Officials said Thursday that an explosion at a Dhaka police station the day before was the work of professional criminals, not terrorists, but security experts challenged the conclusion.
The blast injured five people, including one who lost a wrist, after a scale packed with explosives detonated at a police station, hours after police seized it from three men they had arrested and brought to the facility, according to police accounts.
“They are professional killers. They have previous criminal records. There is no militant link with the explosion at Pallabi police station,” Abdul Baten, joint commissioner of the police’s Detective Branch, told a press conference on Thursday.
The explosion occurred days after authorities warned that the Islamic State (IS) extremist group had declared a new Bengali unit and that this could inspire local militants to attack police and other targets ahead of the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-Adha.
Wednesday, hours after the explosion was first announced, IS claimed it was responsible, according to Site Intelligence, a U.S.-based research firm that monitors online communications of violent extremist groups.
A Dhaka court on Thursday granted the police a 14-day remand to interrogate the three men, named as Shahidul Islam, 23; Rafiqul Islam, 40; and Mosharraf Hossain, 26.
Picked up in the Mirpur section of Dhaka at around 2 a.m. on Wednesday, the suspects were carrying two pistols and a scale packed with explosives that detonated several hours later inside the police station, Abdul Baten said.
The three men were planning to assassinate a local politician, he alleged.
Security analysts disagreed with the police assessment, and the brother of one of the detained men said he had been picked up by police days earlier.
“Professional killers do not carry IEDs (improvised explosive devices.) They carry pistols and small arms so that they can commit the crime easily and flee the scene,” security analyst Mohammed Ali Shikder, a retired general, told BenarNews.
“This is a militant-linked incident, no matter what the police say,” he said, adding that it fit a pattern of past militant attacks on police outposts and vehicles.
Brig Gen (Rtd) Sakhawat Hossain, a counterterrorism expert, said the police account of the incident raised many questions.
“Why would professional killers make IEDs? Also why would police officers carry the undetected object inside the police station when the police headquarters issued a militant attack alert, citing the danger of IEDs and remote controlled bombs?” he told BenarNews.
“Immediately after the incident, the police came to the conclusion that there was no terrorism link in the blast. How did they become so sure about it?” he said.
In 2015 and 2016, police repeatedly denied the presence of Islamic State-linked groups in the country, even as it experienced a series of targeted killings of secular writers and activists.
“And the consequence of the denial was huge: we saw the Holey Artisan cafe attack that caused huge damage to Bangladesh,” Hossain said, citing the July 2016 attack that left 29 dead, including the perpetrators: five young Islamic State recruits.
On Monday, Bangladesh police said they had tightened security embassies, airports and other locales after an intelligence report warned that militants could try to carry out attacks this week.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Shafiqul Islam confirmed the authenticity of a letter issued July 19 by police headquarters, seen by BenarNews, warning that militant groups could mount suicide attacks or remote-controlled bombings.
Citing “intelligence,” the letter said that the “so-called Islamic State group” had announced a new unit called Bengal Ulawat, or Bengali-speaking branch, in time for Eid-ul-Adha, the Muslim holy day that falls on Aug. 1 this year in Bangladesh.
This could inspire local groups to mount attacks, it said.
Meanwhile, the brother of one of three arrested men told BenarNews that police had taken him into custody on Monday afternoon, not Wednesday. The man’s family even filed complaints with authorities about what they termed his “disappearance” at the hands of police, he said.
“How would he carry the explosive Wednesday when he had been under the police custody since Monday?” Rafiqul Islam said.