Dhaka (AFP): Bangladesh police said Sunday they were hunting more extremist leaders after shooting dead the suspected mastermind of a deadly cafe attack, on the eve of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s first visit.
Security forces stormed a militant hideout outside Dhaka on Saturday, killing three suspected Islamists including the Bangladesh-born Canadian accused of organising last month’s attack that killed 22 people, mostly foreigners.
Authorities say that after returning from Canada in 2013, Tamim Chowdhury led a faction of the banned militant group Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), blamed for a series of recent attacks on religious minorities.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the July 1 seige of the upmarket Dhaka cafe in which gunmen held hostage mainly Western diners including one American, before killing them.
But police say the homegrown JMB, which has pledged allegiance to the IS group, was behind the raid. They deny the presence of international jihadist groups.
“We’re hopeful we can now capture and eliminate other extremists including Zia,” assistant inspector general of police, Mohammad Moniruzzaman, told AFP.
Police suspect Zia, a former army major whose full name is Syed Ziaul Haque, heads another local extremist group called Ansar al Islam, blamed for the machete murders of a dozen secular writers and two gay activists.
Kerry is set to arrive in Bangladesh on Monday on his first official visit to try to deepen cooperation on counter-terrorism and other issues.
He will meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and hold talks with his counterpart Mahmood Ali “on a broad range of issues including democracy, development, security and human rights”, a senior State Department official said.
Kerry will then head to India to co-chair the regular US-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue and hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Bangladesh police hailed Saturday’s raid as a major blow to extremists in the Muslim-majority country, which has been reeling from the recent killings.
The cafe attack has prompted foreigners, including potential investors, to leave Bangladesh — sparking worries for its garment industry, the world’s second largest after China.
A series of police raids on suspected militant hideouts have killed at least 24 extremists since the cafe attack.
Police have announced a reward of $25,000 for information leading to the arrest of Zia, who was sacked from the army in 2011 for an aborted coup bid against Hasina.
Experts welcomed Saturday’s police raid but said the country, with its history of political instability, faces a long fight against Islamist extremism.
Critics say Hasina’s administration has been in denial about the nature of the threat posed by extremists and accuse her of trying to exploit the attacks to demonise her domestic opponents.
“Definitely Tamim’s death is a major setback for the terrorists, especially in the short term,” said Abdur Rob, professor of politics and security issues at the private North South University.
“(But) The incentives for regrouping will remain unless we can fix our politics.”