Online links between the men responsible for the carnage at the Dhaka restaurant and the Islamic State are being tracked by investigative agencies worldwide, despite the Bangladesh government’s refusal to accept that the terrorists in the attack were connected to IS.
Officials say that even as the attack was under way on Friday night, the Islamic State-run Amaq news agency had carried gruesome photographs they claimed were from the Holey Artisan Bakery and restaurant.
In a communiqué distributed on Telegram and Twitter in July, the Amaq site said that the men targeted a gathering of “citizens of Crusader states” in Dhaka, and killed 22 “Crusaders,” including 7 Italians, and two police officers.
It warned: “Let the citizens of the Crusader states know that they will not be safe from the strikes of the mujahideen as long your aircraft kill the Muslims.”
The site posted pictures of five Bangladeshi men wearing black kurtas, kifayas (headgear) and holding assault rifles with the IS black flag in the background.
Bangladesh police chief A.K.M. Shahidul Hoque said six men were involved in the attack and five of the dead gunmen were listed as militants. Police had been looking for them. They were identified as Akash, Bikash, Don, Bandhon, and Ripon, their adopted names for the attack. The sixth person was captured and was being interrogated.
In particular, investigators zeroed in on the Twitter account of Nibras Islam (24) one of the attackers identified. Among just 12 accounts he followed was that of @shamiwitness, the pro-Islamic State account run by Mehdi Masroor Biswas, an electrical engineer arrested from Bengaluru in 2014.
The Twitter handle run by Biswas from West Bengal had attracted many followers on the social networking site where he posted several incendiary messages regarding the IS from January 2013-December 2014, till U.K.-based Channel 4 news channel revealed his identity. The last message posted from Biswas’s account was on December 11, 2014 and it has not been deactivated. A Karnataka police official said they had kept the account in a dormant state and were operating it to produce it as evidence in the court.
Islam was also following U.K.-based radical Islam preacher Anjem Chowdhury through Twitter. Nibras Islam studied in North South University of Dhaka and went to study at the Malaysia branch of the Australia-based Monash University in 2014.
Officials said all the attackers were educated, came from wealthy backgrounds in Bangladesh, and even belonged to families with political connections. The story of Rohan Ibn Imtiaz, one of the alleged attackers has shocked many.
Rohan reportedly went missing in January. His father S.M. Imtiaz Khan Babul who has been the secretary of the now defunct Dhaka Mahanagar Awami League Youth and Sports wing had lodged a police complaint on January 8 in Dhaka. He only received word of his son when Rohan’s photograph was released by the Amaq site on Saturday after the attack ended in Dhaka.
Rohan studied in Dhaka Scholastika, a prominent school where his mother teaches mathematics. An official said he went abroad in the last seven months and received arms training or perhaps got trained at some secret location in Bangladesh.
Another attacker, Mir Sabih Mubasher, is a former student of Dhaka Scholastica and like Rohan he too went missing in March.
Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan who confirmed the backgrounds of the terrorists insisted that they had “no connection with the Islamic State”. “They are members of the Jamat-ul-Mujahdeen Bangladesh,” Mr. Khan told AFP, referring to a group banned in Bangladesh for more than a decade.
“They are all highly educated young Bangladesh men and went to university. No one is from a madrassa,” he added. Asked why they would have become Islamist militants, Mr. Khan said: “It has become a fashion.”
Meanwhile the Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), that was designated as a terrorist organisation by the U.S. last week, released a 15-minute audio message inciting Indian Muslims to rise up and to follow the example of lone wolves in Europe and kill IAS and IPS officers in India.
Asim Umar, the head of AQIS, who has been identified by security agencies as Sanaullah Haq from Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh released an Urdu speech entitled, “No to the Slogan of Disbelief.”
In his speech, Umar said, “Even if you come out carrying merely knives and swords then — history bears witness — Hindus cannot withstand you. Kill the senior officers of institutions and administrative departments that get [people to] start these riots. Target IAS, and IPS officers. Cause them financial losses.”