Bangladeshi police were trying to confirm the names of Islamist militants who attacked a Dhaka restaurant, killing 20 people, checking whether the identification of some by friends on social media is correct, officials said on Monday.
Two people were arrested for the assault on a popular cafe in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter, as authorities stepped up probe into the international links of the hostage-takers.
Inspector general of police (IGP) AKM Shahidul Haque did not disclose the identities of either of the detainees or where they were being kept.
He said they were both physically unwell and will be quizzed after their condition improves. “One of them is in hospital, the other is in custody,” he said.
Islamic State posted pictures of five fighters it said were involved in Friday’s killings; most of the victims from Italy, Japan, India and the United States.
“Let the people of the crusader countries know that there is no safety for them as long as their aircraft are killing Muslims,” it said in a statement.
Killed within 20 minutes
The attackers slaughtered all the 20 hostages within 20 minutes of the brazen assault, inspector general Haque said, rejecting allegations by the media that police delayed the rescue operation.
“Many media are reporting that we had delayed the rescue mission but we did not. We completed the mission within 12 hours while countries like Kenya took four days to fight similar incident at one of their shopping malls.”
Who are the attackers
Posts on Facebook identified three of the five, whose grinning images appeared in front of a black flag, as Nibras Islam, Rohan Imtiaz and Meer Saameh Mubasheer.
Police have said all six gunmen killed were locals and five were on a government militant watchlist. But they also said they were holding off before confirming their identities.
Whoever was responsible, Friday’s attack marked a major escalation in scale and brutality by militants demanding Islamic rule in Bangladesh, whose 160 million people are mostly Muslim.
Some of the men went to an elite public school in Dhaka, Scholastic, and then college at North South University in the capital and Monash University in Malaysia, according to the posts. Police said officers were probing those links.
“They are all highly educated young men and from well-off families,” Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said. Asked why they would have become jihadists, Khan said: “It has become a fashion.”
Police arrested a seventh man at the restaurant who they suspect played a role in the attack. He is currently in hospital.
Home minister Khan believes home-grown militants responsible for a wave of killings against minority groups in the past year and a half were to blame for Friday’s bloodshed.
The plan is to look for family members of the gunmen, conduct DNA tests and investigate their links to international groups, authorities said.
Some analysts attribute the rise in extremism in the South Asia region to the preachings of radical Saudi-trained clerics in madrasas, religious seminaries that are often the only way for poorer families to give their children an education.
Nation in mourning
Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina visited a stadium where the bodies of three of the 20 slain hostages were taken. The brutality of the attack — the worst convulsion of violence yet in the recent series of deadly attacks to hit Bangladesh — has stunned the traditionally moderate Muslim nation and raised global concerns about whether it can cope with the increasingly strident Islamist militants.
The English-language Daily Star newspaper on Monday said the bloody hostage crisis had left “the nation shattered and with a sense of extreme unease.” The editorial also criticizes authorities’ consistent denial of the presence of any international terrorist groups, even as the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack and released gruesome photographs that apparently depicted the torture of hostages.