Bangladesh to track missing students after attacks

Wreaths and flowers are pictured at a makeshift memorial near the Holey Artisan Bakery and the O'Kitchen Restaurant in Dhaka, Bangladesh on July 5, 2016.
Wreaths and flowers are pictured at a makeshift memorial near the Holey Artisan Bakery and the O'Kitchen Restaurant in Dhaka, Bangladesh on July 5, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Dhaka (AFP) - Bangladesh on Sunday (July 10) ordered schools to notify the government about truant students in the wake of two deadly attacks by suspected Islamist extremists, several of whom were at elite universities but had been missing for months.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called on every school, college and university to "create a list of absent students and publish it".

Bangladesh has been reeling from dozens of attacks since the turn of the year, mainly targeting secular activists or religious minorities.

"We will be rigorous," the premier said. "We must uproot militancy and terrorism from Bangladesh."

Three of the alleged militants who participated in an attack on a Dhaka cafe last week, in which 20 hostages were murdered, attended top schools and universities in the Bangladeshi capital.

The revelation that the attackers were educated, well-off members of society has sparked fears that Islamic extremism has spread far beyond disenfranchised youngsters being radicalised in madrasas.

School authorities would now have to provide information on any students who have an unexplained absence of 10 days or more, Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid said.

Bangladeshi authorities have so far only given code names of the cafe assailants after interrogating a gunman who was captured alive, but they have released photos of their bloodied corpses.

Another student of a well-regarded university also participated in a deadly attack in northern Bangladesh on Thursday (July 7) that killed at least three people at a huge prayer gathering marking the start of Eid.

Police said both attacks were carried out by a banned local militant group, despite vocal claims from the Islamic State group (ISIS) that they were responsible for the siege at the Dhaka cafe.

Police last week said they were trying to find former reality TV star and musician Tahmid Rahman Safi after allegations emerged that he joined ISIS.

Safi, the son of a former-top government bureaucrat, was identified by his friends after he appeared in an ISIS video, lauding the cafe siege and threatening more attacks.

"We are investigating all those who are reported missing," a Dhaka police spokesman told AFP.

Authorities, meanwhile, have launched a publicity blitz, urging parents to closely monitor their children with television channels broadcasting photos of missing students and advertisements to deter extremism.

On social media, many have expressed their concern over those who went missing.

"Missing young men are potential moving bombs now. They can strike anywhere, any time," Mushtaq Ahmed, an entrepreneur, posted on Facebook.