DHAKA • Relatives of foreign hostages murdered during a siege at an upmarket cafe in Dhaka prepared to take the bodies of their loved ones home, as Bangladeshi police made the first arrests.
Many were in tears as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina laid wreaths on the coffins of those killed in the siege in the capital, by far the deadliest in a spate of recent attacks that have caused international alarm. The 20 victims included nine Italians, seven Japanese citizens, one American and a 19-year- old Indian student.
Witnesses said the perpetrators of last Friday night's attack, for which the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group has claimed responsibility, spared the lives of Muslims while herding foreigners to their deaths, killing many with machete-style weapons.
The attackers were all young men. At least three of them were well-educated and from wealthy families.
Commandos killed six suspected militants in the final stages of the siege, but one was taken alive.
Police yesterday formally arrested him and one other suspect.
"Two suspects are in our custody. One of them is injured and is hospitalised," said police inspector-general Shahidul Hoque.
Among the mourners at a ceremony held yesterday in a Dhaka stadium was Mr Muksedur Rahman, who described slain Italian textile trader Nadia Benedetti as a "great human being" who worked in Bangladesh for over 20 years helping Bangladeshi survivors of acid attacks.
"I can't believe she had to die like this. We have to stand against such terrorism right now," said Mr Rahman, who was her colleague.
The government said the bodies of the Italian and Japanese victims would be handed over to diplomats before being flown home.
Italy's ambassador Mario Palma pledged his country's full support in tackling a rise in Islamist militancy in Bangladesh.
Survivors told police all the victims were killed within the first 20 minutes of the attack, he added.
Police raided the home of a survivor after images showed him walking around the restaurant compound during the siege, but found no evidence against him, local media reported.
United States Secretary of State John Kerry offered Washington's support in a phone call to Ms Hasina, whose government has been unable to stop a wave of Islamist attacks on foreigners and religious minorities in officially secular but mostly Muslim Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh government has repeatedly denied that global militant networks have a presence in the country, though the ISIS-linked news agency Amaq published extensive details of Friday's attack, including photos from inside the cafe.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said on Sunday that the attackers belonged to the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, a local group banned by the government.
Analysts said the government is wary of acknowledging that foreign groups are operating in Bangladesh for fear that it could scare away foreign investors in its US$26 billion (S$35 billion) garment industry, which includes major retailers like Uniqlo and Gap.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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