DHAKA (REUTERS) - The seven militants who killed 20 people at a restaurant in Dhaka were from a Bangladeshi militant group and not the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a minister said on Sunday (July 3) as the country began a two-day period of mourning.
“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.”
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the killing of the hostages and two police officers during an 11-hour siege that ended on Saturday but the government has consistently denied that international extremist groups are operating in Bangladesh.
Police have released the names and photos of six of the attackers who were shot at the end of the siege. A seventh was arrested and is being interrogated by Bangladeshi intelligence officers.
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, Khan said: “It has become a fashion.”
A police official said police had tried before to arrest five of them.
Gunmen stormed the upmarket restaurant popular with expatriates in the 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.
"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's (ISIS) 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.
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 extremist networks.
ISIS 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 US$26 billion garment sector that accounts for 80 per cent 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".