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Bangladesh police may have killed a hostage by mistake in Dhaka cafe siege

Authorities also said they were hunting for six members of a domestic fundamentalist organization believed to have been behind the attack that killed 20 people.

by VICE News and Reuters
Jul 5 2016, 12:29pm

Photo by Jayanta Dey/Reuters

Bangladeshi police may have killed a hostage by mistake when they shot several men dead during the siege of a Dhaka cafe over the weekend, with the latest update coming as the hunt for accomplices of the gunmen who killed 20 people has narrowed in on six suspects.

Police on Tuesday named five Bangladeshi gunmen who stormed the restaurant in Dhaka's diplomatic zone late on Friday. Most of the victims in the violence, which was quickly claimed by Islamic State, were foreigners from Italy, Japan, India, and the United States.

It was one of the deadliest militant attacks in Bangladesh, where Islamic State and al Qaeda have claimed a series of killings of liberals and members of religious minorities in the past year.

The government has denied those claims, and similarly dismissed the Islamic State claim of responsibility for Friday's attack.

Pictures of five young men clutching guns and grinning in front of a black flag were posted on an Islamic State website hours after the attack, along with the claim of responsibility, but despite that, authorities have ruled out a foreign link.

Police believe that Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), an outlawed domestic group that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, played a significant role in organizing the band of privileged, educated young attackers.

Confusion over exactly how many gunmen were involved was at least partly cleared up on Tuesday when police said Saiful Islam Chowkidar, a pizza maker at the Holey Artisan restaurant, was among the six people security forces killed when they stormed the building to end a 12-hour standoff.

"We killed six people in the restaurant. A case has been registered against five. The sixth man was a restaurant employee," Saiful Islam, a top police official investigating the attack, told Reuters.

"He may not be involved," he said, adding that the investigation was still underway.

An employee of the cafe, shown a photo of a man killed at the eatery and wearing a chef's outfit, identified him as Chowkidar, and said he had worked there for 18 months.

Police named five men as attackers in a case filed on Tuesday to allow them to launch official investigations, including questioning families of the militants for clues as to what turned them into killers. Two other suspects are in hospital. The five named in the case filing were Nibras Islam, Rohan Imtiaz, Meer Saameh Mubasheer, Khairul Islam and Shafiqul Islam.

Police said they were hunting for six members of the JMB who were suspected of organizing the attack.

"We don't know who is the mastermind behind the attack. We just know that these boys were guided to launch an attack on the restaurant," Islam said.

The JMB has been accused of involvement in many of the killings over the past year and Islam said police were interrogating more than 130 of its members already in custody in the hope of gleaning clues.

The weekend attack marked a major escalation in the scale and brutality of violence aimed at forcing strict Islamic rule in Bangladesh, whose 160 million people are mostly Muslim.

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