DHAKA • Bangladesh's capital city is still reeling from shock as clues about the privileged backgrounds of the half-dozen attackers in last week's bloody siege began to flood social media.
Five attackers were killed when the army stormed the Holey Artisan Bakery to end a 12-hour siege on Friday. Another man, believed to be a bystander, was also killed. One of the gunmen survived and was detained by police.
The killers are believed to have butchered at least 20 patrons in all.
Bangladeshi authorities have so far released only the code names of the assailants, as well as photos of their bloodied corpses.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) posted pictures of five fighters it said were involved in Friday's killings in Dhaka's diplomatic zone. Most of the victims were from Italy, Japan, India and the United States.
Three of the five attackers were identified as Nibras Islam, Rohan Imtiaz and Meer Saameh Mubasheer, based on Facebook posts. Police said all the five gunmen who were killed were locals and were on a government militant watchlist, but they added that they would wait before confirming their identities.
That's what we're absolutely riveted by. That these kids, from very affluent families with no material want, can still be turned to this kind of ideology, motivated not just to the point of killing but also want to be killed.
KAZI ANIS AHMED, writer and publisher of the daily newspaper The Dhaka Tribune.
The men, all in their late teens or early 20s, were members of Bangladesh's elite. Several of them attended one of the country's top English-medium private schools as well as universities both in the country and abroad. One of them was the son of a former senior leader of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's ruling Awami League party.
"They are all highly educated young men and from well-off families," said Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan. Asked why they turned into extremists, Mr Khan said: "It has become a fashion."
While the Bangladesh government has continued to deny that ISIS has a foothold in the country, that children of the country's upper crust appear to have joined militant Islamists in an act of such brutality has highlighted how radicalisation among the largely moderate Muslim population here has accelerated in recent years.
One of the attackers, said to be 22-year-old Nibras Islam, was studying at the Malaysian campus of Australia's Monash University before he went missing in January. A school friend remembered him as a popular pupil. "He was a good athlete who everyone admired."
After leaving school, Nibras went to North South University (NSU), a private university in Dhaka that came to prominence when one former student tried to bomb the Federal Reserve Bank in New York in 2012. In early 2013, seven NSU students hacked to death the atheist blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider, kickstarting a campaign of killing that targeted secular activists.
Nibras's tweets since 2014 had an emotional slant to them, indicating relationship complications. India Today reported that he was a fan of Bollywood films and one video posted on his Facebook page shows him shaking hands with Bollywood star Shraddha Kapoor. The caption read: "Shraddha Kapoor you beauty."
Another suspected attacker, Rohan Imtiaz, also reportedly studied at Monash in Malaysia after leaving Scholastica, an elite English-language school in Dhaka where his mother teaches. His father, Mr Imtiaz Khan Babul, is a former youth affairs secretary of the Dhaka wing of the ruling Awami League. He filed a missing person's report for his son in January.
Monash said it was aware of reports that some of the killers had studied in Malaysia but added in a statement that it "has not received, nor seen, any official confirmation" of the identities.
Meer Saameh Mubasheer, 18, was also a student at Scholastica School when he went missing on Feb 29. He left home for a tutorial class, which he did not attend, and never returned. Only one of the slain attackers is said to have attended a madrasah - the son of a labourer called Khairul Islam Payel.
Some analysts attribute the rise of extremism in South Asia to the preachings of radical, Saudi-trained clerics in madrasahs, or religious seminaries that are often the only way for poor families to give their children an education.
But Mr Mubashar Hasan, an expert on political Islam at Dhaka's Liberal Arts University, said the narrative is misleading. "Many so-called experts of Bangladesh have been writing and blaming only madrasahs for terrorism," said Mr Hasan.
"Foreign governments and agencies have spent millions in cash for projects on reforming and modernising madrasah education... What are they going to reform now? The liberal universities and English-medium schools whose curriculums are embedded in Western enlightenment?"
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES