Bangladesh ‘free of curse’ now, says PM Hasina

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the nation is “free of another curse” on Saturday after police stormed a militant hideout, shooting dead the suspected mastermind of a horrific attack on a cafe that killed 20 hostages.

Bangladesh police-persons at the scene of the operation in Narayanganj, around 25 kms south of Dhaka, on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images

The bodies of three Islamist extremists were retrieved after police staged an hour-long gun battle with militants in Narayanganj, near Dhaka, officers said.

Home-grown militancy

Prime Minister Hasina praised police and intelligence agencies for the operation which killed Tamim Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi-Canadian believed to have planned the attack.

“The main mastermind of the Holey Artisan [attack] has been eliminated,” Ms. Hasina told reporters at her office, referring to the Gulshan cafe incident.

“The nation has become free of another curse,” she said, adding the “elimination of the extremists” would bolster “people’s confidence”.

Thirty-year-old Chowdhury, who returned from Canada in 2013, had earlier been named by police as the suspected mastermind of the attack on the cafe in Gulshan, an upscale Dhaka neighbourhood.

The police raid came two days before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is set to arrive in Bangladesh, the highest-ranked Western official to visit the South Asian nation since the attack.

Officials said security issues, including Dhaka-Washington DC anti-terror cooperation, will feature during Mr. Kerry’s talks with his Bangladeshi counterpart on Monday.

“The operation went on for an hour. We can see three dead bodies. They did not surrender. They threw four to five grenades at police and fired from AK 22 rifles,” Bangladesh national police chief A.K.M. Shahidul Hoque told reporters on Saturday.

“Three extremists were killed. Among them, one of the dead persons looked exactly like the photo of Tamim Chowdhury that we have,” he said.

The Islamic State (IS) had claimed responsibility for the July 1 attack, releasing photos from inside the cafe during the siege and of the five men who carried out the deadly assault and were shot dead at its finale. But police and the Bangladesh government rejected the IS claim, saying a new faction of homegrown militant group Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) led by Chowdhury was behind the attack in which 20 hostages, including 18 foreigners, were killed along with two policemen.

Bangladesh police blame the JMB militant group for the deaths of more than 80 foreigners and members of religious minorities over the last three years.