur Rahman, the spokesman for the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), told BenarNews on Monday. Police did not release the names of the other suspects.
Chowdhury and Marjan are believed to be at-large in the Dhaka area, officials told BenarNews.
Chowdhury is the head of the group’s Bangladeshi network, according to a recent edition of Dabiq, a propaganda magazine publish by IS, but authorities have rejected that assertion, claiming a faction of home-grown militant group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB) plotted and executed the attack.
So far, authorities said they have taken into custody two people who were inside the café as the attack unfolded. British citizen Hasnat Karim and Tahmid Hasib Khan, a student at the University of Toronto in Canada, played some kind of role in the attack, according to police.
Their lawyers and relatives said they are innocent but were caught up in a tragic chain of events at the restaurant. The two initially were identified among those hostages who emerged from the siege unhurt. That night, Karim, a businessman working in Dhaka, was at the restaurant celebrating his daughter’s birthday with his wife and two children when gunmen burst in and took hostages, according to reports.
A third man, Zakir Hossain Shaon, whom police sources identified as another potential suspect, worked as a pizza maker at the café. He died in a Dhaka hospital on July 8 of injuries reportedly sustained when security forces broke the siege.
Both Karim and Hasib are in a Dhaka jail, but only Karim has been arrested officially. Officials at the British and Canadian embassies in Dhaka did not respond to detailed requests for comment from BenarNews.
Lawyer Shah Mohammad Shahbuddin, who represents Karim, said his client will appear in court for a bail hearing on Wednesday.
‘IS ideology very much present’
After the siege was broken, police began to focus on Karim and Khan during post-rescue interviews with surviving hostages. Alleged discrepancies emerged in their accounts of when the siege was taking place, said Rahman of the DMP.
Karim had acted suspiciously by downloading an app on his phone 10 minutes after the attack began, according to police who claim the phone was used to transmit photos of the bodies of hacked-up hostages, which were later posted on social media.
Local media published photos that showed Karim and Khan talking to a militant on the roof of the café before commandoes launched their operation on July 2.
Karim’s lawyer told BenarNews that his client was innocent, saying that the militants had confiscated his client’s Smartphone and used the app to transmit the gory photos.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said the attackers were not linked to IS or any other international terrorist group.
“They [IS] could have gotten the photos from Facebook. This is an age of communication. They are JMB, not IS or al-Qaeda,” he told BenarNews.
Commenting on the investigation into the attack, a security analyst told BenarNews that no matter whether the home minister or other officials kept denying the presence of IS in their country, “The IS ideology is very much present in Bangladesh.”
“The Holey Artisan attack has proved that the JMB has connections with the international terrorist organizations,” retired Brig. Sakhawat Hossain said.