DHAKA — The nine Islamist militants killed in a raid at a residential building in Kalyanpur area here early on Tuesday may be linked to five militants who stormed the Holey Artisan Bakery in upscale Gulshan area on June 30 killing 20 hostages and two policemen, police said.
Their age group, dress — black panjabis and red-white checkered scarves – and backpacks were similar to that of Gulshan attackers.
“The dead are all between the age 20 and 24. The backpacks we found during the raid were similar to the ones used by the attackers in Gulshan,” said Asaduzzaman Mia, chief of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP).
The militant group was planning a major attack like the Bakery siege when DMP led by the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit entered Road No 5 in Kalyanpur past midnight.
They were aware that some militants had rented one of the flats in the six-story ‘Taj Manjil’ building from June 20. They wanted to arrest them and Tuesday’s mission was codenamed ‘Operation Storm 26.’
As the DMP team positioned themselves in front of the Taj building, one officer shouted through the megaphone at the suspected militants to surrender.
But the suspects, who were living on the fourth floor, instead started hurling grenades and shooting at the police forcing the law enforcers to retaliate.
Alam Shuvo, a resident of the area, said to Asia Times: “People living close to the house heard shouts along with ‘Allahu Akbar’ chants. The main action occurred around dawn.”
‘Operation Storm 26, which began at 5.51 am ended at 6.51am leaving nine suspected militants dead.
One suspect fled while another identified as Rakibul Hasan Rigan was captured after being injured in the shootout.
Hasan, 25, who is being treated for injuries at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, told police he is from Bogra district (two of the five Dhaka cafe attackers also hailed from Bogra).
He said he worked as a cook and that all his flat-mates, including himself, were members of the Islamic State (IS).
Hasan claimed he was a student of Bogra’s Government Shah Sultan College before joining IS about a year ago.
Police found university identity cards at the flat along with grenades, detonators, pistols, bullets, knives and two black flags with Arabic script resembling that of IS.
Three of the ID cards were from North South University (NSU) which was recently in news after seven students were jailed over the killing of an atheist blogger. Two of the Gulshan attackers were also former students of NSU.
Police suspect the militants may have used these ID cards to rent the flat.
According to locals, ‘Taj Manjil’ is home to students and bachelors from outside Dhaka who like to share rooms.
The DMP chief said the owner of the building has been arrested for not following the regulations about keeping information on tenants and informing the police.
As part of their efforts to flush out militants, Bangladesh Police have initiated a move from February seeking details of landlords and tenants in the country .
Dr. Gias Uddin Ahsan, the acting pro-Vice Chancellor of NSU was arrested along with two others on July 16 for not keeping information about tenants and informing police.
According to police, it was Gias’s flat in Bashundhara residential area, which associates of the five attackers of Holey Artisan had rented from May 16.
Police sources suspect Hasnat Karim, a former faculty member of NSU, may have connected Gias with the accomplices of Dhaka attackers. Karim and his three family members were among the hostages at Holey Artisan Bakery on June 30.
Suspicions were raised after Hasnat and his family were released by the militants unharmed on the morning of July 1, minutes before joint forces stormed the café killing all five attackers.
A photo had also emerged of Hasnat walking on the roof of the café around dawn of the same day while two militants walked right behind him with their guns lowered.
Hasnat has not been released by the police yet.
Recent terror attacks have led to a sense of insecurity among the masses, the brunt of which is being felt by hotels, restaurants and shopping malls in the country.
The worst hit have been eateries and hotels after reports emerged that the attackers had earlier scoped out four other cafes before narrowing down on Holey Artisan, which hosted more foreigners than other restaurants.
As a result, most restaurants and eateries, especially in the diplomatic zone of Gulshan, Banani and Baridhara areas of Dhaka have remained nearly empty for almost a month after the café attack.
Owner of a popular Hakka restaurant in Banani told Asia Times, “We have had a drop in visitors by 50%. Most of our business is currently based on takeaway as people are afraid to come into the restaurants for spending some time.”
The restaurateur added, “It is unfortunate but most restaurant owners are hopeful that this fear will gradually fade and people will go back to their normal lives.”
Also affected are shopping malls.
Over the past one month, some schools and universities had postponed classes due to “security concerns.”
On July 25, during a cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had alerted ministers about terror groups planning major attacks across the country in August.
She asked them to “be vigilant and move about carefully in August as terror groups are trying to destabilize the country through attacks.”
“You must be alert and watchful as terror groups may not implement their sinister design in just one month”, she was quoted as saying by those present at the meeting.
Syed Tashfin Chowdhury is a Dhaka-based freelance journalist and editor of Xtra, the weekend magazine of New Age, a leading English daily in Bangladesh.
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