Police failed to arrest militants before massacre
Published 04/07/2016 | 02:30
Bangladesh has admitted police previously tried and failed several times to capture five militants responsible for killing 20 people at a Dhaka restaurant at the weekend.
Officials denied the men were linked to Islamic State (Isil), despite claims by the extremists of links to the attacks.
Seven gunmen stormed the upmarket restaurant in the diplomatic zone late on Friday and killed their mostly non-Muslim hostages, including nine Italians, seven Japanese and an American.
National police chief Shahidul Hoque said all the gunmen were Bangladeshis. "Five of them were listed as militants and law enforcers made several drives to arrest them," he said.
Claiming responsibility, Isil warned citizens of "crusader countries" in a statement that they would not be safe "as long as their aircraft are killing Muslims".
It also posted pictures of five grinning fighters in front of a black flag, who it said were involved in the attack, according to the SITE monitoring website.
But Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan insisted neither Isil nor al-Qa'ida were involved. He repeated a government statement that home-grown militants were responsible for a spate of killings in the country over the past 18 months, including the latest one.
"This was done by JMB," Mr Khan said, referring to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, which claims to represent Isil in Bangladesh but has no proven links to it.
Deputy Inspector General of Police Shahidur Rahman said authorities were nonetheless investigating any connection between the attackers and transnational groups such as Isil or al-Qa'ida.
Reacting to the recent attacks in Dhaka and Baghdad, Iraq, Pope Francis asked people attending noon prayer at the Vatican in Rome to pray for the victims and their families.
Late last night in Bangladesh, hundreds of men, women and children held a candle-light vigil near Dhaka's Shaheed Minar (Martyr's Monument) to pay respect to those who lost their lives.
"We don't want this," said Nasima, a textile industry worker. "Please stop this, stop this, stop this from our society, from our country, I want to live in peace."
As Dhaka limped back to normal life, security experts questioned the delay in launching the offensive against the militants. More than 100 commandos stormed the restaurant nearly 10 hours after the siege began, under an operation code-named 'Thunderbolt'.
He said the militants were mostly educated and from well-off families.
Whoever was responsible, the attack marked a major escalation in violence by militants demanding Islamic rule in Bangladesh, whose 160 million people are mostly Muslim.