Bangladesh in mourn­ing fol­low­ing blood­bath

The Myanmar Times - - World -

BANGLADESH be­gan two days of na­tional mourn­ing yes­ter­day af­ter 20 hostages were slaugh­tered at a restau­rant as the gov­ern­ment in­sisted the at­tack­ers were home­grown ji­hadists and not fol­low­ers of the Is­lamic State group.

Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina de­creed the mourn­ing pe­riod as she vowed to drag Bangladesh back from the brink, warn­ing of a con­certed bid to turn one of the world’s most pop­u­lous na­tions into a failed state.

Amid mass con­dem­na­tion of the killings in Dhaka, whose vic­tims in­cluded 18 for­eign­ers, the Is­lamic State group said it had tar­geted a gath­er­ing of “cit­i­zens of cru­sader states” at the West­ern-style cafe.

But a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter in­sisted the killers, six of whom were gunned down at the end of the siege, were mem­bers of a home­grown mil­i­tant out­fit and had no links to in­ter­na­tional ji­hadist net­works.

“They are mem­bers of the Ja­maey­tul Mu­jahdeen Bangladesh,” Home Min­is­ter Asaduz­za­man Khan told AFP, re­fer­ring to a group which has been banned in Bangladesh for more than a decade.

“They have no con­nec­tions with the Is­lamic State.”

As well as the 20 slain hostages whose bod­ies were found amid pools of blood af­ter com­man­dos stormed the cafe to end the siege, two po­lice­men were also shot dead in a fierce gun-bat­tle at its out­set.

Six gun­men were shot dead by the com­man­dos at the fi­nal stages of the siege at the Ho­ley Ar­ti­san Bak­ery cafe but one of the hostage-tak­ers was taken alive and was be­ing in­ter­ro­gated by au­thor­i­ties.

Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said most of the vic­tims were slaugh­tered with sharp­ened ma­chete-style weapons.

Ms Hasina’s gov­ern­ment has pre­vi­ously blamed a string of deadly at­tacks against re­li­gious mi­nori­ties and for­eign­ers on do­mes­tic op­po­nents but the lat­est will heighten fears that the IS’s reach is spread­ing.

“Is­lam is a re­li­gion of peace. Stop killing in the name of the re­li­gion,” Ms Hasina said in an im­pas­sioned tele­vised ad­dress to the na­tion.

The 68-year-old premier said the peo­ple be­hind the at­tacks were try­ing to ruin Bangladesh, a mainly Mus­lim na­tion of 160 mil­lion peo­ple.

An­a­lysts say that the gov­ern­ment is wary of ac­knowl­edg­ing that groups such as the IS or al-Qaeda have gained a foothold in Bangladesh over fears that it will frighten off for­eign in­vestors, es­pe­cially in the gi­ant gar­ment man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try (see re­lated story page 11).

But Sha­hedul Anam Khan, an an­a­lyst for the Dhaka-based Daily Star, said the at­tack meant the gov­ern­ment could no longer plau­si­bly deny that in­ter­na­tional ji­hadist groups were ac­tive in Bangladesh.

“While one is not sure that th­ese peo­ple are or­gan­i­cally linked to the in­ter­na­tional ex­trem­ist groups, the gov­ern­ment must own up to the re­al­ity that the foot­prints of the IS in this coun­try is very real and no amount of deny­ing can al­ter the fact,” he wrote.

Flags were be­ing flown at half­mast in gov­ern­ment of­fices while prayer ser­vices were be­ing held across the coun­try.

Italy was mour­ing the loss of nine of its na­tion­als in the at­tack while seven Ja­panese were also killed.

Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe spoke of his “pro­found anger that so many in­no­cent peo­ple have lost their lives in the cruel and ne­far­i­ous ter­ror­ism” with Pope Fran­cis also join­ing the con­dem­na­tion.

The other vic­tims in­cluded an Amer­i­can and a 19-year-old In­dian who was study­ing in Cal­i­for­nia.

A Bangladeshi sur­vivor of the mas­sacre told how the at­tack­ers split the din­ers into groups of for­eign­ers and lo­cals, mak­ing clear that their tar­gets were non-Mus­lims.

“They kept say­ing, ‘Do not worry, we are here to kill for­eign­ers and non-Mus­lims. You should pray to God, pray five times a day,’” the un­named sur­vivor told the Dhaka Tri­bune news­pa­per.

Home Min­is­ter Asaduz­za­man Khan said that all of the at­tack­ers were well-ed­u­cated and most came from wealthy fam­i­lies.

“They are all highly ed­u­cated young men and went to univer­sity. No one is from a madrassa,” the min­is­ter said.

Asked why they would have be­come Is­lamist mil­i­tants, Mr Khan said, “It has be­come a fash­ion.”

The at­tack, by far the dead­li­est of a re­cent wave of killings claimed by the IS or a lo­cal al-Qaeda off­shoot, was car­ried out in the up­mar­ket Gul­shan neigh­bour­hood which is home to the coun­try’s elite and many em­bassies.

Last month au­thor­i­ties launched a crack­down on lo­cal ji­hadists, ar­rest­ing more than 11,000 peo­ple. Crit­ics al­lege the ar­rests were ar­bi­trary or de­signed to si­lence po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

Bangladesh’s main Is­lamist party has been banned from con­test­ing polls and most of its lead­ers have been ar­rested or ex­e­cuted af­ter re­cent tri­als over their role in the 1971 war of in­de­pen­dence from Pak­istan. –

Po­lice of­fi­cers carry a body from the ups scale cafe in Dhaka on July 2, a day af­ter the bloody siege which killed 20 hostages

Photo: AFP

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