Three die in terror attack at prayer service in Bangladesh

Left: Police officers swinging into action after militants set off bombs near a huge Aidilfitri prayer gathering in Kishoreganj district yesterday. Above: One of the three attackers who were arrested.
Police officers swinging into action after militants set off bombs near a huge Aidilfitri prayer gathering in Kishoreganj district yesterday.PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Left: Police officers swinging into action after militants set off bombs near a huge Aidilfitri prayer gathering in Kishoreganj district yesterday. Above: One of the three attackers who were arrested.
One of the three attackers who were arrested.PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

This happens just days after mass murder at a Dhaka cafe

DHAKA • Suspected Muslim militants carried out another deadly attack in Bangladesh yesterday at the country's biggest prayer service for Hari Raya Aidilfitri, days after 20 people were killed at a cafe in the capital Dhaka.

The authorities said three people, including two policemen and a woman, were killed after several explosions and gunfire near a prayer ground in Kishoreganj district as at least 250,000 people joined a post-Ramadan gathering. Fourteen people were injured, including nine policemen.

The violence occurred as the authorities clamped down on social media sites spreading militant propaganda, saying the country's youth were being radicalised online.

Officials also began a broad effort to compile a list of young men who have disappeared and may have been recruited by militant groups for terrorist operations.

At least five militants set off small bombs and then set upon police officers with "sharp weapons" as people gathered for prayers in Kishoreganj yesterday, said chief district administrator Mohammad Azimuddin Biswas.

Nearly 1,000 police officers were on duty at the time. "We responded with gunfire. A gunfight ensued and they fired back and threw more hand bombs," Mr Tofazzal Hosain, the northern district's deputy police chief, said.

Two attackers were killed and three were arrested, officials said. It was not immediately clear what group they belonged to.

The authorities said the deadly siege last Friday night at an upmarket cafe popular with foreigners was an "eye-opener", exposing the role of social media in recruiting young men to extremist groups.

"Social media has become a fertile ground for recruiting militants," the head of the telecoms regulator, Mr Shahjahan Mahmood, said.

Shortly after the cafe siege, it emerged that three of the Bangladeshi attackers were young, tech- savvy men from wealthy families and had easy access to social media.

One of the attackers, 22-year- old Rohan Imtiaz, reportedly posted an appeal on Facebook last year urging all Muslims to become terrorists.

Bangladesh police issued a stern warning on Wednesday that anyone caught sharing Islamist propaganda online would be punished.

"Uploading, sharing, commenting or liking any video, images or speech in social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, in support of the Islamic State (in Iraq and Syria) or militancy is a punishable offence," Deputy Inspector-General of police A.K.M. Shahidur Rahman said. "If anyone is found to have engaged in such activities, tough legal action will be taken against that person."

Bangladeshi police have set up a special e-mail address and urged people to report any suspicious online activities following last week's deadly attack.

Meanwhile, the head of the country's elite security force appealed to Bangladeshis to be vigilant over the use of social media sites as a recruiting tool, and to report missing relatives.

"If there are any missing family members, please tell us; don't be afraid that law-enforcing agencies will take your sons away," said Mr Benazir Ahmed. "Their lives and other lives can be saved if they are found."

All of the cafe attackers had vanished between December and February, family members and the police said. Three of the young men from affluent families had been reported missing, but the families of two from lower-income homes had not filed "missing" reports, a police officer said.

A senior intelligence official said he has no estimate of how many families have reported young men missing.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2016, with the headline 'Three die in terror attack at prayer service in Bangladesh'. Print Edition | Subscribe