Manhunt for five terrorists puts brakes on Holey Artisan café case

A year has passed since Islamist militants sent the nation into shock by launching a foreigner-targeted attack in Dhaka’s diplomatic district.

The massacre of 20 diners including 17 foreign nationals is Bangladesh’s deadliest terror attack.

The five killers who shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’, and took religious tests to seek out foreigners were shot dead by commandos the next morning, along with a bakery chef who remains a suspect.

Eight suspects who were involved in its planning died in several anti-terror raids that followed. Four have been captured alive, while five more remain at large.

Monirul Islam, head of Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s counter-terror unit, has been leading the investigation into what he calls “our 9/11”.

“We are still looking for five suspects whose names came up in our investigation. The investigation can be completed if we manage to catch two or three among them.”

Of the five, capturing Soheil Mahfuz, Rashedul Islam aka ‘Rash’ and Basharuzzaman aka ‘Chocolate’ was vital. “Finding them may end our investigation,” said the counter-terror chief.

The Ramadan attack claimed by the so-called Islamic State that followed other large-scale attacks in global cities like Istanbul and Florida put Bangladesh on the terror group’s terror map.

“Never before have so many foreigners died together in Bangladesh. This attack was important for us the way the fall of the Twin Towers was important to the US,” said Monirul.

The steps taken by law-enforcers in the past year reflect just that, he said.

“Those who participated directly were killed on location. The people who planned it and provided assistance have been identified.”       

“The operations we conducted in the last one year have eliminated eight individuals who were involved in the planning of the attack. We’d have charged them had they been alive.”

Of the four men in prison, three have confessed to being involved, said the counter-terror chief.

The commando operations left six dead including five young gunmen, police said.

The gunmen were identified as Nibras Islam, Mir Sameeh Mobassher, Rohan Imtiaz, Khairul Islam Payel and Shafiqul Islam Ujjal — a mixed squad of tech-savvy Dhaka youths and Madrasa-bred radicals.

Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, Jahidul Islam, Tanvir Quaderi, Nurul Islam Marzan, Abu Raihan Tarek, Sarwar Jahan, Abdullah Motaleb and Faridul Islam Akash — men killed in anti-terror raids — were involved in staging the attack in some degree, said Monirul.    

Rajib Gandhi, Bara Mizan, Rakibul Hasan aka Regan and Hasnat Karim have been arrested.   

Tahmid Hasib Khan was seen holding a firearm and talking to two cafe killers on the roof of Holey Artisan in a photo that went viral on the internet.

But the police released him after claiming to have found no evidence against the Bangladeshi who studied in Canada.

Lessons from the probe

It took several months for the
investigators to get a clear picture about how the attack was planned in late
April last year.

“The plan was to do something big in
Dhaka so that they can get national and international media coverage. Their
objective was to prove that the militancy was growing in Bangladesh,”
Monirul said.

And for this, the militants decided to use
a few youths from the capital. 

“They picked three such youths who
have good knowledge about the city. But, since they were not involved in any
significant brutal act, the militants chose two from rural areas with proven
skills in killing,” he said.

Of the five attackers, Nibras, Mobasheer
and Rohan are from well-off families in Dhaka while Shafiqul and Khairul came
from rural areas.

The investigators said they received
special training in a remote shoal in Gaibandha for 28 days and then were taken
to a rented house in the capital’s Bashundhara near the attack site.

Monirul said a retired Army major, Jahidul
Islam, played a key role in training the five. He was killed during a raid on
his house in Dhaka’s Rupnagar on Sept 2 last year.

More to follow