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Militants behind Dhaka attack were locals, five were on police’s radar

world Updated: Jul 03, 2016 09:18 IST

Bangladeshi security officers cordoned off the area in the diplomatic zone where the attack took place. Heavily armed militants laid siege to Holey Artisan Bakery, killing 20 civilians and two police personnel on July 2. (AP Photo)

The seven militants who killed 20 people at a restaurant in Dhaka were local Bangladeshis, five of who authorities had tried to arrest before, police said, as the country began a two-day period of mourning on Sunday.

Gunmen stormed the upmarket restaurant popular with expatriates in the city’s diplomatic zone late on Friday, before killing 18 foreigners in a coordinated mass killing that experts said marked a level of scale and sophistication not previously seen in the South Asian country.

Most of the victims were hacked to death with machetes before commandos entered the building, killing six of the militants and capturing a seventh, after a 12-hour standoff, police said.

Read| Dhaka’s Holey Artisan Bakery: Popular hangout to a scene of massacre

“All gunmen were Bangladeshi. Five of them were listed as militants and law enforcers made several drives to arrest them,” national police chief Shahidul Hoque told reporters in Dhaka late on Saturday.

Police have yet to comment on Islamic State (IS)’s claims of responsibility, but security sources said authorities were probing deeper for possible ties between the gunmen and trans-national Islamist extremist groups given the scale and sophistication of the attack.

Read| Dhaka attackers spared hostages who could recite Quran verses: Survivor

Bangladesh has blamed two home-grown groups for a series of grisly killings targeting liberals or members of minority groups over the past 18 months, and local authorities have maintained that no operational links exist between Bangladeshi militants and international jihadi networks.

The IS posted photos on Saturday of five fighters it said were involved in the killings but its claim has not been confirmed.

Police said nine Italians, seven Japanese, two Bangladeshis, an Indian and a US citizen were killed during the attack at the Dhaka building, split between the Holey Artisan Bakery and the O’Kitchen Restaurant.

Italian media said several of the Italians victims worked in the garment industry, and the attack will frighten expatriates working in the $26 billion garment sector that accounts for 80% of its exports.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina announced two days of national mourning on Saturday and said the country would stand up and fight the “terror threat”.

Flags were being flown at half-mast in government offices and at other sites across the country while funerals of the two Bangladeshi victims were expected to be held.

Read| Dhaka restaurant siege: Indian woman killed by terrorists was visiting family

Read| Dhaka’s 26/11-like attack: Why Sheikh Hasina needs to wake up