Authorities in Bangladesh said Wednesday that they are seeking the public’s help in finding 261 missing citizens, including some who may have become radicalized.
The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite law enforcement unit, posted a list on Facebook detailing the names and addresses of the scores of people who have disappeared.
Bangladeshi authorities have stepped up efforts to find missing people after the official revelation that most of the five young men who carried out a terrorist attack which killed 20 hostages at a café in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter on July 1 were members of the country’s privileged class. They had attended Bangladesh’s top schools, but had been missing from their families for months, officials said.
The battalion released the list online following a directive issued by the government last week that called on schools and colleges nationwide to notify it about cases of students who have been absent for at least 10 consecutive days.
“We are seeking information from the people as we do not know the whereabouts of the missing people. We are not sure whether they have joined the militant groups, but there are risks that some of them may be linked to militancy,” RAB spokesman Mufti Mahmud Khan told BenarNews.
RAB’s list of 261 people includes a family of five from Dhaka, headed by pediatrician Khandakar Rokonuddin. Police told BenarNews they were investigating whether the doctor, his wife, his two daughters and son-in-law may have joined Islamic State or a similar militant group in Syria after travelling there together – as feared by relatives.
Law enforcers and security experts suspect that some of the missing people have joined militant groups that were involved in the attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery café or a spate of smaller-scale killings targeting secular writers, bloggers, publishers, intellectuals, foreigners and gay people since at least last year.
“I think maybe a section of the missing people could have gone to Syria or Iraq, but not all. The incidence of missing people is not new in Bangladesh. After the Holey Artisan attack, people are thinking that the missing people could be linked to the militants,” Syed Mahfujul Haque Marjan, a professor of criminology at Dhaka University, told BenarNews.
“The people going to Syria or Iraq for so-called jihad – I mean terrorism – may cause trouble for us,” he said.
Other suspects filmed on CCTV
Khan of the RAB said officials are investigating four people, including a woman, who were filmed by a security camera on a road near the bakery moments before the attack. The battalion posted a clip of closed-circuit TV footage on Facebook, saying it needed assistance in finding the four who are at-large and considered to be suspects.
In related news, Bangladeshi officials said Wednesday that they had collected fresh blood and tissue samples from the corpses of the slain men who carried out the café attack and were sending the samples to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation for lab testing.
The tests were needed to determine whether the men were drugged when they carried out the attack, in which they hacked to death their 20 hostages, officials said.
“The militants hacked the [hostages] repeatedly. They needed a huge amount of energy to carry out such a massacre. We are not sure whether the militants were administered drugs before the attack,” Sohel Mahmud, a forensic expert at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, where the samples were removed from the corpses that are being kept there, told BenarNews.
Blogger murder trial opens
Meanwhile, the murder trial in the case of one of four secular bloggers killed last year by suspected Islamic extremists opened in Dhaka on Wednesday.
A Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate’s court opened the proceedings by framing murder charges against five suspected members of the banned home-grown militant group Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) in the March 30, 2015, slaying of blogger Washiqur Rahman, near his home in the Bangladeshi capital.
The five defendants might face the death penalty, if convicted, a prosecutor told BenarNews.
Two of the defendants – Juned (alias Junaid Ahmed alias Taher) and Akram Hossain (alias Hasib alias Abdullah) – were absconding and would be tried in absentia, but the three others – Saiful Islam (alias Mansur), Ariful Islam (alias Mushfique alias Erfan), and Zikrullah (alias Hasan) pleaded not guilty to the charges, Additional Public Prosecutor Salahuddin Hawlader said.
“The charge framing or indictment is the first step of the judicial process,” he told Benar. “On Aug. 4, the court will allow the defense counsel to examine the witnesses.”
Shahriar Sharif in Dhaka contributed to this report.