Bangladesh mourns victims as details of attackers emerge

The six gunmen who killed 20 hostages were from affluent backgrounds and attended the country's top schools.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Relatives mourn as they carry the coffin of a victim who was killed in the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka.

Bangladesh's prime minister joined tearful mourners as they paid their final respects to the victims of Friday's brutal attack on a Dhaka cafe as details about the terrorists began to emerge.

At an army stadium in Dhaka on Monday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina laid wreaths on the coffins of those killed in the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery and renewed her country's resolve to eradicate extremism from Bangladesh.

But as a clear picture about the identity of the attackers started to form, it was evident that Bangladesh's war against terrorism will not be as black and white as the country's security apparatus may have imagined.

The six gunmen who killed 20 hostages, most of them foreigners, were from affluent backgrounds and attended the country's top schools. All six were killed in the rescue operation that followed while a seventh was taken alive and has now been formally arrested, along with another person, over the hostage siege.

While the Bangladeshi government has continued to deny DAESH has a foothold in the country, the group claimed the attack on the cafe and its associated news agency, Amaq, posted pictures of the five gunmen posing with weapons.

'The rich, educated terrorists'

But what would have driven the highly educated young men from wealthy families to join a terrorist outfit?

Home Minister Asaduzzaman offered a simple explanation.

"It has become a fashion," he says.

According to Taj Hashmi, a Bangladeshi who teaches security studies at the Austin Peay State University in the United States, middle-class youth joining the terrorists ranks is not a new trend.

"Marginalised and angry people from the higher echelons of society have been swelling the ranks of Islamist terrorists for the last 30-odd years," he said.

Bangladeshi authorities have so far only released code names of the cafe assailants after interrogating the gunman who was captured alive, but they have released photos of their bloodied corpses.

Policemen inspect the Holey Artisan Bakery after the attack.

Friends of one confirmed his identity as 22-year-old Nibras Islam who had been studying at the Malaysian campus of Australia's Monash University before going missing in January.

A school friend remembered him as a “popular athlete whom everyone admired”.

After leaving school, Islam went to North South University (NSU), a private university in Bangladesh which came to prominence when one former student tried to bomb the Federal Reserve Bank in New York in 2012.


In early 2013, seven NSU students hacked atheist blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider to death, kickstarting a campaign of murders of secular activists. At their subsequent trial, prosecutors said the students had been radicalised through the Internet.

Another of the cafe attackers was identified by multiple sources as Mir Saameh Mubasheer, who was due to sit his A-levels at Scholastica, an elite English language school, but disappeared in February.

His father Mir Hayat Kabir told the Prothom Alo daily that he had feared his son, who was 18, had been brainwashed.

"I felt in my heart that he was under someone's spell. We were good parents yet they took him away from our home," Kabir was quoted as saying by AFP.

Yet another of the attackers was identified as Rohan Imtiaz who also reportedly studied at Monash in Malaysia after leaving Scholastica where his mother teaches.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina laid wreaths on the coffins of those killed in the siege.

His father, Imtiaz Khan Babul, is a former youth affairs secretary of the Dhaka wing of the ruling Awami League. He filed a missing person's report for his son in January.

Monash said it was aware of reports that some of the killers had studied in Malaysia but added in a statement that it "has not received, nor seen, any official confirmation" of the identities.

Only one of the gunmen attended a madrassa or seminary, the son of a labourer who has been named as Khairul Islam Payel.

An expert on political Islam at Dhaka's Liberal Arts University, Mubashar Hasan, said the latest attack in Bangladesh had busted the myth of extremists coming from underprivileged backgrounds and seminaries as their hubs.

"Many foreign governments and agencies have spent millions in cash for projects on reforming and modernising madrassa education... What are (they) going to reform now?"

The attack on the cafe was the latest in a series of killings targeting religious minorities and foreigners in Bangladesh.

On Monday, seven members of an outlawed Bangladeshi extremist group were also charged with the attempted murder of an Italian priest who was wounded in a shooting in 2015, police said.

A Hindu temple worker was hacked to death in western Bangladesh on Friday morning and a Hindu priest was stabbed and critically wounded on Saturday in the southwest of the country.

Last month, authorities launched a crackdown on local militant groups, arresting more than 11,000 people, under pressure to act on the spate of killings.

TRTWorld and agencies